The Trump administration’s attempt to strip New York City of federal funds because the administration viewed it as an “anarchist jurisdiction” could cost the city as much as $12 billion — money for the cash-starved subway, for the Police Department and for the city’s efforts to treat coronavirus patients, city officials said on Thursday.
President Trump last month ordered the Justice Department to withhold federal funds from New York, Portland, Ore., and Seattle for allowing “themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones.” Mr. Trump has repeatedly attacked the cities’ Democratic leaders for their responses to recent protests over police brutality.
The move could directly affect New York’s efforts to battle and recover from the coronavirus pandemic: Although the city was granted $2.65 billion in Covid-related funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, only $199.6 million of it has been doled out.
On Thursday, New York City officials filed a lawsuit, along with the cities of Seattle and Portland, to try to prevent the budget cuts.
The lawsuit was filed despite skepticism that the Trump administration would actually withhold federal funds from the cities; such a move, the cities suggest, would be unconstitutional and politically motivated. And if Mr. Trump should lose the presidential election in November, there is little reason to fear that his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., would continue the threat.
Indeed, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York had initially disregarded the president’s threats as campaign rhetoric. But then federal officials signaled earlier this month that New York City might not be eligible for certain transit grants, and city officials grew concerned that all federal funds to the city could be jeopardized.
Mr. Trump has sought to depict the cities as crime-ridden and out of control after Black Lives Matter protests this year, warning that similar chaos could erupt across the country if Mr. Biden was elected. Mr. Trump’s attorney general, William P. Barr, identified the three cities as places that were permitting violence and property damage.
Mr. Barr based his decision on “an arbitrary and capricious list of misleading and cherry-picked bullet-points about each city that in no way supports the assertion that the cities have chosen to abandon their jurisdictions to lawlessness and violence,” the lawsuit said.
The cities are asking the court to declare that the designation violates the 10th Amendment, among other rules, to vacate it and to stop the federal government from taking further steps to carry it out.
If the Trump administration follows through on its threats, New York City could lose critical federal funding for the transit system, the health department and the Police Department, James E. Johnson, the city’s corporation counsel, said on Thursday.
Earlier this month, the Federal Transit Administration effectively barred the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the city’s subway and buses, from applying for federal funding to cover some coronavirus-related expenses. A notice on Oct. 8 said the agency would consider applications pursuant to Mr. Trump’s directive on “anarchist jurisdictions.”
The transit agency has a staggering budget hole after the pandemic wiped out its operating revenues. The M.T.A. received $3.9 billion in federal aid in March and has been lobbying for an additional $12 billion to cover its shortfall through 2021.
The cities began to prepare their lawsuit after seeing the federal notice regarding transit funding, Mr. Johnson said. He has called the president’s maneuver “a high-tech heist to try to use federal funds to coerce cities.”
The Justice Department cited criminal justice concerns for its decision: the city’s rise in shootings, property damage from the protests and the city’s decision to cut some funding for the Police Department.
“It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens,” Mr. Barr said in a news release last month.
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency had also threatened last month to move its regional headquarters out of Lower Manhattan, suggesting that local agency officials had become so fearful of New York streets that they were now considering moving offices.
Shootings have nearly doubled in New York City this year to more than 1,200, compared with about 630 at this time last year, according to police statistics. There have been at least 354 murders this year, compared with 264 at this time last year.
But the crime rate is much lower than in the 1990s, when more than 2,000 people were killed in a single year. Shootings have also risen in other big cities, including Chicago, Houston, Atlanta and Denver.
Mr. de Blasio and police leaders have blamed the city’s rise in violence in part on the economic devastation of the pandemic, the release of thousands of people from jail and slowdowns in the criminal justice system.
The mayor said on Thursday that his city was making a heroic comeback from the pandemic and it was wrong for Mr. Trump to try to hurt his own hometown.
“The only anarchy in this country is coming from the White House,” Mr. de Blasio told reporters.
On Thursday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat who has quarreled with Mr. Trump, echoed the city’s argument that the federal designation was unconstitutional.
“Once again, Mr. President, read the Constitution,” he said.
Susan Beachy and Christina Goldbaum contributed reporting.