State hiring freeze suspended

The New York state Capital Building in Albany. File photo

The state’s hiring freeze in effect for nearly a year-and-a-half since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic is over, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday.

Gov. Hochul suspended the state’s hiring freeze, which was slated to continue through March 31, or the end of the 2021-22 fiscal year, in a release Thursday.

The freeze thawed early after the state’s updated financial plan, which Hochul released Wednesday, projected $2.1 billion in revenue ahead of economic recovery projections.

“As we continue to combat the pandemic, we must keep New York moving forward and that includes building our workforce to ensure we can support New Yorkers at the highest level,” Hochul said Thursday. “However, we must continue to act responsibly and prudently with the state’s finances as we work to slow the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 and help to ensure all businesses and New Yorkers remain safe.”

The lift of the freeze will allow state departments and agencies to hire new state employees without a waiver from the state Budget Division.

The division granted waivers only for positions aimed at protecting public health and safety, generating revenue or providing essential administrative or operational support.

The hiring freeze — and also freezing of new contracts and pay raises — was first instated by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in spring 2020 to help reduce state spending by 4%, or $4 billion, to help offset billions of dollars in pandemic-driven revenue loss.

The state’s first quarter financial plan update recognizes $2.2 billion in additional tax receipts in fiscal year 2021-22 and anticipates about the same amount each year going forward, or about $8.5 billion over four years, Citizens Budget Commission President Andrew S. Rein said in a statement.

“The state is to be commended for adding $2.4 billion of the total to the State’s Rainy Day and Economic Uncertainties reserve funds,” Rein said Wednesday after the report’s release. “Based on the comptroller’s monthly cash reports, current year receipts may well be another $3 billion higher than the updated projections. The vast majority of these also should be deposited into Rainy Day reserves. Even with the deposits outlined in the Update, the reserves will total $7.2 billion, still billions of dollars less than what the state should have on hand to help weather its next downturn.

The number of state workers in executive agencies declined more than 10,000 people since the pandemic began, from 118,000 full-time employees in March 2020 to 107,500 in August 2021. The employment changes were driven by attrition, according to the governor’s office.

“We commend the administration for committing to transparency,” Rein added. “We look forward to the state releasing future financial plan updates on time, as they are critical for the public to assess the state’s fiscal condition.”

Departments must prioritize hiring people to satisfy core missions and must continue to effectively manage their resources within the budget, according to the governor’s office.

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