More than $533 million in federal pandemic relief money earmarked for the city Department of Correction was quietly stripped from the embattled jails agency this year, the Daily News has learned — and it’s unclear what the funds will be spent on instead.
The funding was initially allocated to the Department of Correction as part of the federal American Rescue Plan, which funneled billions of dollars to city government agencies to help prop up their budgets at a time of fiscal uncertainty.
But city budget data shows Mayor Adams’ administration withdrew the cash infusion from the DOC at some point this year amid staffing dysfunction and a collapse of basic services at Rikers Island and other city lockups — conditions blamed in part for the deaths of 18 detainees so far this year.
“What the data is saying is that four months ago when the city released its budget, the city planned on claiming $533 million in federal stimulus funds to cover costs for DOC. And at the end of the day, they ended up not claiming those funds for DOC,” said Logan Clark, the city Independent Budget Office’s assistant director for budget review.
“It is a massive shift over a short period of time. The question is why?”
Nearly all other city agencies granted money from the American Rescue Plan have used some or all of it, according to an online budget tracker maintained by the Independent Budget Office.
The NYPD, for instance, was allocated $566 million, and has spent every dime, the tracker shows.
But the Independent Budget Office’s tracker shows no stimulus money was spent by the Correction Department. DOC spokeswoman Latima Johnson referred questions to Adams’ office about why money was reallocated.
A spokeswoman for Adams confirmed the DOC cash was shifted away from the agency, but would not elaborate on what precisely motivated the move.
“The federal stimulus program was designed so that states and localities have flexibility in using and reallocating funds. In this case, the funding was reallocated and will be reflected in a future financial plan,” the spokeswoman said.
The spokeswoman also suggested some of the funds initially meant for DOC remain unspent, but would not specify how much or whether the correction agency could end up still getting portions of it.
“We are evaluating how to apply the funding strategically,” she said before stressing that the funding shuffle did not amount to a budget cut for the agency: “This reallocation doesn’t impact DOC’s budget or operations.”
Word of the funding shakeup was greeted with less than enthusiasm from the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, the DOC’s largest union.
“The fact that approximately half a billion dollars allocated to our agency, through funds provided by the American Rescue Plan, was re-allocated to other agencies is nothing short of budgetary malpractice,” COBA President Benny Boscio said. “Whoever made this reckless decision has a lot of explaining to do.”
Boscio noted the money could have been used for everything from fixing broken cell doors to heating and air conditioning systems to providing every officer with suicide prevention training.
“(This) would have immediately improved the conditions in our jails for both our officers and the inmates in our custody,” he added. “This money should be returned to DOC immediately!”
The DOC funding revelations come as Adams’ administration faces the looming prospect that a Manhattan judge could place the troubled city jail system under the control of a federal monitor.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), who supports permanently closing Rikers and has for years been critical of the city’s management of the jail, stopped short of endorsing a federal receivership when asked about the matter last month.
“Unfortunately, there is no blanket solution to this issue,” she said. “As we have seen when city jails have entered federal oversight contracts in the past, it is not necessarily a be-all and end-all to the crisis of the mistreatment of inmates.”