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Opinion

No Money or False Information Can Change the Fact that Banning Fur and Foie Gras is the Right Thing To Do


beaut fox

(photo: Pixabay License)


Industries that exploit and abuse animals have a lot of money and a lot to hide. Whether it be the fur industry, which abuses and kills animals for their skins, or the foie gras industry, which rams a foot-long pipe down the throats of innocent ducks for a luxury food item, resorting to Trump-like tactics of lies, fear-mongering, and bullying is a telltale sign that you’re on the wrong side of history.

In New York City, we have two of the most abusive and morally bankrupt industries on earth -- fur and foie gras -- spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to spread misinformation and bully City Council members to get them to oppose two common-sense animal protection bills that seek to end the cruelties in their unregulated industries.

A perfect example is the fur industry’s recent blanketing of Speaker Corey Johnson’s district with ridiculous mailers filled with false information. Speaker Johnson should be applauded, not attacked, for working to protect animals.

Another bill, Intro. 1378, would prohibit the sale of force-fed foie gras in New York City. Foie Gras is a luxury food product sold in about 1.5% of New York City restaurants. It is produced by violently shoving a metal or plastic foot-long pipe down a bird's throat, then pumping him with so much feed that, after three times a day for several weeks, his liver becomes grossly diseased and enlarged to ten times its normal size.

The bill is supported by 81% of New Yorkers, according to a Mason Dixon poll, and over 50 New York-based veterinarians, 100 restaurants, and over 60 not-for-profit organizations have endorsed it. The only opposition to this bill is the industry that profits from the abuse. A new poll just release by Fur Free NYC shows a staggering 75% of New York City voters support a ban on the sale of fur.

On fur, Intro. 1476 would prohibit the sale of fur apparel in New York City. Worldwide, over 100 million animals are abused and killed for their fur every year. Whether raised on fur farms in tiny wire cages or trapped from the wild with cruel leg-hold traps, fur-bearing animals -- including foxes, coyotes, wolves, otters, dogs, cats, and raccoon dogs -- have unimaginable cruelty inflicted upon them.

Designers, retailers, and cities around the world are joining together in banning the sale of fur and shutting down fur farms due to the cruelties involved. In the past 18 months, Chanel, Phillip Lim, Jean Paul Gaultier, Coach, Burberry, Gucci, Michael Kors, and more have all banned fur. Here in the United States, the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco have recently banned the sale and manufacturing of fur, while cities and countries across Europe and Asia are seeking to do the same.

These industries cannot win a civil debate on the merits, so they resort to using their money to bully and spread misinformation to the general public and the City Council—representing everything that is wrong in politics. They’ve hired expensive lobbyists and marketing firms to spin the truth, sent out thousands of mailers and robocalls with misinformation, and bought ads that are riddled with lies to cause fear among New Yorkers. These tactics are from a Trump-like playbook and have no place in this great city.

On the other hand, non-profit groups that advocate for animal rights refuse to entertain these abusive industries’ morally dubious political theater. As Michelle Obama famously said, “when they go low, we go high.” That is exactly what we will do on behalf of animals.

Our coalition of more than 50 organizations will rely on facts, evidence, and science to support the policies we promote. We welcome transparency, debate, and fairness in the legislative process. We operate in the open and don’t try to influence in the shadows. At Voters for Animal Rights, we’re an all-volunteer organization that works to protect animals on an annual budget that is roughly the same as a lobbyist’s monthly retainer to represent the fur industry.

We fight for animals for one simple reason: it’s the right thing to do. They oppose animal protection laws because it threatens their bank accounts.

We are at a pivotal juncture in our society: we can either take back our democracy from powerful, unethical industries or allow those with money to undermine and destroy what makes New York a beacon of light for good. We humbly call on New Yorkers to denounce “alternative facts,” and tell the abusive fur and foie gras industries “No.”

We will not be bullied. We will not stop fighting for the rights of animals. We will not remain silent as they torture innocent animals for profit.

It’s clear that fur and foie gras are products of extreme cruelty and should be relegated to the waste bins of history. Together, we can make New York City a better city by rejecting the fur and foie gras industries’ Trumpian political tactics and pass Intros. 1378 and 1476 without delay.

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Matthew Dominguez and Allie Feldman Taylor are leaders of Voters For Animal Rights. On Twitter @theanimalvoters.

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‘Free College’ at One SUNY School Shows ‘Excelsior’ Progress and Problems


gov cuomo excelsior

(photo: governor's office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship is increasing credit accumulation and college retention rates, but the program still needs to meet more students where they are at.

In 2017, Governor Cuomo embraced the “free college” movement championed by Senator Bernie Sanders and created New York State’s Excelsior Scholarship. Under Excelsior, students from families with annual incomes below $110,000—and increasing to $125,000 in fall 2019—can go to State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY) schools tuition-free.

Excelsior is a “last dollar” scholarship program that pays tuition amounts for full-time students that are not already covered by the federal Pell program and New York State’s nearly $1 billion Tuition Assistance Program. This is one factor that has kept the scholarship’s scale relatively small, covering just 3.2% of SUNY and CUNY students, according to a Center for an Urban Future report on Excelsior’s first year.

In fall 2017, approximately 400 of the 26,000 students at SUNY Suffolk County Community College on Long Island (SCCC) received Excelsior, according to SCCC data that was provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Excelsior awards funds of up to the full cost of tuition, which at SCCC was $2,385 per semester in 2017-2018, or $4,770 per year.

Of SCCC’s 400 or so Excelsior recipients, 300 were first-year freshman students, and 161 of those students, or 53.7%, earned 30 or more credits during their freshman years. Having 30 or more credits at the end of freshman year is a requirement for maintaining Excelsior and is a milestone on the way to graduating in two-years.  

SCCC does not report the rate at which its general population of students earn 30 or more credits in their freshman year, yet other public institutions do. For instance, at CUNY, 10.7% of associate degree full-time freshman students earn 30 or more credits as freshmen.

The rate at which the SCCC general population earns 30 or more credits may exceed the CUNY rate by several percentage points, but not by a multiple of two or more given that SCCC's two-year graduation rate of is very similar to the two-year graduation rate for CUNY associate degree students of 7.7%.

Within this context, the 53.7% rate at which SCCC Excelsior recipients earned 30 or more credits extraordinary.   

The Excelsior regulations strongly incentivize students toward meeting the 30-credit milestone.

First, students who earn the 30 or more credits annually get to maintain the scholarship. Second, those who fail to meet the threshold must pay back one semester of their Excelsior awards. This means that bills of up to $2,385 faced SCCC Excelsior freshmen who did not meet the 30-credit threshold and did not present a special circumstance warranting an exception, like a parent’s death, or have earned credits from high school dual enrollment programs to help lift them over the 30 credit benchmark.

The punitive nature of the regulations, which many see as unfair, is a unique feature of New York State’s “free college” program, and it may play a significant a role in incentivizing students to accumulate credits at rates faster than they would otherwise.    

The credit accumulation results were impressive, but what were Excelsior’s effects on retention?

As one would imagine, the retention outcomes are different for students who earned 30 or more credits from those who did not. Of the 161 students who earned 30 or more credits, 91.3%—or almost all—continued at SCCC as sophomores.

Of the 139 students who fell short of the 30 credits, 64.7% re-enrolled for their sophomore years. These students, unless they were successful in appealing to the Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) for continued Excelsior eligibility or had banked dual enrollment credits, started paying tuition and had to pay back one semester of their Excelsior awards, which together could total nearly $5,000.

Overall, of the 300 Excelsior freshmen, 237 of them, comprising 79.0% of the group, returned to SCCC for their sophomore years. This is about ten percentage points higher than the 69% rate at which first-time, full-time SCCC freshmen returned for their sophomore years during a recent pre-Excelsior year at SCCC.  

Data on Excelsior is Limited
The retention data from SCCC is consistent with overall SUNY and CUNY data. In January, SUNY officials reported a retention rate for SUNY’s Excelsior Scholarship students of 75.7%, compared to 67.9% for SUNY non-Excelsior students. Also in January, CUNY reported a retention rate of 79% for Excelsior students, as compared to 67.4% for non-Excelsior recipients. 

Detailed data from across the state on Excelsior students’ credit accumulation rates and the interplays between credit accumulation, retention, the size of students’ Excelsior awards, and other variables, like race and ethnicity, has not been made available by HESC, which administers Excelsior.

In late January, Acting HESC President Dr. Guillermo Linares testified before a joint legislative hearing in Albany but ducked questions asking for the rates at which Excelsior students have been meeting the 30-credit benchmark. When Assemblymember Deborah Glick asked about students who have “fallen off of receiving Excelsior,” Linares said quixotically, “We’re not aware of any that have not received.”

Senator Toby Ann Stavisky asked directly whether “students [have] failed to fill the 30-credit,” and Linares said only, “There are very positive signs.” When Stavisky followed-up and specifically requested the “percentage that have failed to complete the 30-credit requirement,” Linares stammered back, “It’s very promising.”

HESC has replied to FOIA requests that I have made by saying that they need more time to respond. The sooner they can, the better. More data would help inform a policy debate on how Excelsior can be improved for the future and how “free college” programs should be designed in other states.

Drew Biondo, SCCC’s Director of Communications, said in a brief statement that Excelsior's full "benefit to our students, while showing early successes, will not be known for several more years."

Two Excelsior Policies that Need to Be Changed
As the conversation about Excelsior continues, serious consideration should be given to lowering the annual credit accumulation requirement to 27 credits.

If the standard was 27 credits rather than 30 credits, a significant number of additional SCCC Excelsior freshman would have earned enough credits to have met Excelsior’s benchmark.  

As it stands now, Governor Cuomo’s touting of Excelsior’s success is like an algebra teacher congratulating him/herself on 53.7% of his students passing an exam; there’s nothing in such as a case to warrant self-congratulations.

A second change that should be considered is the provision of funds to support free summer enrollments. At SCCC, 62 of the 161 students (38.5%) who met the 30-credit threshold took at least one summer class that was paid for out of their own pockets. This is a significant percentage of students enrolling in summer classes. Consideration should be given to modifying Excelsior so that students who earn 24 or more credits during the regular academic year receive additional funds to take a summer class for free.

Excelsior’s scale is currently limited, costing the state $92 million during the last fiscal year, compared to the nearly $1 billion size of the TAP program. As a program that is still small (even if Cuomo’s rhetoric is anything but), now is the time consider improvements before Excelsior’s design choices become too entrenched.

In considering policy changes, their implications for how Excelsior funds are divided between SUNY and CUNY students and institutions should be evaluated.

At present, SUNY students and institutions benefit from Excelsior funds to a much greater degree than do CUNY students and institutions. According to an August 2018 report from the New York City-based Center for an Urban Future (CUF) based on HESC data, 20.7% of Excelsior’s 2017-2018 recipients attended CUNY institutions despite CUNY students comprising 38% of the state’s undergraduate population. CUF attributes the imbalance to Excelsior’s heavy credit requirements, which are more often met by SUNY students than by CUNY students.

More research would help determine whether making the above changes to Excelsior would rebalance the distribution of awards between CUNY and SUNY or exacerbate the imbalance.  

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Methodological note: SCCC provided raw data in response to the Freedom of Information Act request but did not provide comprehensive student record data. This research could be extended further with more data and verification of data elements from SCCC.

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Eric Neutuch is a freelance journalist.

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Only One ‘Confused’ is the Mayor: De Blasio Must Make Good on Senior Housing Pledge


metro iaf rally

Mayor de Blasio rallies with Metro IAF (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Last summer, Mayor de Blasio shook our hands and publicly promised to invest $500 million to build thousands of new apartments for low-income seniors. The celebration has been short lived. It turns out the mayor betrayed us and New Yorkers when he reneged on his commitment.

Last Tuesday, more than 500 East Brooklyn Congregations and Metro IAF leaders rallied on the steps of City Hall to get the money our seniors were promised. More importantly, we want the aspiring presidential candidate to come to grips with this cold and hard reality: the tale of two cities has grown worse not better over the past six years.

As pastors, we’ve spent the past 40 years organizing our people and pressuring public officials to deliver for the poor and working class of our city, many of whom worship in our pews or attend our schools.

We’ve had a relationship with every mayor. It’s often been contentious but never duplicitous.

In 1983, after a tough public fight with then-Mayor Ed Koch, we began the construction of what would eventually become more than 5,000 Nehemiah homes and apartments. The Nehemiah plan, named after the prophet who rebuilt Jerusalem, resurrected Brownsville, East New York, and large parts of the South Bronx.

Our city’s seniors will soon number more than 2 million. They stood by our city during the financial crisis of the 1970s, and the murder and drug epidemics of the ‘80s and ‘90s. We have a moral obligation to stand by them as they retire on fixed income and with a diminishing supply of affordable housing.

One of our older members recently confessed that trying to pay her $1,400 monthly rent on a fixed income sometimes forced her to choose between food and rent. We need a new Nehemiah plan for our city's seniors.

Mayor de Blasio came into office with talk of ending the tale of two cities. We believe his intentions were honorable, but, by all measurements, the affordable housing crisis, the dehumanizing conditions in NYCHA, and the future of many poor seniors and students are worse not better.

More than 65,000 of our fellow New Yorkers live in poorly-run shelters or expensive motels. At least 120,000 of our public school students are doubled up with family members or facing evictions.

Think about that. During times of prosperity and abundance, our young scholars are commuting from filthy shelters or far flung places. One of our high school students, her family evicted from their apartment in Bushwick, commutes every day from her relative’s home in Pennsylvania.

There are more than 200,000 seniors on wait-lists to get into affordable housing developments. With wait times as long as five to eight years, many die before they get to move in.

The blame for the housing crisis doesn't start and end at City Hall. Slumlords and mega-developers have learned how to monetize the eviction and displacement of hundreds of thousands of black and Latino families. They might be driving the crisis but the city cannot and must not stand idly by.

We spent two years pressuring and negotiating with the mayor to get him to do something truly transformational. It appeared that the mayor was finally ready.

On a bright sunny day last June, in front of 10 City Council members and hundreds of our members, the mayor promised to invest $500 million to create senior housing on empty NYCHA parking lots.

For every senior that we could voluntarily move out of New York City public housing, we could free up a three or four bedroom apartment for a family to leave the shelter. A $2 billion city investment can create 15,000 new affordable senior housing units which, in turn, can create space for 50,000 New Yorkers to move out of the shelters and off the streets.

The first $500 million can generate 4,000 new seniors units, which would mean that 12,000 or more individuals could get permanent affordable housing in NYCHA.

In a recent letter to Comptroller Stringer, the mayor quietly admitted that the $500 million is not in his budget plan. It’s gone, and so it appears is the mayor’s willingness to help.

We made this announcement at church services across the city over last couple of weeks. As pastors, we have rarely seen our people so angry. The mayor says there’s been unfortunate “confusion” about what he pledged, and claiming that the city's contribution would be much less, closer to $100 million.

We say it is only the mayor who has been confused.

It’s possible that the mayor, like a lot of public officials, never expected to be held accountable for his promise. But he is, and he must deliver.

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By Rev. Adolphus Lacey, Rev. Shaun J. Lee & Rev. David K. Brawley.

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