Chirlane McCray, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife, was entrusted in 2015 with running a new initiative in the city called ThriveNYC, a program that attempted to address issues of homelessness, substance use, depression and suicide, all centered around mental health and with a price tag of $250 million per year in tax payer dollars.
Now, four years later, there are serious concerns and calls for official inquiries into the program because no one can determine if it’s actually been successful. What’s more, due to a general opaqueness when it comes to the program’s budget, ThriveNYC has apparently left that nearly $900 million unaccounted for.
A report from Politico back in February gently sounded the alarm — the piece almost apologetically mentioned that Thrive NYC was headed for a “reset” — but calls for transparency have increased in the last week after Thrive was unable in late February to tell City Council members how the money was being spent.
Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who represents parts of Brooklyn including Brighton Beach, said he hasn’t seen ThriveNYC public outreach efforts in his district, and he had a difficult time registering for a mental first-aid training, one of the signature efforts of ThriveNYC.
“With a $250 million budget, I should already be sick of ThriveNYC,” he said. “I have not seen anything.”
Another Council member offered a comparison of what the program’s budget might look like if it was used to address other NYC needs:
On Monday, Island Councilman Joe Borelli (R-South Shore) joined the ranks of public officials demanding an accounting of how Thrive’s funding is spent.
Borelli wrote to City Hall asking for Thrive’s performance over the last four years since the program was created in 2015 and for performance data.
“We have just learned that the annual budget for Thrive has increased to $250 million; for perspective, $250 million is the same amount New York City allocated for [the New York City Housing Authority’s] capital needs in fiscal year 2019,” Borelli said. “It’s critically important for all city initiatives to maintain a level of transparency which allows the public to have oversight and allay concerns about government waste especially with tremendous sums.”
Thrive, according to Politico was developed to tackle mental health issues and associated problems that fell outside typical insurance coverage, capitalizing on the debate four years ago over the worth of Obamacare and comprehensive health coverage.
It is meant to target low-income individuals who are often priced out of mental health care because those services are typically not covered by insurance. Thrive also is meant to focus on communities — African Americans, Latinos, military veterans — who are less likely to seek care for mental health problems.
POLITICO filed a records request for the program’s line-item budget in October 2018, but the city has twice requested an extension. Two budget breakdowns acquired by POLITICO — one from City Hall and one from the Independent Budget Office — show significant differences in spending.
The City Hall budget shows $594 million in spending since ThriveNYC’s inception. The IBO budget shows $816 million. Both City Hall and IBO suspect the Office of Management and Budget included fewer programs in the City Hall version, accounting for the difference. But the budget discrepancies illustrate the difficulty in tracking Thrive.
On Friday, the NYC comptroller announced a “deep dive” into exactly what Thrive has accomplished and exactly where the exorbitant amount of taxpayer money has been spent.
Comptroller Scott Stringer announced Friday that he will be looking into a city program that has spent nearly $1 billion without any details.
As WCBs 880’s Rich Lamb reports, first lady Chirlane McCray’s “Thrive” metal health initiative meant to help the mentally ill has spent $850 million over the past four years. Though, data on what the program has accomplished is hard to find.
There were concerns when the program was implemented at the end of 2018 that the Mayor and his wife lacked the proper focus when it came to dealing with mental health issues as a way to divert funds for the program to marketing and PR rather than resources and facilities.
“The mayor and first lady have falsely declared ‘stigma’ rather than ‘lack of services’ as being the major barrier faced by the seriously mentally ill thereby justifying the diversion of funds to public relations campaigns rather than services,” DJ Jaffe, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Organization, an advocacy group, wrote in an email.
Larger evaluations of the program’s efficacy and budget are in the works, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Who’s got a billion to burn?
Well, Bill de Blasio for sure.
But also mayoral spouse Chirlane McCray, who has just been revealed as a world-class boondoggler in her own right.
Hey, the family that preys together stays together, right? And it’s only (your) money — even if it is quite a lot of it.
McCray is the proprietress of ThriveNYC, a mental-health-related something-or-other created four-plus years ago to give a little heft to the conceit that Bill and Chirlane were elected as co-mayors — which is nonsense on stilts.
That is, once upon a time, first spouses were content to pretend to be in charge of prettifying highways and things. It was honorable “work,” it didn’t cost very much and it filled up the spouse’s free time.
But this is 2019, and the general feeling — at least in the de Blasio administration — is that if there’s not a lot of dough attached to the spousal sinecure, it doesn’t really matter enough.
So, ipso presto, co-Mayor Bill coughed up enough cash to break a pack mule’s back and sent it off to co-Mayor Chirlane — who then went forth to cure Gotham’s mental-illness problems.
Fast-forward to Wednesday, when the City Council was startled to discover that McCray and Team Thrive are closing in on having spent an eye-popping $900 millionsince the program’s inception — and nobody seems to have a clue on what.
That is, nobody appears to have kept receipts; the subways and street corners are still overrun with crazy people, and nobody in charge knows what’s to happen next.
But let’s be clear: If your boondogglery sets the New York City Council back on its heels, you truly are soaring with the eagles.
Right up there with co-Mayor Bill, who started the week on his own sour note — announcing that his signature Renewal school program was closing up shop after pounding $773 million down a rathole.
Well, he didn’t actually say “rathole,” and the price tag has doubtless been lowballed — but he also had no credible explanation for the debacle, nor did he apologize for it.
“We did not say everything would be perfect,” burbled the co-mayor — as if anybody outside his immediate orbit expected an outcome even close to competent.
That’s because there never was any doubt what the program was about. That is, reversing Bloomberg administration plans to shut down 100 miserably malfunctioning schools, thus saving the jobs of barely competent teachers and administrators and shutting up small bands of noisy parents who loved the schools despite their failings. Think Stockholm syndrome, rolled into a big ball with the United Federation of Teachers.
But the co-mayor made performance promises when he initiated the Renewal program, few of which even remotely were met, and presently gravity prevailed: The program caved in on itself.
How many other big-bucks initiatives are in similar straits is unknowable — mostly because bureaucrats never blow the whistle on themselves and also because Gotham’s formal watchdog, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, is among the most incurious individuals ever to hold the office.
That the co-mayors could fly under the radar to burn through $1.6 billion to no obvious good effect is an embarrassment — but understandable in the abstract. Things happen.
That Stringer could sleep through it all is the real scandal; why does the city even have a comptroller, if that’s the standard of performance?
It is not, in the end, just about money. The programs at issue ostensibly are meant to assist particularly challenged people — the helpless, often homeless, mentally ill and small children whose futures are forfeited because they landed in shamefully nonfunctional schools, an experience from which they will never recover.
But there are other mysteries out there, too. Does anybody know how well — more likely, how poorly — the co-mayors’ hugely expensive pre-K program is working, especially that portion consigned to the city’s notoriously problematic not-for-profit sector?
How about the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort — six years, uncountable delays and billions of dollars later?
Has anybody even looked?
This principally is on the co-mayors, of course, but it is also on Stringer — who wants to be mayor, but who shrinks from demonstrating that he deserves the job.
That two such scandals should bubble to the surface unannounced is bad enough. That it should happen in a single week is worse — it’s an embarrassment.
New York is supposed to be better than that.
Bob McManus is a contributing editor of City Journal.