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Citizens Union



A Victory for School Based Health Centers, But More To Do

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Assemblymembers Carroll & Simon, the authors (photo via @Bobby4Brooklyn)

School based health centers (SBHCs) are a critical safety net for immigrants and the uninsured. There are 145 SBHCs serving students in more than 345 schools across the city, regardless of their ability to pay. SBHCs provide primary and preventive care, reproductive and mental health care, and first aid; manage chronic illnesses; and more. From asthma and diabetes to food allergies and anxiety, these clinics can make the difference between life and death for many of our schoolchildren.

The clinics yield positive health outcomes and are cost-effective through their provision of preventive health care. They are also wildly popular with parents, students, and school administrators. The city wholeheartedly supports the clinics, which have been shown to reduce absenteeism and enhance school performance. The clinics also fulfill the state’s goal of access to community-based care.

Therefore, it was alarming when four schools in District 15 received a letter in June from SUNY Downstate Medical Center, which operates five SBHCs, informing them that state funding had been dramatically reduced and that the SUNY Downstate SBHCs were in jeopardy. 

A combination of a 20% cut in non-Medicaid funding in the 2017-18 State Budget ($3.9M), a May 2017 change by the State Department of Health to the funding methodology for the distribution of non-Medicaid funds, and a July 1, 2018 deadline to be carved-in to Medicaid Managed Care has created underfunding and instability to the SBHCs. 

SUNY Downstate was a big loser in the state’s funding methodology changes that followed closely on the heels of the state’s budget cuts: SUNY Downstate’s budget for 2017-18 was slashed by 70%, from $669,322 to $198,187. While some sponsors received more money and are scheduled to open new centers this year, some of the larger sponsors took significant blows to their budget; NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers also took a cut of over $500,000, as did Mt. Sinai Hospital, which experienced a nearly $700,000 loss.

SUNY Downstate later announced that the cuts were unsustainable and that it could not operate four of its five centers. This included the centers at M.S. 51 William Alexander; Brooklyn New School (BNS) and Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies; P.S. 38 the Pacific School; and the School for International Studies and Digital Arts and Cinema Technology High School.

Quickly, a coalition of parents, administrators, community leaders, labor unions, and elected officials came together to organize and fight back and everyone pitched in. An online petition in support of the centers was launched by the local elected officials. Jeremy Amar, a parent at MS 51, created posters of several student beneficiaries of the SBHCs with the slogan: “save your school based health center; community health starts here.” Amy Sumner, a parent coordinator from BNS 146, put out the call for personal stories about an SBHC and they poured in.

Thankfully, the coalition’s advocacy efforts were successful. SUNY Downstate decided that no matter the level of state funding that it received, it will continue to operate the four clinics for this year. We are very grateful that SUNY Downstate has stepped up for our children, but recognize the need to ensure the long-term viability of the SBHCs. It’s very likely that we will need to find a new sponsor for the four centers next year and we all need to make sure SBHCs across the city and state are properly funded going forward.

According to a study by the Children’s Defense Fund, next year’s Medicaid carve-in will reduce revenues to SBHCs by $16.3 million -- on top of this year’s cuts. Legislation was passed by the State Legislature to enact a permanent Medicaid Managed Carve-Out for SBHCs (A7866 /S6012). We are hopeful that Governor Cuomo will sign that bill into law by the end of the year.

SBHCs are only one piece in a very complex and large health care system, but this experience has demonstrated that these small pieces often have a significant impact on the daily lives of New Yorkers and their children. We are proud that our coalition came together to save these clinics because they are vital to the health of our students in District 15 and as elected members of the state Assembly we are committed to seeing to it that they are preserved for many school years to come. 

By Robert Carroll, Assemblymember, 44th District, & Jo Anne Simon, Assemblymember, 52nd District. On Twitter @Bobby4Brooklyn & @JoAnneSimonBK52.

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The Path Forward is Down The Center

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(photo: Michael Appleton/NYC Mayor's Office)

I’ve never voted for a winning president. In my life, I’m 0-3 in that particular office. From John McCain, to Mitt Romney, and finally Hillary Clinton; my chosen pick has never ended up in the White House. After this most recent, surprising defeat, I found myself feeling hopeless about the political direction in this country. I searched through the unending social media madness that inevitably leads to arguments, looking for someone willing to make needed change.

Desperate and ready to act, I started searching for a cause, a candidate, a movement – anything focused on advancing issues and not party. That search led me to the Centrist Project.

As I read through the website, I found myself aligned with the theory of fixing on the best ideas from both sides of the aisle and putting the country before any political party. I was excited to see that the Centrist Project concept allows those involved to focus on important issues, such as fiscal sense and environmental responsibility, without worrying what one party or its members will think. The more I researched, the more I liked the movement I was seeing. And when I was asked to be the Centrist Project’s New York State Leader, I happily accepted.

The Centrist Project’s mission is to reshape and reform our political system by supporting centrist policies and independent candidates for office that are willing to put the needs of the people in front of the needs of any political party.

To help accomplish this mission, the Centrist Project has adopted what’s called the “fulcrum strategy.” The fulcrum strategy aims to identify closely divided legislatures at the state and federal level and elect a small number of independents that would deny either major party an outright majority. This would force lawmakers to either reach across the aisle for bipartisan support to pass legislation, or gain the support of the independents – giving the independents a disproportionate influence over the legislative agenda. The Centrist Project has currently identified a number of legislatures to implement this strategy, including the U.S. Senate, where as few as three independent Senators could break up majority control.

A major initiative for the Centrist Project is the grassroots movement to establish chapters in states and cities across the country that focus on local and national issues and candidates to seek the reasoned center and make needed change. Armed with the fact that a plurality of Americans (45%) already self-identify as independents, compared to 28% Democrat and 25% Republican, local chapters are recruiting members to help spread the word and further the Centrist Project’s goals.

Here in New York, we have a rich history of independent and third party candidates. We’re the state that elected Teddy Roosevelt governor in 1898 after a campaign where he repeatedly disagreed with his own party. This is the place that re-elected Michael Bloomberg to a third term in 2009 after he shed party and ran as an independent. The people of New York consistently support candidates that are interested in solving problems, candidates who support social tolerance and economic opportunity.

This state is more interested in listening to good ideas than blindly following a party agenda - and that is what the Centrist Project is all about. Our local chapter has grown and organized into a movement. We’re attending town halls and talking about the issues, with no allegiance to a party agenda or bureaucracy; we’re identifying candidates to support and endorse; and we’re becoming a vocal part of New York politics.

If this sounds remotely appealing to you, I hope you will join us at an event, attend a meeting, and get involved in this movement that will make real change here at home and across the country. And by change I mean neither left nor right, I’m not talking about change to benefit the Republican or Democratic Party. I’m talking about change that represents most Americans, people who want to be able to think for themselves and find sensible solutions.

For far too long, we have been forced to align ourselves with a party on the left or the right, to choose liberal or conservative. For far too long, we have watched as those parties ignored the majority of the public and catered to special interests that force them farther and farther from the reasoned center.

It’s time for something different. It’s time to work together and seek the center on the big challenges our country faces. It’s time to elect centrist, independent candidates who will endeavor to fix our broken system by working together on the issues here in New York and across the country.

Lance Neyland is New York State Leader for The Centrist Project. On Twitter @CentProj.

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Your Right to Vote in New York is as Vulnerable as Anywhere in the U.S.

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(photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)

We are in a perilous time for voting rights. Since even before President Trump’s inauguration, he has been pushing the myth of widespread voter fraud. With the creation of the Presidential Advisory Commission for Election Integrity in May, he put the power of the federal government behind perpetuating that claim. This commission is part of a larger and systematic assault on voting rights.

Our government, both on the federal and state level, has made increasingly aggressive moves to redefine voting as a privilege rather than a fundamental right. The ultimate goal of these efforts is to make the electorate older, whiter, and more conservative by disenfranchising millions of students, low-income women and men, and people of color. Voting rights do not have the emotional appeal of some of the other dangers presented by this administration. However, our right to vote is our ability to have a say in the makeup and functioning of our government and our judicial system.

The efforts to restrict that ability are a key component of a larger effort to perpetuate a status quo of white supremacy, of ableism, of patriarchy, of deciding whose lives matter. Even after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, African-Americans continued to be disenfranchised for close to 100 years by vigilantes and mobs through a campaign of intimidation, terror, and assassinations. The violence that recently occurred in Charlottesville must be understood in light of our past and present struggles to preserve and expand the right to vote.

In May, Indiana enacted a law requiring a single county to consolidate precincts with fewer than 600 active voters, which would potentially eliminate half of the county’s voting precincts. The county in question, Lake County, is home to the largest Hispanic and second largest African-American population in the state. The Indiana Conference of the NAACP, supported by Priorities USA Foundation, filed a complaint challenging the law this month, arguing that the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

We see no reason to believe that the DOJ will fight on the side of the citizens who will be disenfranchised by this law. More recently, the Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, reversed a position held under the Obama administration and filed a brief siding with the state of Ohio after it purged thousands of people from its voter rolls for being “inactive” after not voting in two elections. Rather than defending its citizens and working to guarantee our right to vote, the DOJ is using its significant influence to support the practice of denying eligible voters their rights. The actions join the propagation of voter ID laws and voter roll purges in states like Wisconsin, Georgia, and beyond. These attacks are as widespread as they are effective.

The threat of voter roll purges and voter suppression now looms over the Empire State.

Earlier this month, the New York State Board of Elections complied with a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for New York voter roll information from the President’s Commission. The BOE turned over publicly available data (name, birthdate, home address, gender, political party affiliation, and voting history). The Co-Chairs of the BOE and Governor Cuomo released strikingly similar statements justifying this release, while explaining that they remain committed to protecting New Yorkers.

In Governor Cuomo’s statement, he referred to the commission as “a politically-motivated organization seeking to perpetuate the myth of voter fraud.” In response to questions by Brooklyn Voters Alliance members, BOE Co-Chair Douglas Kellner stated, “I have repeatedly indicated my concern that the leadership of the Presidential Commission has a track record that shows they are more interested in voter suppression rather than uncovering fraud. Nevertheless, New York law is unambiguous that any person can obtain a copy of the public voter list as long as they agree that the list will used be only for election purposes.”

We are pleased to see our elected officials and state agencies acknowledging the real threat posed by this federal administration. However, merely acknowledging the problem is not an adequate response to the grave threat New Yorkers face.

Despite living in a state that is known for championing progressive values, the voting rights of New Yorkers are vulnerable. And despite prior assurances by Governor Cuomo, New York is not leading in the area of voting rights.

As the Governor has acknowledged, we have some of the most outdated election laws in the country. Yet, the state Legislature passed none of the voting reforms introduced this legislative session. It is time for actions to match the rhetoric. It is time for New York’s elected officials to counter the efforts of the Trump administration to disenfranchise Americans by providing automatic voter registration, early voting, same day voter registration, and other measures that will expand access to the ballot and make it easier for all New Yorkers to vote.

Our rights will not be preserved by eloquent statements and voter registration drives. New York voters need full protection of our registration and voting rights. We need a government that demonstrates it will protect the voice of all of its citizens. That is why we demand meaningful voting reform.

Executive Committee, Brooklyn Voters Alliance: Amanda Blair, Jess Byrne, Erica Cohen, Jacques David, Nicole Hunt, Julie Kerr, Amanda Ritchie, Beth Slade, Amy Stuart
Brooklyn Voters Alliance is a Brooklyn-based group of concerned citizens who want to encourage civic engagement and ensure open and fair elections for all New Yorkers. On Twitter: @BKVoters.

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