City Hall: Federal rules hanging up $100 million in aid out of sync with NYC migrant crisis

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NEW YORK — Officials in Mayor Eric Adams’ administration are pushing back against claims they flubbed paperwork required to unlock $107 million in federal migrant aid, arguing the application rules for the relief don’t jibe with the reality of the city’s crisis while outlining a series of reforms they believe would improve the process.

Three rules in particular are snarling the city, according to Adams’ office: A requirement to furnish the feds with Alien Identification Numbers assigned to migrants; a rule that only allows the aid to be spent on helping migrants during their first 45 days in the country, and a cap on funding for hotel rooms.

The mayor’s office provided the breakdown of the application issues after a Biden administration official told the New York Daily News on Monday that the $107 million hasn’t been released to the city because Adams’ team isn’t filing the right paperwork. The aid was first allocated by Congress in June 2023, and City Hall has since been unable to unlock it, though it did receive $49 million from a separate pot of federal migrant assistance.

“If their opinion is we have not stepped up to the plate, have they stepped up to the plate?” Adams said of the Biden administration during a press conference Tuesday.

FEMA officials were dispatched to the city last week to assist in completing the aid application forms — a meeting Ingrid Lewis-Martin, Adams’ chief adviser at City Hall, insisted during Tuesday’s briefing never happened. City Hall acknowledged to The News after the briefing that Lewis-Martin misspoke and that the application assistance meeting took place last Friday.

The back-and-forth over the funds comes amid simmering tensions between President Joe Biden and Adams over the migrant crisis.

Initially selected to be one of the president’s surrogates in his 2024 reelection battle against Donald Trump, Adams lost that assignment after blistering criticism last year of the White House’s handling of the national migrant crisis. The mayor has been especially incensed by what he sees as a lack of financial help from the feds as his administration scrambles to provide housing and services for tens of thousands of mostly Latin American migrants, a task that has cost the city more than $4 billion to date and prompted Adams to enact deep cuts to various public services.

With the city’s budgetary coffers under immense strain, Adams’ office said the application rules holding up the $107 million must be modified.

The first contested rule requires the city to provide the feds with the Alien Registration Number for every migrant whose housing and services would be funded with the federal aid City Hall’s applying for.

Adams’ office said it has been hard to collect the so-called A-numbers because the city historically hasn’t asked foreign nationals for them. The mayor’s team said the city only recently started doing so, given the application rules for the aid, first released in June 2023 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Though City Hall didn’t further elaborate on why it’s difficult to collect A-numbers, a 2021 report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found Border Patrol agents didn’t always assign the identifying digits to migrants crossing the U.S. southern border, given the sheer volume of people arriving every day.

Another application problem Adams’ office highlighted is the rule stipulating that the federal aid can only be used to pay for housing and services benefiting migrants who have been in the U.S. less than 45 days. An Adams administration official said some migrants don’t get to New York until after that 45-day window closes, rendering any A-numbers they’ve been given unusable for the city’s aid application.

Lastly, Adams’ office lamented a rule stipulating that spending on hotel rooms for migrants cannot exceed 10% of the total federal aid request, another factor that could complicate the city’s application as thousands of migrant families are housed in local hotels.

The same rule says the city can only receive $12.50 from the aid program to house a single migrant in a congregate shelter for a night, a rate far below the city’s current shelter spending levels. The discrepancy means that in order to unlock the full $107 million, the city has to identify far more migrants with eligible A-numbers than if the cap on shelter funding was higher.

Adams spokesman Charles Lutvak said the mayor’s administration is urging the feds to remove the caps on hotel and shelter spending, and also raise the 45-day limit to make it easier for the city to find more eligible migrants. Such moves, Lutvak said, would “hopefully expedite the release of funds.”

Asked for comment on City Hall’s request for reforms, White House spokesman Angelo Hernandez Fernandez said program application rules were set by Congress and that it’d thereby be difficult for FEMA to singlehandedly change them. The program rules, Hernandez Fernandez also said, are largely modeled after FEMA protocols meant to safeguard against misuse of federal resources.

“All FEMA grant programs have rules and requirements to ensure resources are used in the way Congress intended,” he said.

A source in the Biden administration said this week other U.S. cities, including Chicago, have managed to file the required paperwork to unlock all the migrant aid they were allotted as part of the program that includes the $107 million earmarked for New York City.

But Fabien Levy, Adams’ deputy mayor of communications, wrote in a post on X Wednesday morning that Chicago officials had told him “they have NOT received this funding.”

A spokesman for Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson declined to comment late Wednesday when asked about Levy’s claim.

When they were asked about Levy’s post, Biden administration officials reiterated that Chicago has unlocked all the funding it was allocated as part of the aid program.

A Biden administration official also said Wednesday that FEMA was “encouraged” by last week’s application assistance meeting with Adams’ team and voiced optimism it’ll help the city figure out how to dislodge the remaining migrant funding.

In a Wednesday morning appearance on Fox5, though, Adams said the outstanding $107 million won’t make that big of a difference even if the city receives it.

“It doesn’t meet the real issue, and just to start from the top: How do you insult this city by saying we’re going to give you $150 million to a $4 billion crisis,” Adams said.