New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Council Members Menchaca, Lander, Levin, and Kallos Restore Participatory Budgeting in their Districts to Accelerate Covid-19 Recovery

NEW YORK, NY - Council Members Menchaca, Lander, Levin, and Kallos announced on Monday that their offices are setting aside a combined total of $4.5 million dollars for their constituents to decide how to invest in their communities. Known as Participatory Budgeting, the citywide process was suspended last year due to the pandemic. This year, these Council Members are reviving the process on their own to accelerate the City's recovery.
"The pandemic has devastated our communities, particularly our immigrant communities,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca. “To get back to normal, we need the vaccine, but also massive investments in our schools, streets, and social services. That is why our offices have joined forces to restore Participatory Budgeting. This process gives power back to the people to make decisions about what projects we should fund in their districts. I’m proud to stand alongside my colleagues Council Members Brad Lander, Stephen Levin, and Ben Kallos to ensure that the most impacted by the pandemic have more control of their recovery in PB’s tenth year.”
"Participatory Budgeting represents the very best in participatory democracy,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “It allows community members to suggest, develop and vote on local projects - engaging in every step of the decision-making process for how our money should be spent within the community. I was there to help launch PB in the City Council in 2011, and I could not be more pleased with the work our volunteers have done this year, under the difficult circumstances created by the pandemic, to make this 10th year of PB possible. The ballot they have created addresses so many of the needs brought to the fore by Covid - food insecurity, tenants rights, creating engaging outdoor spaces, upgrades to school infrastructure and more. I am excited that even in the face of diminished centralized support, our districts have banded together to keep PB alive this year and beyond."
“For the past ten years Participatory Budgeting has been a force for community involvement in how our tax dollars are used to make our communities better. This pandemic has shown the many inequities of our city and how our friends and neighbors have risen up to fill the needs that they know are there. There is no more important time to continue the PB process and allocate funding to street level, community suggested projects that fill the needs of our community. I am proud to stand with my fellow Council Members Brad Lander, Carlos Menchaca, and Ben Kallos in continuing PB through this crisis,” said Council Member Stephen Levin.
"What better way to help get New York City on back to normal than with an exercise in democracy and having residents vote on the change they want to see in their neighborhoods," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "Participatory Budgeting brings communities together and although we cannot be fully together just yet, we can still get residents to join the process and get involved. If we are going to ever get back to normal, we cannot let the good things we were doing like PB get lost from our commitments. I am happy to see Participatory Budgeting back as I am sure are my constituents. Thank you to Council Members Menchaca, Lander, and Levin for doing what it takes to literally keep PB alive this year.”
Council Members Menchaca, Lander, Levin, and Kallos understand that democratic decision making is possible even in a socially distanced world. Their offices, along with dozens of community volunteers, local organizations, and city agencies developed idea proposals and then banded together to design the ballot, including translations in multiple languages for their constituents. 
From April 5 to April 14, residents of Districts 5, 33, 38, and 39 will be able to vote for projects in their districts and thereby decide how best to invest a combined $4.5 million dollars in Council discretionary and/or capital funding.
Voting will be entirely online this year given ongoing social distancing measures. Residents will be able to review district-specific projects on a website and vote for their preferred projects.
While acknowledging the limitations of digital voting, the Council Members recognize the importance of public safety being first and foremost. They are confident that the level of participation will reflect true community involvement and priorities. The Council Members also believe the virtual vote will encourage enough participation to revive a sense of civic ownership over the City's budgetary process, which is especially important after the pandemic exposed and deepened fault lines among New Yorkers regarding race, policing, food insecurity, funding for schools, and public safety.
Participatory Budgeting was first introduced by the City Council in 2011. At the time, only four Council Members participated in this democratic experiment of allowing New Yorkers to decide how to use a portion of each Council Member's discretionary funds. 
By 2019, Participatory Budgeting had become so popular that certain Council Members actually saw greater turnout to vote for projects than they did for their own elections. It encouraged nearly three quarters of the City Council to participate with more than $35M in capital and expense funds set aside for PB. In late 2018 NYC voters approved three ballot initiatives establishing the Civic Engagement Commission (CEC) and mandating a citywide participatory budgeting program.
Unfortunately, PB last year was cancelled across the City when COVID-19 struck. And this year the centralized Council PB process was suspended.
While the pandemic still threatens and social distancing practices are encouraged, it is clear that without well targeted funding New York City's communities, particularly those most impacted by the coronavirus, will not recover quickly or equitably. 
This kind of targeted funding is already alive and well. Last month the CEC launched its pilot citywide PB program “It’s Our Money” which just wrapped up voting for youth-centered projects totaling $100K.
Council Members Menchaca, Lander, Levin, and Kallos hope that by reviving City Council Participatory Budgeting this year, it will help accelerate the City's recovery from the pandemic and strengthen the trust New Yorkers have in the City's commitment to include them in one of its most important decision-making processes.

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