Increasing Number of Asylum Seekers in New York City Requires Federal and State Support
A look at the fiscal implications of New York City sheltering and providing services for tens of thousands of asylum seekers.
The number of asylum seekers coming to the United States has been on the rise in recent years. Since August 2022, states along the southern border have been busing some asylum seekers crossing the border to New York City. This influx of people places a heavy strain on city resources, from housing and healthcare to education.
For New York City, there are significant fiscal implications of increasing asylum seekers in terms of providing resources and services. Providing shelter is the greatest fiscal strain due to the city’s right to shelter law. If the city is expected to support arriving asylum seekers, additional state and federal resources are needed.
A Surge in City Shelter Use Aver COVID Eviction Moratorium Ended, Asylum Seekers Arrived
From 2014 to 2019, the average monthly number of individuals in New York City shelters was about 58,000. From 2020 to when the eviction moratorium ended in January 2022, the average number of individuals in shelters declined 24%. Since then, the city has seen a surge in shelter usage – increasing 58% from January 2022 to March 2023. In March 2023, there were an average of 71,500 individuals residing in New York City shelters.
New York City has had a right to shelter for decades, which means that anyone without a roof above their head can obtain one through the city-funded homeless shelter system and get a basic safety net not seen elsewhere in the nation. The law has allowed the largest city in the country to have one of the lowest homeless rates among major metros.
With an influx of individuals needing shelter, the system is strained. The cost of providing shelter, including the city’s need to rapidly bring new shelters on-line is significant. For nearly a year the city has used hotels and set-up temporary shelter for thousands of asylum seekers:
New York City to open giant tent shelter for migrants, CBS, Oct. 2022
New York City to Open Migrant Shelter at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, NY Times, Jan. 2023
How Manhattan Hotels Became Refuges for Thousands of Migrants, NY Times, March 2023
Times Square Office Building Is New York’s Latest Migrant Shelter, WSJ, March 2023
New York City Mayor Wanted Javits Center Used for Migrants, Bloomberg, April 2023
According to the Office of the State Comptroller:
The City also has not yet budgeted for the costs of sheltering asylum seekers in FY 2024 or beyond, despite a very strong likelihood that its shelter population will remain elevated and its Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers (HERRCs) are likely to remain necessary after July 1, 2023.
Asylum Seekers: Estimated Annual Costs Exceeds $600 Million
According to New York City’s Independent Budget Office (IBO), they estimate the bulk of the city's spending on asylum seekers is expected to go towards ongoing shelter costs, which are projected to amount to at least $609 million in 2023 and $852 million in 2024.
The state's Executive Budget proposal offered a 29% reimbursement for asylum seeker shelter costs, up to $1 billion over two years. Since the city's allocation of federal asylum seeker aid is unknown, IBO assumes that the city and state will cover most of these costs. Based on the state's proposal:
IBO estimates city spending on shelter for asylum seekers will total $432 million and $605 million for this year and next, respectively.
Additional costs for healthcare, education, and legal aid may also be incurred by the city, state, and other entities.
Recently, the New York City and state politicians, along with members of the City’s congressional delegation, have called on the Governor to extend Medicaid benefits to undocumented immigrants. However, the proposal was not included in the state budget. Still, immigrants who are not eligible for full Medicaid can apply for Emergency Medicaid. The federal government does not provide financial assistance for state Medicaid programs that enroll undocumented immigrants. If a program is created, the cost is carried by each respective state.
English Language Learners (ELLs) Require Additional Education Support
New York City estimated at least 1,000 students from bused asylum seekers are expected to enroll in city schools. Many of these students will need extra support, including mandated services for children leaning English as a new language.
Children who are ELLs have the right to be instructed in traditional English as a new language, meaning their classes are held in English but are supposed to get extra support and translation help during and outside of class. They can also choose bilingual programs or dual language instruction, although most NYC schools lack such programming, according to program data from last school year.
The cost of educating ELLs versus those who are already fluent in English in New York City public schools can vary depending on various factors such as the level of English proficiency of the ELLs, the amount of support services required, and the specific programs or interventions provided to support ELLs.
However, according to a report by the IBO, the estimated average cost of educating an ELL in New York City in the 2019-2020 school year was $18,168, compared to $13,705 for non-ELLs. This means that on average, educating an ELL in New York City public schools costs around 33% more than educating a non-ELL student. It's important to note that the actual cost can vary widely depending on individual circumstances, and the IBO report also notes that there is a large degree of variation in the cost of educating ELLs across different schools and districts in New York City.
Some news coverage of the costs:
NYC Will Pay at Least $600 Million to Give Migrants Shelter and Schooling, Bloomberg, Nov. 2022
New York Mayor: Cost of asylum seekers could hit $2B, Politico, Jan. 2023
Accounting for Asylum Seekers, Office of the New York City Comptroller, March 2023
New York City, New York State, and the Federal Government Need to Work Together
The costs of asylum seekers in New York City can be substantial, particularly when it comes to ongoing shelter costs. Given the high costs involved, it is important for city, state, and federal partners to work together to finance these expenses.
Cooperation between these entities can help to ensure that the costs are distributed fairly and that the burden is not disproportionately placed on any one party. Effective financing of the costs of asylum seekers is critical to promoting the safety and well-being of all members of the community and requires a coordinated and collaborative effort from all levels of government.
Any opinions expressed herein are those of the author and the author alone.