Basic Lack of Accountability Plagues NYC First Lady’s Mental Health Initiative | Citizens Against Government Waste

Basic Lack of Accountability Plagues NYC First Lady’s Mental Health Initiative

The WasteWatcher

In 2015, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio asked his wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, to lead an effort to tackle mental health challenges in the city.  Called ThriveNYC, it purported to offer a “roadmap for mental health for all.”  Yet records show Ms. McCray failed to keep track of how her program spent its money.

Four years after its launch, after $850 million in funding, no one can say how the money was spent.  The program is on track to spend $1 billion by 2020, and $1 billion in each four-year period after that.

Basic accounting and audit standards do not appear to have been put in place for ThriveNYC.  To the extent that cost evaluations did play a part in the program, it appears to have been more in theory than in practice.  Another relevant aspect of the program’s situation is that it has received virtually no scrutiny until this week, with the exception of a mention or two in the context of the city’s homelessness crisis in 2015 and a piece that warned of “[t]he mayor’s misallocation of mental-health spending” in 2018. 

The most significant problem is that the city itself has no way to measure ThriveNYC’s performance.  City Hall claims that $594 million has been spent; the Independent Budget Office gives us a figure of $816 million.  The news outlet POLITICO asked for the program’s line-item budget in October 2018, but the city has requested two deadline extensions. 

Perhaps sensing that journalists and ordinary citizens might eventually ask about ThriveNYC’s successes and failures, de Blasio’s administration put together a 14-page report that contains 472 metrics, POLITICO reports.  Yet some elements of ThriveNYC are still not being tracked at all.  Helpfully, we learn that millions of people in and out of the city have seen ads on social media promoting the program, but we do not learn whether the ads changed anyone’s behavior (or, by the way, improved mental health outcomes for New Yorkers). 

If New York City cannot offer even the most basic evaluation of its efficacy after four years, it’s time for the city to reconsider its program that the New York Post has called a “mental-health money pit.”