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Expanding Immigrant Access to Health Care in New York

Statue of Liberty

(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

In January of 2017, after living in this country for 17 years, I was able to access health insurance for the first time in my life. I became eligible as a new graduate studentl at NYU, which had a Student Health Insurance Plan—and, because in New York, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients were eligible for health insurance.

Now, when I am ill or in need of a checkup, uncertainty and stress are no longer part of the equation. When I feel sick, I no longer need to try to force my body into thinking I’m not sick or treat myself with Tylenol or Theraflu. Instead, I can see a doctor, get the prescription I need, and recover quickly.

Having access to high-quality health care in the past year has lifted an enormous burden from my shoulders. I used to feel anxious and scared every time I started to catch a cold. Now, each time I find myself at the Student Health Center since then, I feel gratitude and relief.

But now, as President Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrants escalate, health care access is in jeopardy again for Dreamers like me, as well as immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

New York has long led the way in providing more expansive health care access than the federal government and most states. In Florida, where I went to college, I could not get health insurance. Earlier this year, Dreamers in New York received good news when Governor Cuomo announced that income-eligible DACA beneficiaries would continue to be eligible for state-funded Medicaid. This was an important step forward for the immigrant community and for health care for all in New York.

But the governor’s announcement does not mean that all Dreamers and immigrants will have access to health care. We need further action to ensure that all Dreamers and TPS holders have access to health insurance.

For immigrant youth like me, and young people across the state more generally, the solution is to pass legislation to increase the upper age limit of the Child Health Plus (CHP) Program from 19 to 29.

CHP was founded on the fundamental truth that health care is a human right. The program honors this principle by providing comprehensive health care services to uninsured young people not eligible for Medicaid or Marketplace coverage. For a mere .5% of the state’s annual budget, Governor Cuomo and the Legislature could expand CHP in this way to increase access to nearly 100,000 more young adults who would be newly eligible for high-quality coverage, since they have been aging out of CHP when they turn 19.

Additionally, with Trump acting to terminate TPS for countries like El Salvador and Haiti, hundreds of thousands of current TPS holders are at risk of losing legal status. In New York, this will put tens of thousands more in jeopardy of losing access to health care, in addition to potentially facing deportation.

New York State must take measures to ensure that TPS holders maintain their health coverage regardless of the reckless—and, frankly, racist—policies from Washington. First, the State must pass legislation to ensure TPS recipients remain eligible for Medicaid, even if they are stripped of their protection. Second, New York should create a state-funded Essential Plan for all New Yorkers who earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level, regardless of immigration status. This plan would be of particular urgency for immigrants who will be losing their TPS and thus, their current health insurance.

These policies offer a clear path for New York to lead on immigrant health care access. That’s why immigrant-led organizations like Make the Road New York (MRNY), which has included the policies as part of their statewide Respect and Dignity for All Platform, and the Coverage for All Coalition are lobbying legislators and the governor to adopt them. In fact, more than 500 MRNY members will be rallying and talking to legislators in Albany today -- Tuesday, March 6 -- about this issue as a central part of their 2018 agenda.

Day in, and day out, immigrants build this country. We are the ones who cook your food, care for your kids, stock your shelves, pick your vegetables, mow your lawn, and clean your house. We graduate in the top percentile of our classes, pay for our own education, serve our communities, and make lasting contributions to the beautiful tapestry of American culture. 

Like all Americans, and all New Yorkers, we deserve access to health care—not as a privilege, but as a right.

New York has led the way before on health care access and standing up for immigrants. This legislative session, it’s time for Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to renew that commitment by adopting further measures to protect immigrants like me.

The Trump administration doesn’t want immigrants like me to have access to health care. We need New York to have our backs.

Lucas Lopes is a Master of Public Administration student at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

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An Essential Agreement on Carting Safety, and More to Come


(photo: @laborers108)

A quiet announcement recently by the Business Integrity Commission - the watchdog agency that regulates the city’s food and fish wholesale markets, commercial waste services, and shipboard gambling - is unlikely to be etched in the history books or remembered for decades to come.

But it marked a significant turning point in an unnecessarily contentious dialogue between city officials and the companies that daily manage 12,000 tons of waste, recyclables, and organics generated by the city’s businesses and institutions – as well as labor leaders, and environmental and transportation safety advocates.

The announcement – a new safety manual for the city’s trade waste sector – is the result of an unprecedented collaboration.

Traditionally, commercial waste is an industry that everyone loves to hate – its big, loud trucks; its late-night collections; and its odors make it an easy target for vilification. It’s easier to blame others for the garbage all of us generate and we wish to forget, and to take for granted what’s required every night, 365 days a year, to keep our city clean, productive, and ready for the next day.

This new manual pulls together best practices for every step of the process from putting a truck on the road through its safe return every morning with its driver and helper aboard, without damage to people or property with which it might interact while on the streets.

That’s no easy job. In fact, waste-related jobs are among the top five most dangerous in the nation.

The just-published manual arose from the creation of an advisory board to guide the city’s controversial intention to replace the open-market system that promotes efficiency, choice, competition, and innovation with a system of geographic zones and exclusive franchise rights.

While we strongly disagree with the zone-based initiative, the effort led by BIC Commissioner Brownell proved that other approaches are possible – with actual results sooner, better and cheaper than waiting five years or more for a system with city government-initiated contracts to be designed, adopted, and implemented. In that same period, multiple safety initiatives could be implemented – all trucks soon will have cleaner engines, most new trucks will have cameras and all with have sideguards, and more frequent safety training could be initiated, with active engagement with the industry’s leading unions.

All that is necessary is commitment, and good-faith efforts by all concerned. If nothing else, safety is a “safe space” for those who chose to be adversaries on other matters.

This joint effort provides two takeaways:

First, the commercial waste industry – nationally and locally – makes safety a high priority.

Local efforts include semi-annual industry-city symposiums focused on safety (the fourth is scheduled for April); installation of protective side-guards; and renewed commitments to employee training, proper management, and personal protective equipment.

Second, safety requires “continuous improvement,” it’s never “over.” To be successful, the effort must be maintained by all concerned.

We know that safety is not an event, achieved through a single action. To that end, the new safety manual isn’t the first safety-focused effort and it won’t be the last.

We share commitment to the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero goals and new solutions to street-design, traffic control, and street-sharing, which are impressive in their results to make the city a safer place to walk, bike, and drive.

But we also recognize the daily challenges of operating safely with heavy equipment, picking up bags, moving containers, and at night, in all kinds of weather, and under less than ideal conditions.

Unfortunately, safety is the only working group formed. Perhaps others now will be initiated with good-faith efforts by all concerned to improve licensing, operations, and labor standards, as well as effective zero waste initiatives.

Beyond safety, we hope the collaborative effort that created this manual will serve as a model for how disparate stakeholders can find effective ways to work together to address a compelling public issue.

Fritz Schneider is business manager of Laborers Local 108. Jose Maldonado is principal of Maldonado Associates, LLC and senior advisor to New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management, and previously served as commissioner of the city’s Business Integrity Commission. On Twitter @laborers108.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

GothamTalks: Fighting Alzheimer's Disease & Supporting Caregivers of Those Suffering

GothamTalks commentary New Leaders Council

Gotham Gazette and New Leaders Council -- a nonpartisan, nonprofit leadership institute -- have partnered with Manhattan Neighborhood Network to create a series of video commentaries by New York City civic activists. GothamTalks is short video essays submitted through the New Leaders Council alumni network, which consists of hundreds of New Yorkers working in advocacy, government, campaigns, nonprofits, business, law, and other aspects of city life.

Like both the reporting we do at Gotham Gazette and the written op-ed columns we publish, the GothamTalks video commentaries range in subject, but are all meant to move the public discussion forward. Please watch, listen, and let us know what you think. Use #GothamTalks on social media, and tag us @GothamGazette and @NLC_NYC.

Note: The views expressed in GothamTalks are entirely those of the commentators, and not of Gotham Gazette or New Leaders Council.


March 1, 2018
Crystal Hudson
Fighting Alzheimer's Disease & Supporting Caregivers of Those Suffering  

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