By David Brand
A six-year-old city office tasked with combating climate change is in danger of extinction as federal dollars erode, say two lawmakers fighting for funding.
Councilmember Costa Constantinides and Justin Brannan have called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to make the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency permanent by committing city funds in the upcoming city budget.
MOR, created in 2014, applies climate science to guide city policy, programs and capital projects. The office is funded solely from money allocated through the federal government’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program, a financial arrangement confirmed by Commissioner Jainey Bavishi during a Council hearing last month. The grant was provided in the wake of Superstorm Sandy but will run out next year.
“If those moneys were to run out then we’d have to find funding for MOR elsewhere through the city budget?” Constantinides asked.
“That’s right,” Bavishi responded.
Elimination of the office “would be a huge loss for the city,” said Constantinides, chair of the environmental committee.
The next day, he and Brannan sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio urging the city to institutionalize MOR funding beyond September 2022, when the federal money will be exhausted, according to information shared by the city comptroller’s office.
“Once this funding is spent, there is no current city commitment to fund the office any further,” they wrote. “We are concerned about the office’s ability to retain qualified staff if there is a worry that their jobs will not exist in the long term.”
A spokesperson for de Blasio told the Eagle that the mayor is “fully committed to resiliency, and when federal funding is no longer available we will work to identify other resources.”
Constantinides said codifying that commitment is key to preventing the “brain drain” of talented staffers without job security deciding to leave.
He and Brannan have also recommended the creation of a dedicated Department of Sustainability and Climate Change. The new agency would “ensure that there is a dedicated staff of civil servants who can be guaranteed to remain in their roles across administrations,” they wrote.
The federal block grant covers payroll spending and resiliency planning across various offices and agencies, according to the information from the comptroller’s office. For example, salaries for MOR staff — roughly $2.7 million this year and next — are funded entirely by the federal grant. So is nearly $1 million for resilience planning staff in the Department of City Planning and about $350,000 for resiliency planning staff at the Department of Small Business Services.
Comptroller Scott Stringer, a candidate for mayor, pointed to the expiration of federal funding through the block grant and said the city should make those investments permanent.
“We need to consistently invest in the long-term planning that will allow all of our neighborhoods to cope with the more frequent and ferocious storms that the climate crisis will throw at us,” Stringer said.
“Lives are at stake, homes and businesses are on the line, and futures hang in the balance.”