Per-migrant care costs in NYC climb again even as City Hall pushes to reduce costs

NEW YORK — The city’s currently spending more money on housing and services per migrant than it did last summer, despite projections from Mayor Eric Adams showing the overall price-tag for the crisis is dropping thanks to reductions in the number of asylum seekers in the city’s care.

Molly Wasow Park, Adams’ commissioner of the Department of Social Services, revealed in a City Council hearing Monday that the city’s current average per-night cost for caring for a single migrant household — known as the “per diem rate” — is $388. That price-tag is inclusive of all expense categories related to migrant care, including shelter and food.

The figure disclosed by Wasow Park is $5 higher than the $383 migrant per diem rate Adams cited last August, although the number has fluctuated.

The slight per diem uptick comes even though Adams announced a directive in November for his administration to reduce overall projected migrant spending by 20% in the current 2024 fiscal year, which runs through June 30. Last month, City Hall said the administration had been “successful” in formulating a plan to achieve the 20% cut, putting its new projected total price-tag for the crisis at $10.4 billion through the end of the 2025 fiscal year, down from the previously forecasted $12.6 billion. Overall, the city aims to save $1.7 billion over the course of the current fiscal year, which has led to Adams restoring budget cuts across city agencies.

The mayor said last month that his administration was able to lower the projected spending because of a push to reduce the migrant shelter census. The administration’s main mechanism for doing so has been to limit consecutive shelter stays for migrant adults to 30 days and migrant families with children to 60 days. The policies appear to have had an impact, as there are currently about 65,000 migrants in the city’s care, down from about 68,000 in August.

The other component that the mayor said last month would help bring down migrant costs was for the city to shift away from for-profit migrant shelter contractors in favor of relying on more cost-friendly nonprofit providers.

It’s unclear how much progress the administration has made on replacing for-profit contractors with nonprofit providers. The city’s Health + Hospitals Corp., which has helped oversee the migrant response, advanced multiple new for-profit migrant services contracts just this past December, including one for DocGo, a controversial medical firm that has come under scrutiny by State Attorney General Letitia James.

Asked at Monday’s Council hearing whether she anticipates the migrant per diem rate will start going down, Wasow Park suggested there’s still work to do on that front.

“I absolutely think that we will see changes in the asylum number as there is a push to manage costs down,” she testified.

The $388 per diem rate comprises costs associated with housing migrants in the city’s network of Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers, known as HERRCs, as well as in its traditional Department of Homeless Services shelters.

In the traditional DHS system, the per diem rate is far lower. For a single adult, it’s $145.13 and $232.40 for families with children, Wasow Park testified, indicating the elevated migrant per diem rate is being driven by HERRC spending. It’s unclear, however, what the per-diem rate is at a HERRC facility.

Adams spokesman Charles Lutvak wouldn’t immediately say whether the newly-disclosed elevated migrant per diem rate could impact the mayor’s savings directives.

Lutvak did say the migrant per diem has fluctuated over the course of the crisis and that it hit a peak of $394 this past Oct. 10, indicating it has since come down slightly, though it still remains higher than last summer. He did not say what has caused the fluctuations.

According to the latest data from Adams’ office, the city has spent just over $4 billion on housing and services for the tens of thousands of mostly Latin American migrants who have arrived since spring 2022.

The mayor has in recent weeks said driving down city migrant costs is especially important as it appears unlikely the federal government will provide any additional meaningful financial relief anytime soon.

The 60-day policy that the mayor credits as a cost-saving measure has so far only been impacting migrant families with kids staying in the city’s HERRCs. In Monday’s hearing, Wasow Park said there is a “potential possibility” that the Adams administration will seek to subject migrant families in the DHS system to 60-day limits, too, though she conceded that would likely need state approval.