New York City (NYC) was the first place where COVID reached critical proportions in the U.S. Now it threatens to be the first city where public services collapse thanks to the economic costs of the pandemic. NYC finances were fragile well before the pandemic. Trump’s threat on August 31 to cut off funds for New York would pitch the city into crisis. But he is not the only politician playing games at the expense of NYC’s people.
New York state and city politicians have for years refused to tax the great concentrations of wealth in Wall Street banks. Much of the One Percent calls NYC home. Consequently, both the Democrats and Republicans have refused for decades to tax the wealthy and the big corporations to adequately fund the subways, public schools, and public health services the rest of us depend on. When the wealthy don’t pay what they should, the rest of us bankroll them. And when COVID hit, these already strained public services were hit the hardest.
The rate of COVID infection has fallen and stayed relatively low for some time in NYC. After nearly six months of lockdown, everyone is eager to open up the economy. To do this safely requires step-by-step measures after putting in place reliable protections to prevent a new spike in COVID. Instead of finding ways of bolstering the programs and services needed to carry through a safe re-opening, New York politicians are threatening layoffs of 20 percent of the city’s workforce and a partial shutdown of the subway system.
On top of that, plans for the start of the school year are in chaos. NYC mayor De Blasio is proposing a “hybrid” school week where kids learn remotely at home some days. The rest of week they would receive instruction face-to-face in socially distanced classrooms. Parents and teachers are up in arms, knowing that the city has not supplied the internet and computer resources to make remote learning work. Nor has the city put the necessary effort into readying the school buildings to safely bring students and teachers together by, for example, upgrading the ventilation systems, especially in older buildings. Many younger students normally are bused to school. School bus drivers say the city has no idea how to make this work with a hybrid school week.
The hybrid system seems like the worst possible approach to re-opening schools. Rebellious teachers last week forced their union leaders to meet with City Hall officials. Nothing was decided except to postpone the beginning of the school year for two weeks, solving nothing. Meanwhile, the union leaders representing other city workers threatened with layoffs asked the mayor to wait a month to see if together they could successfully lobby for more funds. The union leaders said layoffs should only be a “last resort.” But, like the politicians, they know where the money is.
NYC’s politicians and union leaders have made it clear they are unwilling to make the wealthy come up with the resources to properly manage the crisis. Our lives will only get worse until we find ways to take the power to make such decisions out of their hands.