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Opinion

Proposed Changes to ‘Public Charge’ and Access to City Benefits: What To Know


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(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


New Yorkers know that it is the city government’s job to make sure that they’re taken care of. We fill potholes, pick up the trash, clean the streets, clear the drains, prune the trees - you name it.

But that’s not all we do. And while we faced many challenges as a city and as a nation in 2018, New Yorkers continue to step up and help their neighbors in need.

Through our public health facilities, tens of thousands of dedicated professionals help their fellow New Yorkers put food on the table, help expectant mothers get access to critical health care, help seniors make ends meet, and so much more. We even helped non-English speaking eligible voters participate in our democracy, by expanding our poll-site interpretation program. We work to serve New Yorkers every day because that’s our number one job. It’s why we’re here.

Back in October, the Trump administration announced a proposal concerning “public charge,” a complex aspect of immigration law. If implemented, the proposal would make it easier for immigration officials to prevent an otherwise eligible person from getting a green card or certain kinds of visas. They could make that life-changing decision just because one day, the applicant could find herself or himself down on their luck and in need of important public resources.

Over 200,000 public comments were submitted to the federal register – a truly remarkable display of civic participation and responsiveness from residents of all walks of life. We thank you, and every single New Yorker who took the time to make their voice heard on this issue.

We can all agree that in this country – in this city – of immigrants, no one should have to choose between relying on the help for which they’re legally eligible and pursuing the American Dream.

In the past few months, we’ve heard from folks across the five boroughs, some scared or confused, and even more who want to know how to help their fellow New Yorkers.

So let’s get some facts straight.

First: the public charge proposal is not in effect, and nothing about eligibility for benefits has changed. New York City’s doors remain open to those in need. The Department of Social Services is continuing to accept applications from all New Yorkers for benefits, and is continuing to deliver benefits and services to all who are eligible. The same is true for all of the public hospitals and community clinics operated by NYC Health + Hospitals. If you’re in need of health care, you’ll be able to find it there.

Second: many immigrants would not be impacted by this proposal. If you are a naturalized citizen, a refugee, an asylee, or a green card holder thinking about renewing or becoming a U.S. citizen, this proposal would not apply to you. This is also true for many other categories of immigrants.

That leads us to the next – and very important – point.

Third: If you are concerned about this proposal’s possible impacts on you or your family, don’t make any decisions without getting safe and trusted legal advice first.

You can get help in many languages by calling the Office of New Americans hotline, operated by Catholic Charities, at 1-800-566-7636. You can also call the city’s 311 and say “ActionNYC” to schedule a free consultation with a trusted immigration legal services provider, funded by the City of New York.

If New Yorkers begin to disenroll from health care, nutrition, or housing programs for which they’re eligible, the consequences could be dire. We could face a public health crisis and lose hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity annually.

As public servants, our job is to serve you. And in the fairest big city in America, no one should struggle alone. We’ve got your back.

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Bitta Mostofi is the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; Steven Banks is the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, City Council Member Carlos Menchaca is chair of the Immigration Committee, City Council Member Mark Levine is chair of the Health Committee, City Council Member Stephen Levin is chair of the General Welfare Committee.

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After Six Years, New York Must Finally Pass the Dream Act


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(photo via CUNY Office of Communications)


Every year thousands of undocumented youth graduate from high school with a singular hope of realizing their American Dream and making it to college. Too often, though, these dreams are deferred as immigrant youth are denied fair and equal access to state financial aid.

There is a solution to this injustice: the New York Dream Act. The bill would promote education equity, ensuring that every student has an equal opportunity to fulfill their dream of attending college by allowing immigrant youth access to New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). For too long, Republican opposition has allowed this legislation to languish in Albany. Now, with Democratic control of both chambers of the Legislature, it’s time to put this bill in the hands of Governor Cuomo, who has already signaled his eagerness to sign the Dream Act into law in the first 100 days of the 2019 legislative session.

While states cannot change the federal immigration status of undocumented youth, they can take steps to protect and expand opportunities for them in the face of xenophobic attacks lobbed from Washington. As the original and current sponsors of the Dream Act in the New York State Assembly, where it has passed six times before, we know New York ought finally to embrace its moral responsibility and allow our immigrant youth true access to college education.

Several states, including Texas, New Mexico, and Minnesota, have already passed bills that provide tuition equity for all students, regardless of immigration status. The Garden State became the latest to join the effort this year when Governor Phil Murphy signed the New Jersey Dream Act, allowing undocumented students there access to college. Shamefully, New York, long known as a beacon of immigrants, has lagged behind.

Take for example the story of Olivert Saldivia. Olivert graduated high school in 2015 but he faced a huge barrier to realizing his dream of attending college without access to state financial aid. Unlike their peers, undocumented students like Olivert do not qualify for student loans, work-study, or any other financial assistance, leading to uncertainty and doubt about their future.

Undeterred and fueled by the knowledge that he wasn’t the only one who had dubious dreams of attending college, Olivert teamed up with the community organization Make the Road New York to fight for the Dream Act. Today, while working several jobs and with the assistance of private scholarships, Olivert is a year and a half away from graduating as a mechanical engineer from the New York City College of Technology. His story is not unique, but still more aspiring students like him have been prevented from pursuing higher education altogether. 

Francisco Moya, now a City Council Member representing Queens, was the lead sponsor of this legislation in the State Assembly from 2013 to 2017. Year after year the State Assembly delivered on its promises to undocumented youth, passing the Dream Act for six consecutive years. Yet, it has made it to the Senate floor just once. In its lone 2014 appearance before the Republican-controlled Senate, the bill came up two votes short.

Now, with Assemblymember Carmen de la Rosa as the new lead sponsor carrying the Dream Act, the Assembly is poised to pass it again. But passage through that body is not enough for our communities and that’s why are fighting to make sure the Senate finally sends this bill to the governor’s desk.

The moral case aside, the New York Dream Act is also a smart deal for New York. With regards to the state budget, the cost is negligible, according to reports by the independent and nonprofit research organization Fiscal Policy Institute and the New York State Comptroller, and would bring much larger benefits in terms of the tax revenue increase and economic contributions of the students who would be able to attend and graduate college. A person who earns a bachelor’s degree pays more than $60,000 in additional state taxes over time compared to someone with only a high school diploma.

Undocumented youth have waited long enough. In 2019, with a Democratic majority in both New York Assembly and Senate, there is no reasonable explanation as to why we cannot deliver for our immigrant youth in making sure they have equal access to state financial aid.

We believe in a New York where your immigration status should never be a barrier to access for a quality education. This is our time to send a strong message to the Trump Administration: New York protects and supports its immigrant youth.

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Francisco Moya is the City Council Member representing the 21st district and prior sponsor of the New York Dream Act in the state Assembly. Carmen de la Rosa is the Assemblymember representing New York’s 72nd district and current sponsor of the New York Dream Act. On Twitter @FranciscoMoyaNY & @CnDelarosa.

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No, Mayor de Blasio, We Can’t Rely on Amazon ‘To Put Moral Considerations Ahead of Profit’


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Mayor de Blasio at the Amazon announcement (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


“I’m concerned about [New York] City being a sanctuary city, and your stated concern for New York City’s immigrants, and the contradiction of inviting one of ICE’s largest tech providers into our city.” That’s how Amy from Queens asked Mayor de Blasio about Amazon’s relationship with ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show last Friday.  

Mayor de Blasio told Amy, “If it turns out that Amazon has a contractual relationship with ICE, I’m certainly going to call on them to end that.” But he claimed that he did not have enough information to know for sure.

If the Mayor had watched the New York City Council hearing with Amazon executives (and his own economic development appointee) in December -- where we both asked about this relationship -- he would have little doubt that Amazon sells technology services to ICE, and is a willing for-profit partner in Trump’s deportation machine.

Anyone listening objectively to what Amazon’s VP of Public Policy, Brian Huseman, said under oath at the Council hearing would acknowledge that Amazon effectively affirmed it is providing facial recognition technology and possibly other cloud computing services to ICE.

As was reported in the Daily Beast in October, documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight show that Amazon pitched its controversial facial recognition technology to ICE last summer. In addition, a group of Amazon employees, troubled by the relationship, called on the company to sever its ties to ICE.

Nonetheless, when Council Speaker Corey Johnson asked what relationship Amazon had with ICE at the City Council hearing, Amazon’s Huseman responded, “We think the federal government should have access to the best technology.”

Later in the hearing, we questioned Huseman again directly on this point, making clear that we interpreted Huseman’s answer to be an affirmation that Amazon provides facial recognition software to ICE -- and giving him the opportunity to correct the record. Huseman did not correct the record or deny the relationship. In response to further questioning from BuzzFeed News, Amazon again did not say that it does not work with ICE.

This was more than a “non-denial.” This was a non-denial that anyone listening objectively should take as a confirmation.

Amazon has expressed that it wants to be a “good neighbor” in Queens, one of the most heavily immigrant places in the country. But a good neighbor does not help to facilitate the deportations of family members and neighbors by a xenophobic president for corporate profit.

We also asked Huseman about an ACLU analysis showing that Amazon’s technology falsely matched 28 members of Congress to mugshots in a database. Even worse: the errors disproportionately mismatched people of color. Huseman did not express the slightest concern or remorse, or any intention to make certain their technology does not discriminate. Instead, Husemen placidly said, “We have not been able to replicate the ACLU’s analysis.”

If Mayor de Blasio had listened to the Amazon VP wave so nonchalantly at a study that reveals that the company’s technology might be used by ICE to round up people, some mistakenly, for deportation, perhaps he might have said something stronger than this to Amy last Friday:  

“I think that Amazon should, to the maximum extent possible, explain to people what is going on with this. Tech companies should start questioning themselves what types of government activity they want to participate in. They have to put moral considerations ahead of profit.”

There is absolutely no reason to believe that Amazon has any intention to put moral considerations ahead of profit. Or to voluntarily explain to people what is going on.

But Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo don’t need to rely on their goodwill. If Amazon wants to build a major new campus in Queens, the company should immediately disclose its full relationship with ICE -- and then end it immediately.

If the mayor and the governor are truly committed to New York City being a sanctuary city, they should not proceed in negotiations with Amazon until it does.

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Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca are members of the New York City Council. Lander is the Council’s Deputy Leader for Policy; Menchaca chairs the Council’s Immigration Committee. On Twitter @bradlander & @cmenchaca.

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Stabilizing the MTA’s Rocky Finances in 2019 and Beyond


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(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)


New York’s colossal and crumbling mass transit system is headed toward another cliff -- this one financial. The MTA’s just-adopted budget says it will have a $500 million deficit in 2020 and the deficit will rise to about $1 billion a year by 2022, even with two fare and toll hikes, in 2019 and 2021. The authority’s summary of its situation actually says it is running deficits right now (2018 and 2019), which are being addressed by using all of its reserve funds, drawing down its inventory, and other methods of scraping cash together. Its expenses already exceed its revenues.

This is not actually a revelation. In February 2018 the MTA publicly reported these problems and its bond rating was dropped by Standard & Poor’s. Information about the problem has been public for several years. MTA budgets passed in July 2016 and November 2017, both public documents, presented the gloomy outlooks, as quoted in these MTA Board excerpts:

Presentation to the Board, July 27, 2016: “FINANCIAL PLAN IS BALANCED THROUGH 2019 WITH A 2020 DEFICIT OF $ 371 MILLION”
Highlights of the 2018-2021 November FInancial Plan - November 2017: “BUDGET CONTINUES TO BE BALANCED THROUGH 2019: 2020 and 2021 GAPS HAVE INCREASED TO $352 MILLION AND $643 MILLION RESPECTIVELY”

The ability of the MTA to sustain its operations is contingent on securing recurring revenue sources beginning in 2020 and beyond. The budget adopted in December 2018 forecasts through 2022 and reports the MTA will issue $12 billion in bonds to pay for asset replacements, like tracks, signals, trains, and buses, and continue the Expansion Projects, like East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway. Paying the interest on these bonds will cost the MTA an extra $500 million a year by the end of 2022. The MTA also projects that by the end of 2022 its labor costs will rise by 10%, from $10 billion a year, to $11 billion a year, including pension and health care for retirees.

Although the Governor and the Legislature added a tax on certain rides in for-hire vehicles, including traditional taxis, in the 2018 budget, to take effect on January 1, 2019, these funds will be going directly into the Subway Action Plan to sustain maintenance improvements to reverse the deterioration of basic service (and that congestion charge has been at least temporarily blocked by a judge). The separate long-term financial deterioration of the MTA was not addressed in either 2017 or 2018 by the Governor nor the Legislature.

At the time of state budget adoption in April 2018, the MTA Sustainability Advisory Workgroup was created, consisting of appointees of the Governor, the Mayor, the Assembly, and the Senate, and others. The mission of the group was to advise the state’s political leadership on critical choices and offer policy guidance. The group, chaired by the Partnership for New York City President & CEO Kathryn Wylde, an appointee of the Governor, issued its report on December 17, 2018.

The Workgroup report had many thoughtful recommendations, including supporting congestion pricing as the immediate revenue priority. Governor Cuomo’s support for congestion pricing is now well-known, but neither the Assembly nor the Senate have ever taken a vote, not even a vote in a committee, on congestion pricing, and the recommendation were not binding on the members of those institutions.

The Workgroup report confirmed that the MTA still has not fully costed out, or provided a detailed plan, for its Advanced Technology Fast Forward Plan, or the next phase of capital construction, the 2020-2024 Capital Plan, estimated to cost somewhere between $40 and $60 billion. The sums of money involved still have no clear overlap between MTA New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s Fast Forward Plan and the new MTA Capital Plan.

At the end of the legislative session in 2018, the State Assembly passed a bill to require the MTA to advance the release of the 2020-2024 Capital Plan, due under current law in October 2019, to January 2019, in an effort to have the Capital Plan become contemporaneous with the state budget, but the then Republican-controlled Senate did not pass it. It is now possible the Capital Plan and the Fast Forward Plan will not be available to act on during the 2019 Albany legislative session.

The Workgroup suggested that the state should proceed with congestion pricing despite the lack of information about future costs, because of the obvious need for immediate revenue; the Workgroup also said the capital planning process might be better aligned if it moved to a ten-year plan like the Port Authority --- a useful idea for the future while the existing plan’s shortfalls get addressed.

The MTA’s current 2015-2019 Capital Plan is seriously incomplete. To date, the MTA has received only $7 billion of the $33 billion cost of the plan, and the huge deficits reveal new revenue is needed to continue. Providing the MTA a revenue source for its 2022 deficit -- an extra $1 billion a year-- will provide the money for the $12 billion borrowing and address the operating deficits. Federal funds and bridge and tunnel bonds are still available sources that can feed into the pipeline for the current plan, leaving it about two-thirds funded through 2022, if the agency gets that extra $1 billion a year in a timely fashion -- meaning now.

The projected October 2019 MTA submission of its 2020-2024 Capital Plan, which presumably will incorporate the Fast Forward Plan, at least some version of it, presents an even more severe political test for the state’s governing authorities than congestion pricing itself. That is because MTA investments that cost $40- $60 billion will require revenue sources that bring several additional billion dollars a year to the agency beyond congestion pricing.

Moving to a ten-year capital planning cycle could allow the Governor and the Legislature to separate the additional billions in revenue needed to pay for such mammoth expenses into two five-year phases to avoid excessive tax hikes for the unpopular agency. But the difficulty of finding such a new level of revenue could bring about the return of the divisive regional conflict between funding the New York City Transit Authority and the suburban commuter rail systems.

This conflict was presaged by Governor Cuomo demanding that New York City and the state split the MTA’s shortfalls 50/50 in both 2017 and 2018. He followed up on that demand during his campaign this fall, when the Governor co-signed a pledge with Long Island Democratic State Senate candidates that they would force New York City to bear the cost of the New York City Transit system’s new capital needs. Mayor de Blasio and Assembly Democrats had resisted the Governor’s demand on this point in the legislative session in 2018.

These Long Island political newcomers may not realize that the Long Island Rail Road’s (LIRR) operating costs are the most heavily subsidized, on a proportional basis, of the three MTA transit systems, far more so than New York City Transit or Metro North. The MTA’s poster child for cost overruns is East Side Access, the giant construction program to link LIRR commuters to Grand Central Station at a final cost of $11 billion -- by far the largest drain on the capital budget. A pushback demand from New York City and Metro North legislators to force Long Island residents to pay their true share of LIRR costs could become an unpleasant regional counterpoint to add more political stalemate, not less, in the legislative process, enabling each constituent piece of the MTA system to drown separately, rather than keep everybody in the lifeboat and make progress.

Let me offer a few suggestions to provide a disciplined approach to this total mess:

1. Stabilize the MTA’s immediate funding crisis with the adoption of a $1 billion-per-year plan for congestion pricing, which will keep the capital and operations budgets in balance through 2022. This is the most logical and efficient way to address the immediate crisis and offers some relief for Manhattan’s horrible traffic, too. If the Legislature could do this by budget time, April 2019, the system could be in operation hopefully within a year. To avoid disruption to the construction program from implementation delays, the state and the city could provide the MTA cash from reserves or short-term borrowings, and even get repaid.

A component of congestion pricing could serve as the source for the state’s unfunded $7 billion obligation to the current 2015-2019 Capital Plan, triggering New York City’s $2.5 billion matching obligation, and bring the current plan to about three-quarters funded.

2. Do a Capital Program Ten-Year Restart: Require the MTA to integrate Fast Forward, the unfunded balances of the current plan, the Expansion Projects, and other essential investments into a 10-year Plan, 2020-2030, with two five-year cycles. The first five-year cycle would have a linkage to the revenue requirement necessary to proceed. The 2015-2019 plan elements funded from congestion pricing would be recognized in the cycle. This was a concept advanced by the Workgroup.

3. Use the Cash Windfall to Businesses from the 2018 40% Federal Corporate Income Tax Cut: A divisive regional confrontation is unwise and potentially politically catastrophic for all involved. The most efficacious revenue on the horizon is a restructuring of the state’s corporate income tax in the metropolitan region to capture a portion of the multi-billion cash windfall to corporate New York from a 40% cut in their federal corporate income taxes. The Legislature could exempt smaller businesses and still find $1 billion a year as a recurring source of revenue from the windfall. (I wrote more about this idea in a prior column.)

Corporate taxes, unlike income taxes, remain fully deductible as a business expense, and avoid more damage to New York from the inability of our taxpayers to deduct most of their New York personal income taxes from their federal taxes after the new federal cap on those deductions (a matter of litigation itself). Further revenue sources would probably still be needed, but the vehicle-for-hire surcharges could be enhanced for the app-based services like Uber and Lyft and further differentiated from the traditional taxis. Charges for for-hire vehicles in the outer boroughs and suburbs, which were excluded from the first round of this tax, could be brought into the vehicle-for-hire fee system, and be linked to transit improvement.

4. A full overhaul of the MTA’s Capital Construction Program, with a plan to cut its costs 20-25%, remains a challenge that can be taken up with a Capital Plan realignment into a ten-year cycle. A separate new construction agency with aggressive powers to cut costs and innovate may be necessary.

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Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter@JimBrennanNY.

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Note: this article has been updated to remove an incorrect statement about how legislatively-appointed members of the MTA Workgroup were acting -- they were voting as representatives of their legislative body, not as individuals as originally stated.

Will Tish James Follow Her Campaign Rhetoric and Investigate Cy Vance?


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AG Tish James (photo: New York Attorney General website)


In 2018 Letitia James won a historic election to become the first woman of color to hold statewide office in New York and the first woman to be elected Attorney General. Filling a seat vacated by Eric Schneiderman (a misogynist playing women’s champion by day), James pledged to be a new kind of people’s lawyer, “unbossed and unbought” by Governor Andrew Cuomo or anyone else. James takes the helm at a moment where a bold vision for making a difference for New Yorkers will also have great consequence for the country.

New Yorkers should look forward to James’ leadership taking on important issues like pollution, reproductive rights, and protecting people and communities in other ways. I am disappointed, however, that she has thus far been silent on the matter of the state’s investigation into the Manhattan District Attorney’s handling of a 2015 sex crimes case against Harvey Weinstein and other sex crimes cases -- such as the one against Dr. Robert Hadden in which I was a victim.

The first question at an August 2018 Democratic primary debate for Attorney General was about a BuzzFeedNews report that Governor Cuomo had ordered the Attorney General's office to suspend its investigation into Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office. The candidates were asked if they would have agreed to suspend the case as requested. James said that she would not have put the investigation on hold. This story and question only came about because of my advocacy. While representatives of the governor’s office were saying one thing publicly and to me, they had backed off on any real action in support of survivors and against corruption.

Not coincidentally, the next debate question was about how the candidates would maintain their independence from Cuomo. James said, "The office of attorney general is independent from the office of the governor, and I don't believe anyone can question my independence."

Now, James must live up to her campaign promises. The six-month “pause” on the state’s investigation of Vance ended in December. Will James resume it and finally take a real look at the DA’s practices? Or, will she fall in line with Cuomo’s tactics of publicly calling for something to get credit but then letting it slip into the ether when no one is paying attention?

Opportunities to investigate a prosecutor’s actions are rare. And, with the newly-created Commission on Prosecutorial Misconduct itself in legal jeopardy, they remain further out of reach for many who’ve been harmed. As someone on a long list of people who were sexually assaulted in New York City and failed by the systems supposedly in place to help us, I remain perplexed at the lack of willingness by the state’s legal entities to conduct a thorough review of the Manhattan DA despite case after case of questionable outcome.

In addition to the much reported campaign contributions from Weinstein and Trump family attorneys, Vance repeatedly took contributions from my abuser’s attorney and a member of his employer’s Board of Trustees. Vance has denied that these contributions reveal corruption and pledged to reject contributions from those with cases before his office. The report he commissioned from Columbia University to reach this logical conclusion failed to mention any conflict of interest or the case against my abuser even though it had made headlines.

I could no longer stay silent and watch the same players continue to replay the same game at the expense of women. I didn’t set out to talk about being sexually assaulted by my OBGYN while I was pregnant. I wanted to show what happens when you come forward seeking help and are failed by a system rigged to favor well-connected perpetrators. I was one of more than 20 women who came forward about the same man. Rather than pursue justice, the DA chose to offer him a plea some have called the “deal of the century.” No one should have the experience I did once they decide to report a crime.

In a letter to Vance, Counsel to the Governor Alphonso David wrote that "women have been victimized by the system for years and it must stop." I couldn’t agree more. Oversight by legislators, advocates, and the public is critically important to how institutions such as the Manhattan DA perform moving forward. New Yorkers will be waiting to see if Attorney General James is indeed independent and fulfills her duty to complete the investigation. I’m not giving up until the problem is solved -- and it is far from solved. I hope James won’t give up on this either.

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Marissa Hoechstetter is an activist. On Twitter @MHoechstetter.

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The City’s New Pharmacy Ban and Next Steps in Fighting Cigarette Smoking


de Blasio New York City anti-smoking

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Shoppers at pharmacies are there to buy products that will make them healthier, whether that’s tissue boxes to help with colds or prescription medication for a chronic issue. Pharmacies shouldn’t be home to items that make people sick.

CVS recognized this in 2014 when it took the unprecedented step of stopping the sale of tobacco products in its stores. Many public health professionals thought this would be the beginning of a wave of pharmacies following CVS’ lead. That didn’t happen.

Until January 1 of this year New Yorkers could still buy tobacco products at 500 pharmacies throughout the city. That’s when a new law went into effect that banned New York City pharmacies from selling tobacco products. This rule was part of a package of legislation signed into law by Mayor de Blasio in August 2017 aimed at reducing the number of smokers in the city by 160,000 by 2020. More than 5 decades after the U.S. Surgeon General first warned against the dangers of smoking, more than 880,000 adults in New York City still smoke.

The ban on tobacco sales in pharmacies is another important step in the long fight against tobacco use in New York City. Despite many years of progress, that fight is far from over, and we’re now facing unprecedented challenges. Policymakers need to continue pushing for a healthier, smoke-free city by taking an even more restrictive approach to purchasing tobacco products and turning their attention more closely to the dangers of products that can act as a gateway to traditional cigarettes.

There are many ways to continue building on the anti-smoking momentum that has been accelerating since the passage of the Smoke Free Air Act in 2002.

Now that pharmacies no longer sell cigarettes, policymakers should turn their attention to where else New Yorkers are buying tobacco products. After it pulled tobacco products from its shelves, CVS found that 38 percent of people who exclusively bought cigarettes at their stores were more likely to stop buying them at all. Imagine the impact that can be made if access were further restricted at other stores that traditionally sell cigarettes, along with restricting access near places that young people frequent, including schools, houses of worship, playgrounds, and libraries. An aggressive campaign to reduce access – whether through halting sales altogether or continuing to increase prices – will pay dividends in public health and lower the number of smokers in New York City.

Looking beyond traditional cigarettes, one of the most pressing new challenges in public health is the rise of addictive e-cigarettes, which have exploded in popularity among youth. More than 20 percent of U.S. 12th-graders reported that they vaped nicotine in 2018. Alarmingly, a study found that teens that used e-cigarettes had three times the level of cancer-causing chemicals in a urine test than their non-using peers.

The New York CIty pharmacy ban includes e-cigarettes, but there are still too many avenues through which young people can buy these dangerous products. There is also a persistent, misleading narrative that e-cigarettes help people quit smoking, despite the blatant lack of evidence to support this assertion. Policymakers need to take comprehensive action to prevent the further spread of e-cigarettes by continuing to limit sales and launching comprehensive education programs, or we risk reversing decades of progress in curbing smoking.

While we celebrate the critical milestone achieved by this ban and its companion legislation, we must turn our attention to the next frontier in reducing the number of smokers and improving the health of all New Yorkers. There are still too many places to buy tobacco products, and the looming threat of e-cigarettes grows bigger every day. We’ve recognized the dangers of smoking for long enough, and it has only become clearer that increasingly firm action is critical to combatting this problem.

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Lisa David is president and CEO at Public Health Solutions (PHS). PHS’ NYC Smoke-Free program has contributed to changes in tobacco control measures in New York City. On Twitter @wearephsny.

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To Help More Students Succeed in College, Reform Remedial Education


class2018 laguardia comm

(photo via LaGuardia Community College)


New York’s community college students face long odds of graduating. Only 25 percent of community college students statewide—and just 22 percent in New York City—earn an associate’s degree in three years, an enormous barrier to economic opportunity in a state where a college credential is becoming the floor to career success. There are multiple reasons why so many New Yorkers aren’t making it through college, but one major driver is clear: far too many students entering community colleges in New York are being pushed into remedial education programs.

Recognizing that developmental education is unintentionally derailing students from the path to a degree, both CUNY and SUNY are taking important steps to reform this system from the ground up. Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature should support these essential efforts by setting broad goals for reducing the number of students in remedial programs and funding innovative alternatives at community colleges statewide.

Remedial education has long been viewed as a necessity, since large numbers of students enter the state’s public colleges academically underprepared. At New York’s community colleges, which take all applicants and serve thousands of low-income and first-generation college students each year, most students enter struggling with at least one core subject like math or reading, and the majority are placed into remedial education.

But researchers now know that traditional remedial programs aren’t working. Students entering these programs are far more likely to drop out by the end of their first year, and the vast majority will fail to graduate with a degree—even as studies show that many students could have succeeded by staying out of developmental education entirely.

In recent years, roughly three-quarters of CUNY community college students placed into at least one remedial math, writing, or reading course. Nearly 90 percent of these students will not earn an on-time degree, and six in ten remedial math students will have dropped out within two years. Whatever initial excitement spurred these students into college quickly fades, as some of their peers make progress toward a degree while they remain stuck in classes that feel like high school never ended—all while burning through financial aid.

A better system is possible, and it starts with placing fewer students there in the first place.

In fact, evidence shows that high-stakes placement tests are weak predictors of a student’s potential, and many students who end up in remedial education can succeed in credit-bearing courses. CUNY and SUNY are developing smarter placement algorithms that analyze more than just test scores, and this data-backed reform should expand.

Of course, some underprepared students will require extra support to succeed in college. These students need access to programs that can build academic skills while maintaining momentum toward a degree.

That’s where innovative new approaches can make a difference. Study after study has shown that reimagined alternatives to remedial education programs are working for underprepared students by improving learning outcomes, boosting college completion, and speeding the path to a credential.

For instance, CUNY’s Start program has shown tremendous early results by providing an intensive, single-semester course combined with significant academic and non-academic support—all without using up financial aid. In addition, CUNY is expanding the highly-promising corequisite model, which places students in credit-bearing math and English courses bolstered by weekly support sessions. This approach is proving effective, helping students pass gateway math and English courses at higher rates and even improving college completion. Likewise, SUNY’s Math Pathways program is taking a similar approach to rethink math remediation for underprepared community college students.

As evidence mounts that these new strategies are working, it’s time for New York policymakers to give remedial reform a major boost. First, the State Legislature should pass a law setting broad goals for improving support systems for underprepared students, significantly decreasing the remedial population, and aligning SUNY’s and CUNY’s approaches with best practices nationwide, while leaving the specifics up to education leaders. Policymakers should then fuel progress toward these goals by implementing a new time-limited challenge grant for community colleges, aimed at expanding remedial education reforms quickly and efficiently to campuses statewide.

Traditional remedial education has been just another stumbling block on the road to a college credential. By investing in comprehensive remedial education reform, New York State can lift up underprepared students and put thousands more on track to a brighter economic future.

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Eli Dvorkin is editorial and policy director of the Center for an Urban Future, a New York–based think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity. On Twitter @WetWax & @nycfuture.

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Now’s the Time for Automatic Voter Registration in New York


primary voting parkslope

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Over the last several decades, 15 states across the country – both red and blue – have modernized their voting laws, including our neighbors in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Unfortunately, here in New York we remain mired in the past, refusing to implement reforms to fix the state’s poor electoral system and erecting arbitrary barriers to voter participation.

The results are clear: New York routinely has some of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. In 2018, New York ranked 48th in turnout. Also important to this discussion is that in the midst of the 2016 election, upwards of 200,000 voters were illegally purged from the voter rolls in Brooklyn due to errors at the New York City Board of Elections.

Now, more than ever, New York has an obligation to make it simpler – not harder – for people to vote.

This legislative session in Albany, we can make real change. New York can move our elections into the future by passing Automatic Voter Registration, or AVR.

The idea behind AVR is simple: instead of putting the burden of registering to vote on individuals, the state automatically registers them when they interact with government agencies and they can elect not to participate if they so choose. Here’s an example of how it would work.

When an eligible voter goes to the DMV or enrolls in Medicaid, he or she is already supplying a variety of data – name, birthdate, address, etc. From that single interaction, New Yorkers can and should be able to sign up for the service they’re seeking and register or update their voting information.   

Automatic Voter Registration would securely collect and electronically transfer the data of eligible voters to the state Board of Elections, which would then send a pre-paid postcard to the voter to give them the chance to opt out of registration. If the individual doesn’t opt out, he or she is added to the rolls.

It's simple, it’s commonsensical, and it promotes civic engagement. AVR not only allows more individuals to participate in the democratic process by easing the registration process, it also ensures that voter rolls are accurate and up-to-date.

And we know it works.

In Oregon, for instance, 94 percent of individuals who interacted with the DMV and were eligible to vote were registered. Research suggests that 44 percent of the new registrants subsequently voted, leading Oregon to have the largest turnout increase between 2012 and 2016 of any state. In 2018, it had one of the highest turnout rates in the country.

AVR also saves the state money by eliminating the costs of provisional ballots, costly paper transactions, and manual data entry. Across the country, localities have saved an average of about $3.54 in costs per registration by moving from a paper to an electronic method.

And the time freed up allows election officials to focus less on data entry and more on running elections smoothly and efficiently. That’s something New York desperately needs.

The question is whether we have the will.

Here at home, polling released by a new New York advocacy effort, AVR NOW, from Civis Analytics shows there is positive support for AVR in almost every single New York state Senate district. Statewide, a supermajority of 64 percent of New York voters support AVR. That’s not surprising here in New York because even the most casual voter knows our elections are dysfunctional.

This session, New York has a chance to modernize our elections, tear down arbitrary barriers to voting, and reaffirm that our state works for all the people.

We should seize it.

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State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens is the incoming Deputy Majority Leader and author of New York's Automatic Voter Registration bill. Sean McElwee is a policy analyst, writer and co-founder of Data for Progress. On Twitter @SenGianaris & @SeanMcElwee.

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New York City is No Longer Just a Union Town; Open Shop Construction Workers are Finding Their Voice and Must Be Heard


construction workers

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


We’ve all heard that old refrain: “New York City is a union town.” In some cases, that’s still true, as many unions remain both politically influential and dominant in their industries.

But the truth is that New York City is no longer a union town when it comes to construction, as the vast majority of private sector work is being done by the open shop. A review of New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) pulled permits shows that most private construction work across the city – approximately 80 percent – is now done by open shop workers. That equates to more than $15 billion of work for the non-union workforce.

And despite what you might hear from the unions themselves, that’s actually a good thing for local communities and workers who’ve been left behind by the building trades. Men and women of color are finding new opportunities to enter the construction industry, and rates of local hiring on new projects are increasing.

The problem now is that even though construction unions no longer have most of the work in New York City, they still have the loudest voice. Whenever there’s a public discussion about laws or rules affecting the industry, politicians and policymakers always hear from union bosses – but they rarely hear from open shop workers about their interests and their needs.

More elected officials should recognize that the open shop is a prime source of employment and career paths for New Yorkers of color. Around three-quarters of open shop workers are black or Latino and residents of the five boroughs.

Officials also need to understand that construction workers in the open shop are earning good wages and benefits that far surpass those offered in entry-level positions in other industries. Workers are earning at least $20 per hour upon getting into the industry, as well as accessing crucial health insurance and 401k programs.

Beyond the obvious economic benefits for our city’s marginalized families and communities, open shop has also begun to reverse the impact of decades of discriminatory hiring practices in the construction industry. While unions have certainly come a long way, many barriers still stand in the way for people of color entering the field of construction.

This is all because, as its name implies, the open shop provides a particularly inclusive hiring model. And given the high rate of diversity in our part of the industry, employers now are investing more in construction safety and skills training programs for non-English speakers. The incorporation of bilingual instructors into these programs has facilitated efforts to attract workers from diverse backgrounds and expanded open shop job opportunities further.

The question now is how to keep moving the needle. As the open shop continues to expand, the need for support and resources from city and state officials will only continue to increase. These workers work hard to support themselves and their families – and they deserve fairness from politicians across the spectrum.

Politicians at all levels must identify a long-term, ongoing effort to create resources for open shop workers and residents of this great city. New York City really is not just a union town anymore. We’re proud of that and ready to fight to keep that progress going.

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Brian Sampson is president of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Empire State Chapter. On Twitter @ABCEmpireState.

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As City Minimum Wage Hits $15, Much to Celebrate and More To Do


de Blasio business visit

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


They may not know, but the million-plus people who crowd into Times Square on New Year’s Eve have reason to cheer the dropping of the ball because it will also signal rising wages. Beginning December 31, 2018, New Yorkers working minimum wage jobs in the city for companies with 11-plus employees will see their hourly compensation rise to $15.

But like all events in New York City, coordination and planning are needed to make this a celebration and not a disaster. Serious questions and profound possibilities surround this policy shift. The nearly 1.5 million people making a minimum wage in New York City will see their lives change markedly for the better. Workers already making slightly over $15, meanwhile, will have the opportunity to pressure their employers to better their own interests, yielding opportunity but also potentially conflict.

These changes mean big adjustments for all players in the New York economy. However, there are some relatively simple ways that government, both municipal and state, can help the New York City workforce and its servicers stay secure and effective through the transition.
One: help businesses adapt. Businesses have little in the way of resources, tools, FAQs, and how-to sheets for adapting to the minimum wage increase, and job-seekers lack access to public materials on searching for work in the changing market, with new expectations and barriers as well as earning opportunities. There also isn’t anyone outside of Albany, and specifically not in New York City Hall, charged with monitoring how businesses and workers fare during this transition: who is struggling and in what ways, and which decisions businesses and workers are making in the short- and long-term. But, administrative changes and public synthesizing of information can go a long way towards ensuring that the $15 minimum wage is as much of a victory as it should be — for everyone.

Two: secure the funds. City and state government bureaus must provide enough funding in their contracts with social service agencies to ensure agencies can afford to pay workforce professionals a living wage. The average human service professional in New York City made only $29,600 annually (in 2015 dollars), and advocates have pushed the city and state governments for contracts that meet cost of living needs to mixed success. To make this wage raise work, the people servicing employment relationships on the ground must be able to keep up.

Three: shine more light. New York City can do better compiling and sharing information, which would make this transition feel less like a shot in the dark. Workforce agencies don't currently have data that can shed light on who is being served, in what ways, by whom, to what effect and at what cost. Moving forward with the city's common metrics initiative could illuminate who is going through workforce programs and successfully attaching to certain jobs, better equipping professionals to match job opportunities with candidates in a new market.

Finally, this wage increase is promising but poses new questions for New Yorkers. Will the availability of internship opportunities, now more expensive, decline? Will higher compensation levels create a bigger barrier to entry for those who’ve been unemployed and want to get back to work? Will firms invest more in automation?

In order to make the most of this incredible sea change for working families, it’s on us as a city to deal with these questions and broaden the horizon of these possibilities to the best of our abilities. By taking the right steps, New York City can show the world once more what it can do.

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Stacy Woodruff is the director of The Workforce Field Building Hub.

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A Dog-Friendly City Must Adapt to the Times


chelsea winston house edit

photo via DogSpot


There you are, walking your dog in the neighborhood and you pass a new coffee shop that just opened in a long-vacant storefront. You really want to check out their lattes and support a local entrepreneur, but instead you keep walking because there’s no way you are leaving your dog tied up and vulnerable on the sidewalk just so you can get a caffeine fix. Sadly, this scenario – in which small business owner and responsible dog owners all get shorted – isn’t so hypothetical. It happens every day in New York City, where more than half a million dogs live and where nearly two-thirds of stores do not allow them inside.

That’s why we started DogSpot in a garage in Bedford-Stuyvesant in 2014. Our communities needed a solution to this problem that no one was solving, so we designed a secure and comfortable spot for dogs to wait while dog owners briefly run into a store or restaurant. For more than two years, we operated a network of these secure, climate-controlled, smart dog houses on Brooklyn sidewalks, keeping dogs safe and driving business to local retailers. It wasn’t until we unexpectedly got a cease-and-desist letter from the Department of Transportation (DOT) – ironically sent while we were exhibiting at a Smart Cities Expo in Spain by invitation from New York City Hall – that we learned the city’s regulatory enforcement didn’t allow for this type innovative solution to this common problem.

So now, while pet owners and shop owners across the U.S. are enjoying the benefits of DogSpot, our hometown of New York City is out of luck, casualty of an antiquated regulatory approach.

Fortunately, unfortunate headlines like “She Had a Genius Idea, Then the City Showed Up” could soon be replaced by “New York City at Forefront of Urban Innovation” and “Dog-Friendliness Proves a Boon for Small Business Owners” thanks to the New York City Council. Last month, the City Council held a public hearing on a new bill from Council Member Rafael Espinal, Jr. (Intro. 886) that would clear the path for pet harbors like DogSpot to operate outside commercial businesses on city sidewalks.

The bill thoughtfully addresses concerns raised by DOT about obstructions by only allowing pet harbors in locations with very wide sidewalks and within a limited clearance from the building, making pet harbors no different than the sidewalk furniture and children’s rides that are currently permitted across the boroughs. Simultaneously, it would update regulations that understandably did not anticipate new technologies or urban design.

At the end of the day, the positive impacts of this common sense regulatory fix will be significant. One in seven households in our city have at least one dog and there are approximately 600,000 dogs across the five boroughs. This bill would give DogSpot members in Brooklyn access to a humane alternative to leaving dogs unattended, and provide dog owners in the other boroughs the same access to a safe option. And what’s more, local retail businesses – many of which struggle to make it in New York City – would no longer need to turn away customers with pets.

What the City Council has an opportunity to do with Intro. 886 is to simultaneously support small businesses, keep pets and sidewalks safe, and send the message that as technology evolves, New York City’s regulations actually can evolve along with it. Those innovators working to solve today’s urban challenges are watching and waiting to see if New York City is welcoming to modern problem solving and passing this bill now would be a clear signal that the answer is yes.

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Chelsea Brownridge is the CEO & Founder of DogSpot.

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