Happy and Healthy Holiday to Everyone Who is Celebrating During This Festive Season
Spring is a wonderful season of many important holidays to many people. To everyone who is celebrating (and even if you don't celebrate any of these holidays), I hope you can enjoy time with family and friends, and I wish everyone a happy spring season!
This week I was delighted to join Riverdale Senior Services at their seder meal, as well as an interfaith coalition at the Riverdale Y for an iftar feast.
Speaking picture above: Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz addresses older adults at Riverdale Senior Services to celebrate the seder.
Group pictured above: (l-r) Council Member Eric Dinowitz, Sheikh Musa Drammeh, myself, Imam Yassine Taoufik, Jewish Community Relations Council CEO Gideon Taylor, and JCRC Board President-Elect Ben Golub attend an interfaith iftar feast at the Riverdale Y.
Thoughts on Arrest and Resignation of Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin
I am appalled and disappointed that the now former Lt. Governor has been accused of corruption. I am glad that given the circumstances he has tendered his resignation immediately.
One of the most common questions on this subject seems to be about Mr. Benjamin’s status on the upcoming Democratic primary ballot. As of now, he will still be appearing on the ballot. Under current state law, there are only three ways to remove somebody from a ballot after they accept a nomination: moving out of state, being nominated for another office, or death.
Terrorist Attack on Brooklyn Subway
We have witnessed yet another heart-wrenching and deeply unnerving act of terror in New York City. On Tuesday, a lone gunman went on a shooting spree from inside of a northbound N train in Brooklyn. At least 23 people were injured, 10 from being hit by bullets with the rest being injured in the chaos and from smoke inhalation from a pair of smoke canisters that the terrorist set off inside the subway car.
These senseless acts of gun violence must stop. Nationwide, there have been 271 mass shootings since 2009 – resulting in 1518 people shot and killed and 980 people shot and wounded. More than half of these mass shootings were done by someone who clearly had dangerous warning signs before the shooting, including this one. In our own state, an average of 870 people die and 2,607 people are wounded each year from guns. Guns are the third-leading cause of death among children and teens in our state, with an average of 65 kids being killed by guns every year. I am committed to continue working towards increased gun dealer accountability, microstamping to help trace gun crimes, and expand access to victim compensation funding for gun violence incidents. However, this particular terrorist purchased his weapon legally in Ohio. We need national action to promote gun safety in New York, and everywhere in our nation.
As we continue to pray and hope for full recoveries from everybody who was injured in this terrorist attack, let’s also reflect on the miraculous fact that nobody appears to have been killed. In those moments of chaos, we witnessed New Yorkers rush to the aide of those who were hurt. We watched first responders work hard to save lives and bring order to the situation. And we have seen the NYPD identify and capture a suspect. Our thoughts are with the survivors of this act of gun terror, and our deepest gratitude goes out to those who worked to help those in need and the tireless efforts made to track down the shooter and bring him to justice.
Rent Guidelines Board Proposes Huge Rent Increase
This week, the NYC Rent Guidelines Board proposed rent increases for rent stabilized tenants. This is a departure from recent years where the Rent Guidelines Board has approved rent freezes in multiple years.
The proposed rent increases are:
• 2.7% to 4.5% for a one-year lease renewal
• 4.3% to 9% for a two-year lease renewal
These would be huge rent increases, and it is outrageous that anyone would think that a 9% rent hike for more than a million rent stabilized New Yorkers is appropriate as we continue to struggle with economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. I understand that property owners have also been hit hard by the pandemic, with reduced rent receipts and higher building costs due to global price increases and stronger laws governing building safety. However, our top priority needs to be keeping people in their homes.
I have dedicated a significant amount of my time and effort as your Assemblyman to prevent evictions and housing instability throughout the pandemic and before. I am gravely concerned that a 9% rent hike will cause thousands of New Yorkers to be unable to afford to stay in their homes, forcing people into homelessness due to actions from our own government. This is unacceptable and the Rent Guidelines Board needs to come up with more reasonable numbers to help New Yorkers stay in their homes.
Albany Update: Budget Compromise Details: Billions of Dollars for Childcare, Healthcare, the Environment, Schools, Housing Support, Mass Transit, and More
Last week, I talked generally about the passage of the state budget being a compromise document that reflects the consensus of 150 Assemblymembers, 63 State Senators, and the Governor. To reiterate what I said last week, the budget process is messy and can get downright ugly at times.
Even though we no longer have the proverbial “three-men-in-a-room” making decisions in Albany, the underlying process does not change. Both houses of the Legislature choose their leaders – Speaker Carl Heastie in the Assembly and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in the State Senate. These leaders, similar to how unions conduct collective bargaining negotiations, are who we ask to be responsible to represent our conference’s views on every issue in the budget. In a world where it can be hard enough to get a group of three people to agree on where to eat dinner, I do not envy the job of our legislative leaders who have to navigate the often disparate opinions of every Assembly Member and State Senators.
This being said, I continue to believe that overall this is the best budgets that we have passed since I first began serving as your Assemblymember. Of course we did not get everything we wanted, and there are many items that we did want which were left out, but on the whole – we have created a budget that meets the needs of many hard-working New Yorkers.
Here are some highlights from our budget this year:
ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE
We allocated $4.2 billion to the Environmental Bond Act of 2022, which will be on the November ballot this year. This funding would include $1.5 billion for climate mitigation, $1.1 billion for restoration and flood risk reduction, $650 million for open space conservation and recreation, and $650 million for water quality projects.
We also significantly raised our investment in the Environmental Protection Fund (increase of 33%, to $400 million), and we are investing tens of millions of dollars towards electric vehicles and charging infrastructure throughout the state.
We allocated $1.1 billion to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and Landlord Rental Assistance Program (LRAP). This will help many families in New York pay off the arrears that they may have due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We also are making massive investments in affordable housing ($5.5 billion), public housing ($350 million), Mitchell-Lama housing ($100 million), and legal services to help prevent foreclosures and evictions ($50 million).
We are investing a total of $31.2 billion in state funding for school aid, including another $1.5 billion for Foundation Aid. We are on track to fully phase in Foundation Aid by the 2023-24 school year, which should create immediate and tangible improvements in our City’s public school system.
We also are making huge investments in higher education, with hundreds of millions of dollars going towards CUNY and SUNY to close the TAP gap and to expand TAP eligibility to 75,000 additional students as well as people who are currently incarcerated.
We are doubling our state’s investment in childcare over the next three years, allocating $3 billion in additional funding so that subsidized childcare eligibility will increase from 200% to 300% of the federal poverty level before the start of next school year.
We also allocated hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funds towards childcare stabilization grants, capital needs of childcare providers across the state, and for children and youth services to support community non-residential programs.
We are investing nearly $2 billion in additional funding to the Medicaid program and safety-net and public hospitals. We also are allocating tens of millions of dollars for residential healthcare facilities and adult care facilities.
Additionally, the budget raises the minimum wage for home care workers by $3 over the next two years, and gives every full-time health and mental hygiene frontline worker who earn less than $125,000 a one-time bonus payment of $3,000.
JUSTICE & SAFETY
This was one of the most controversial areas of the budget, and I dislike that the legislature was put in a position where we included criminal justice policy changes in our budget. However, I am very proud that we allocated more than $100 million to combat hate crimes, to support district attorneys' offices who need to hire more staff and expand technological capacity, for capital grants to support parole services and re-entry programs, alternatives to incarceration, and public defenders.
In terms of the policy changes we made, we strengthened our laws restricting the sale of firearms by lowering the required thresholds for various degrees of criminal charges of illegal firearm sales. We also made adjustments to our 2019 bail and discovery reforms. Judges will now be able to set bail in cases where non-negligible harm was caused to a person or property as a result of the crime, as well as in cases where a desk appearance ticket was issued previously but the defendant has not yet been tried. Additionally, discovery requirements were modified so that good faith omissions do not cause a trial calendar to restart.
We are investing more than $6 billion in the MTA, which is an increase of 20% over last year's spending. We are also investing nearly $40 billion in capital aid to localities and the NYS Department of Transportation capital plan.
Additionally, New Yorkers will receive a gas tax holiday between June 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022 – which should result in savings of sixteen cents per gallon with the option for individual counties to cap their sales tax for additional savings.
We are also dedicating $250 million for residential gas and utility arrears, $250 million for a new tax credit program to help small business owners cover the costs of COVID-19 related expenses, and $250 million to increase the New York City Earned Income Tax Credit.
The elephant in the room of this budget is the $600 million that is going towards a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills. As I mentioned previously, I strongly oppose this funding – however I believe that this bad idea is far outweighed by all of the good that we accomplished this year.
REMINDER: MetroCard Van Services in Woodlawn and Central Riverdale Next on Friday, April 29
At our request, the MTA has agreed to provide their MetroCard van in central Riverdale and in Woodlawn once again during the months of March, April, and May. This is an easy way for you to apply for a reduced-fare MetroCard, to refill a MetroCard (including reduced-fare MetroCards), or to deal with any other MetroCard-related issue you may be having.
The MetroCard van will be available at West 235th Street and Johnson Avenue between 9:30am and 11:30am, and will be available at the Woodlawn Library (Katonah Avenue and East 239th Street) between 12:30pm and 2:30pm on the following dates:
• Friday, April 29
• Tuesday, May 31
As a reminder, the MetroCard van is also available on a recurring basis at the following locations:
• Riverdale at Skyview Shopping Center (Riverdale Avenue between West 256th Street and West 259th Street) on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month between 10:30am and 12:30pm
• Kingsbridge at West 231st Street and Broadway on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month between 1:30pm and 3:30pm
• Knolls Crescent Mall (11-21 Knolls Crescent) on the 2nd and 4th Friday between 10am and 12pm
My office will continue to advocate for the restoration of MetroCard van service to the Van Cortlandt Senior Center as well as the permanent addition of the locations in central Riverdale and Woodlawn to their regular schedule.
Additionally, for those who are comfortable with online payments, the MTA will continue rolling out OMNY (which is their new fare payment system to replace the MetroCard). Using OMNY, you can pay for your transit fare using you contactless card (check your credit or debit card for what looks like a series of increasingly large closed parentheses), your smart device (such as a smart phone or smart watch that has been set up as a digital wallet).
You may also now get a physical OMNY card (available currently at several retailers in our community, shown here: omny.info/retail-locations). These physical OMNY cards are able to be connected to a debit or credit card as well as refilled using cash at participating retailers.
Beginning on February 28, 2022, the MTA is launching their pilot program to offer customers a weekly fare cap option. Basically, if you participate in this program through OMNY, after 12 subway or local bus trips tapping with the same card or device, you will automatically ride free for the rest of the week (defined as Monday through Sunday). For more information, please see the MTA's website here: https://omny.info/
Additionally, you can also apply for EasyPay Express using traditional MetroCard technology. This option allows you to connect a credit or debit card to your MetroCard so that it automatically refills either a 30-day unlimited plan or to maintain a $20 minimum balance on your MetroCard. For more information, please see the MTA's website here: https://www.easypaymetrocard.com/vector/static/faq/XpressFaq.shtml