Monday, June 29, 2020

  Mayor Bill de Blasio: Well, a lot is going on and I want to start today with the most important underlying foundation of how we are approaching this moment in our city's history. Everything we are doing as a City government to serve you is focused on four things. It's focused on your health, your safety, keeping a roof over your head, and keeping food on your table. This is about what we've been doing, what we've been talking about now over the last four months, because this crisis has caused us to focus on the basics, to make sure that every New Yorker knows that we're going to protect them, protect their safety and health, make sure they have the basics to get by, their families have the basics to get by. While we restart our recovery, our economy, while we bring our livelihoods back. We have so much to do in this city to help people and bring back the vibrant life of this city. But right now, our singular focus has to be on those four basics.

So, I say this in general, and I say it because today is the day before our budget deadline. And we have been working for weeks now with the City Council on next year's budget. And to say the least, this has been the toughest budget that we've had to do as administration here at City Hall. We're in a whole different situation, in fact, than New York City's ever faced in our history, a health care crisis, an economic crisis, a disparity crisis, a budget crisis all wrapped into one and on a massive, massive scale. So, we keep coming back to the fact that we've got to focus on those basics – health, safety, food, shelter. But, while we've been trying to do that, we have been dealing with an extraordinary loss of revenue. $9 billion has evaporated in the course of the last few months, revenue that used to be plentiful because of such a strong economy, it's gone. What does that mean? Billions of dollars of cuts have happened already in our City budget, more cuts coming because we have to live within our means.

Now, I want to note that while we, New York City, has been doing everything possible to address this pandemic, to protect people's lives, to keep our hospitals together, to maximize testing, to get people food – 1.5 million meals being delivered every single day – all the things that this city is doing, we're doing it alone. We asked repeatedly for the federal government to help us with the stimulus. It hasn't come and there's no sign when it will. We have been the epicenter of this pandemic, and yet the federal government cannot manage to get New York City the help it needs nor so many other cities and states. So, the federal government side has been, in so many ways, missing an action. I went to Albany over the last few weeks, asked for help to help us through this incredibly difficult time with long term borrowing. I want to thank the State Assembly. They were ready, willing, and able. The State Senate, however, has not acted. And I'm certainly disappointed and I think New Yorkers are as well. But we're going to persevere.

Now, at the same time, we have an unprecedented opportunity to change some things. And there has been a very intense, detailed, focused discussion over the last month on how we change policing, how we focus more on young people and the needs of communities, how we address disparities, how we redistribute. And I have to tell you it's been a very productive conversation. So, over this weekend, City Hall – here at City Hall, my office presented to the City Council, a plan that would achieve a billion dollars in savings for the NYPD and shift resources to young people, to communities in a way that would help address a lot of the underlying issues that we know are the cause of so many problems in our society. I am excited to say that we have a plan that can achieve real reform, that can achieve real redistribution, and at the same time ensure that we keep our city safe, and we make sure that our officers are on patrol where we need them around this city. So, that's something that I think is so important for the future, to strike that balance the right way, reform, justice, redistribution, but always safety.

At the same time, we want to shift resources more and more into young people in particular, into youth centers. We want to shift resources more and more into public housing. So, the plan we presented has over a half-billion dollars in the shift in capital funding to youth recreation centers, to NYCHA developments, to help where the need is greatest. Look, we can do this. We can strike the balance. We can keep the city safe. So, negotiations continue. I think they've been very productive. I'm very hopeful where we're going, but I wanted the people of this city to know where I stand and what we believe we can do for the future of this city. And while we're talking about reform, while we're talking about the future, I want to talk about a very troubling situation, and one that reminds us of what we need to do more in the future. We have to look at the entire criminal justice system, and that means our jails as well. That means our Department of Correction.

You know, we've made a lot of changes. We have the lowest level of incarceration since the 1940s. I want people to understand that. There are fewer people in jail in New York City today at any point since World War II, and that's something everyone should be proud of. We had 180,000 fewer arrests in 2019 than the last year of the Bloomberg administration. By driving down unnecessary arrests, we're driving down incarceration. And, of course, we're going to close Rikers Island and end that bad history. But there's still an outstanding issue, and it’s solitary confinement also known as punitive segregation. Look, we ended it already for young people and New York City led the way in this nation in addressing the fact that we should not have young people in solitary confinement. We all remember the tragedy of Kalief Browder and we acted on the lesson of that tragedy. He did not die in vain. But then we saw another tragedy recently. Layleen Polanco. Layleen Polanco should not have been in Rikers to begin with. Layleen Polanco should not have been in solitary confinement. And Lord knows she deserves justice. Her family deserves justice. The transgender community deserves justice. We have to right the wrong. We can't bring her back, but we can make change so that no one else goes through such a tragedy.

There has been accountability. Seventeen Correction officers have been disciplined, four suspended without pay. And this is just the start of the disciplinary process. But we need to make changes immediately in how people who are incarcerated in our jail system are handled and we need to make sure they are safe. So, effective immediately, people with underlying medical conditions will not be subject to punitive segregation or solitary confinement. There already had been some prohibitions in place, for example, for serious mental illness or pregnancy. We're expanding the list. There's a list on your screen right now. Every medical condition you see on your screen will be a cause for a prohibition of any individual being put into solitary confinement. That's important. We're doing that literally starting today, but we have to go farther.

So, let's take the next step. Let's end solitary confinement all together. We have proven that we can keep jails safe with much less use of solitary confinement, punitive segregation. Now there's a lot to do because the jails are still not safe enough. Let me hasten to make the point. We have a lot to do to create more safety for people who are incarcerated and for our Correction officers and employees alike. But we know there are ways we can do this without punitive segregation. So, I'm appointing a four-person working group and they will get to work on a plan to end punitive segregation, to end solitary confinement in New York City once and for all. The four members of that group will be the Vice Chair of the Board of Correction, Stanley Richards; the Commissioner of Corrections, Cynthia Brann; the President of Just Leadership USA, DeAnna Hoskins, and there will be a representative from the union that represents our Corrections officers, COBA. This group will have a simple mission, a simple mandate – find a way to end solitary confinement and tell us all the things it's going to take, because it will take other measures and new approaches and innovations to keep everyone safe. I'm expecting to report back in the fall with whatever recommendations are there. And then we get to work on making it happen because we can make this change in New York City.

Now I'm going to switch gears in a very big way. I want to go back to the health front. I want to go back to talking about the coronavirus, the issue that pervades everything we talk about. So, we're going to go over to the indicators in a moment. And the good news is our indicators our health indicators continue to be strong, continue to be positive. Phase two has been going very well in New York City. And that means, as we see progress, we're able to do more and more things to help New Yorkers. And here's a nice one – we're going to be able to open up the barbecue areas in our parks for this coming weekend, for the July 4th weekend. So, folks can enjoy barbecuing. I want everyone to remember to be safe, still practice the appropriate social distancing, still wear the face coverings, but it's time for barbecuing to come back in our parks and they will be opened in the coming days for this weekend. And again, that's because of the hard work that so many of you have put in. The New York City story is pretty damn good when it comes to the comeback we're making from the coronavirus, the continued progress in fighting back to the virus and keeping us healthy. The rest of the nation, I don't need to tell you, is looking more and more troubling, and that is causing us to think about each step we're taking and to examine what we're seeing from around the country. So, a number of cities and states, unfortunately, have been moving in the wrong direction and we do see a nexus to a particular problem. We all love indoor dining, but we also see problems related with indoor dining. So, in East Lansing, Michigan recently 85 patrons tested positive for the coronavirus, all linked back to a single restaurant. In Texas and Florida, we've obviously seen, has gotten a lot of attention, record number of cases, clusters being tied back to bars and restaurants. California had made great progress, they’re now unfortunately slipping back and they are changing the rules regarding bars and restaurants. So, we're paying attention to this lesson. My team spoke with the Governor's team yesterday, said we're increasingly concerned. I know they are as well. We are now going to re-examine the indoor dining rules for phase three. The rest of phase three is moving on pace for Monday, July 6th, this coming Monday. But the indoor dining element is now in question. We're going to work it through with the State, figure out how we want to approach it, if we want to pause that piece for a while or modify it – we'll have more to say in the next couple of days, because we want restaurant owners to have that information right away.

But the most important thing is to keep us healthy and safe and not allow resurgence. So, I've said all along, there'll be ups and downs, there'll be modifications. This is now after steady, steady progress, a point where we're saying, look, on this one piece, we may need to slow down and think differently and approach it differently. But what is clearly working is outdoor dining. And I think the big message I keep getting – I've talked to our health care people about it – is outdoors is working across the board, meaning the disease does not spread anywhere as much outdoors, face coverings are working, outdoor dining is working. We want to double down on outdoor dining. So, we talked about the outdoor dining that we'll start to open up on our open streets. Now, we want to go farther with the Open Restaurants program. Right now, we have 6,100 restaurants who have already applied and gotten that certification to go over just the last two weeks so they can do the outdoor dining. It's been such a hit. It's been so positive. It's bringing people back to work. We want to go a lot farther with it. So, we're going to reach out to every single restaurant that qualifies, but has not yet applied, and help them to apply. We're going to work with BIDs. We're going to work with the Hospitality Alliance, chambers of commerce, everyone – let's get every restaurant into outdoor dining. Let's maximize their revenue, bring back their workforce, but keep it outdoors primarily while we figure out the indoor piece. We also want to remind all the restaurant owners – please, it's been a great success so far, but be careful with the outdoor dining areas along the street, there are specific rules of how to keep them safe and a specific approach you need to take to make sure there's separation from the traffic. We're going to send inspectors around and ambassadors around to talk it through and make sure that restaurant owners really get that part right, because it's going great. People love it. It's super productive, but we have to keep it safe.

Okay, let's talk about our indicators. Number one, daily number of people admitted to hospitals for suspected COVID-19. The threshold is 200 – today's report, 51. Daily number of people in Health + Hospitals ICU’s, threshold of 375 – today's report, 297. And, most important, percentage of people testing citywide who are positive for COVID-19, threshold of 15 percent – today, again, two percent. So, we're holding at that number, which is really, really good.

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