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This Must Be The Year For The New York Dream Act, A Game-Changer For Immigrant Youth Like Me


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The author at a press conference in Albany for the Dream Act


On Monday the New York State Assembly passed the New York Dream Act. For immigrant youth like me, this legislation would be a game-changer.

I am a Dreamer. I came to this country at the age of two from Mexico. I am an American through and through. I have worked hard to get ahead. I’ve excelled in school. Without state tuition assistance, I worked throughout college to be able to pay tuition and other costs. Finally, last year, I graduated from City College. It was harder than it should have been, because I couldn’t get financial aid. Still, I overcame the obstacles.

But others face even harder situations. Too many undocumented students graduate from public high schools every year only to face the reality of not being able to go to college because they can’t get financial aid. It’s bad for immigrant youth, and it’s bad for New York, which loses out on having more future doctors, lawyers, teachers, and nurses—and the additional tax revenue that these professionals bring to our state. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has found that Dreamers who obtain a bachelor’s degree would each pay more than $60,000 in additional state taxes over their working lives, which is far more than the maximum $20,000 state financial assistance that eligible students can get for that degree.

By passing the Dream Act today, members of the Assembly have shown once again that they understand the struggles that undocumented youth like me face. And we’re grateful to Speaker Carl Heastie, bill sponsor Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa, and City Councilmember Francisco Moya, who led the work on this bill for many years when in the state Legislature.

The Assembly believes what I believe: everyone deserves equal access to college. It’s why I’ve worked for years to organize with other students like me at City College and Make the Road New York to pass the Dream Act. And it’s why today is a critical day in our fight for equality.

Now, we need to make sure this bill becomes law. We know that this fight won’t be easy. We know that conservative State Senators have blocked this bill before, and that many will spread misinformation about it once again to block our progress. But we’re committed to finally passing our bill in both chambers of the Legislature, and to have it signed by Governor Cuomo, who says he supports it.

With Donald Trump in the White House, we’re living in a new time—with mounting attacks from Washington against immigrant youth and families. And, in this time, it’s up to New York to take bold action to offer protection and equal opportunity for all. The Dream Act is a critical way for our state to lead the way in defense of immigrant communities.

Immigrant youth like me are Americans in everything but paper. We go to school here, our families and communities are here. New York should finally pass the Dream Act to ensure that we are treated like the rest of our peers—and that the doors of colleges and universities across this state are open to us.

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Yatziri Tovar is a Dreamer and Media Specialist with Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @YatziriTovar & @MaketheRoadNY.

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Community Health Centers, Essential But At Risk, Must Be Funded Now


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Doctors and nurses (photo via @NYCHealthSystem)


It is no secret that a war is here – a war on immigrants, on LGBTQ people, and communities of color, on the 99%, and more. Health, a part of politics that affects all facets of life, has suffered a brutal onslaught. While some of 2017’s greatest grassroots successes were in defeating Affordable Care Act repeal efforts, recent federal tax overhauls and budget proposals threaten to further strain a healthcare system millions have come to rely on.

Lost in the conversation have been critical federal health programs like the Community Health Center Fund. Introduced as part of the original Affordable Care Act legislation in 2010, the Community Health Center Fund has come to represent 70% of federal grant funding for the nation’s community health centers.

Community health centers reaffirm the fundamental right to health for all. They provide health care for low costs regardless of age, ability to pay, insurance access, or immigration status. Community health centers are culturally responsive neighborhood clinics families rely on, not just for primary care but also for specialized services like dental, vision, and behavioral health. Without the full funding they and the communities they serve have come to depend upon, these centers may not be able to serve their patients to their full ability.

The Community Health Center Fund was renewed for two years in 2015 as part of the funding renewal for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – and in September, these programs and others expired. The last continuing resolution to address this issue, signed by President Trump on December 22, included short-term renewal funding of CHIP, community health centers, and other vital health programs. However, this resolution provided only a portion of the funds these programs need to operate at full strength, and only through March, thus jeopardizing their long-term sustainability.

While the latest continuing resolution reopening the federal government through this Thursday, February 8, included a six- year renewal of CHIP, community health centers were one of several health initiatives that were surprisingly left once again without any updates. Thus, thanks to Congressional inaction, anywhere between 10 and 50 percent of revenue dollars for over 400 New York City and over 700 New York State community health centers serving 2.2 million residents across the state, is now at risk. 

FPWA counts community health centers among its member agencies and coalition partners across New York City – and these organizations are alarmed at this political failure.

Community Healthcare Network (CHN), which includes 14 community health centers and a fleet of mobiles operating across four boroughs, says that while CHN centers are not at risk of cutting services or staff, cuts to funding will force many centers in New York to curtail care. Care for the Homeless, a social and health services provider that includes substance abuse among its treatment focuses, believes that without federal funding, health centers may have to consider cutting less financially-sustainable services like Medication Assisted Treatment, a tactic critical to combating the opioid epidemic.

Without the Community Health Center Fund, New York City will lose over $88 million in 2018, affecting more than a million patients. In addition, Medicaid and CHIP patients make up 50% of patients served at health centers - and threats to these programs also threaten these centers. While losing this money doesn’t necessarily mean these centers will close, it does impact what services they’re able to provide, how many hours they are able to put in, how many people they can staff, which puts more pressure on the resources they have left. It also limits patients’ other options – and taxes those other options significantly by forcing these other health providers, such as New York City’s fiscally-challenged public hospitals, to provide potentially uncompensated care. This isn’t responsible, nor is it healthy.

Recent Capitol Hill rumors indicate that community health center funding would be addressed in the next round of budget negotiations in the coming weeks. But these centers, and the communities they serve, have been waiting long enough.

For many Americans, health care is anything but routine. When you’re forced to make the choice between your family’s dinner or your dentist co-pay, between your MetroCard for the week or your prescription glasses, what might you choose? Health shouldn’t be a privilege – it should be a norm. Community health centers validate that right every single day.

Congressional legislative efforts and comments over the past few months have made it clear – the Trump administration wants tax cuts for the wealthy now at the expense of programs that help everyday Americans access affordable care while still making ends meet.

Renewing federal funding for community health centers and other health programs is absolutely a priority and it should have happened by now. It must happen immediately.

Tuesday, February 6, is a nationwide Day of Demonstration for America’s Health Centers. Centers have been waiting for over four months to get their federal funding renewed and we need to do everything in our power to get this prioritized in the next piece of budget legislation.

It was a battle to keep CHIP and the Affordable Care Act alive – but the war on health isn’t over. As an umbrella organization for New York social services agencies with strong ties to community health centers, FPWA urges all New Yorkers to not let our health care fall victim to politics.

Call your senators and representatives – tell them to demand legislation that fully funds the Community Health Center Fund and other crucial health programs now without jeopardizing the health of millions.

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Winn Periyasamy is a health policy analyst at FPWA, an advocacy and anti-poverty nonprofit based in New York. On Twitter @FPWA.

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Standing Up for Immigrants in Your Neighborhood


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We The People


When the President recently reportedly referred to El Salvador, Haiti, and African nations as “s***hole countries,” it once again served as a reminder of the rampant prejudice and discrimination experienced by immigrants and ethnic minorities. And as the livelihoods of 800,000 young Dreamers living in our country hangs in the balance, we need to support immigrants now more than ever.

At Educational Alliance (EA) – the social service provider and network of community centers I lead on the Lower East Side and East Village – we have dedicated much of the past year to ramping up our programs and services for immigrants. The demographics of the Lower East side have changed since EA was founded 128 years ago, but the challenge is the same: immigrants need help adjusting to American life. We believe that our successful “We the People” initiative this past year can serve as a model for the rest of the city.

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, we saw a substantial rise in hate crimes. Here in New York, hate crimes increased by 24% from the previous year, with a major proportion of the rise the result of bias crimes against Muslims and LGBTQ people.

So at EA, we launched We the People as a way of promoting inclusiveness and protection from the hateful and divisive rhetoric targeted at vulnerable populations. We knew that the President’s attacks on immigrant communities would only increase in time, so it was important to show immigrants in our community that there was a safe space they could go to for information and help.

Within a week after taking office, President Trump signed the infamous travel ban, prohibiting travel from seven predominantly-Muslim countries to the United States, sending a clear message that immigrants from Muslim countries don’t belong in our country.

We were ready. Under We the People, we worked with local businesses to identify themselves as welcoming to immigrants, and began training people to be “upstanders,” giving them the tools they need to effectively stand up for justice and intervene in conflict if they witnessed discrimination or attempts to bully our immigrant Muslim brothers and sisters.

Soon after, Trump issued an executive order stating that cities that refused to comply with federal immigration authorities would be ineligible to receive federal grants. And soon after, he rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, placing hundreds of thousands more lives in limbo and in danger of being separated from their family, friends, and colleagues. Though both actions were halted by the courts, the aggressive stance towards immigrants undoubtedly had a chilling effect on their comfort in seeking services or reporting crimes.

But not in our neighborhood. Our partnerships with businesses and other local community groups early on helped spread the word that EA had the community’s back and that this was a place they could turn to for help. Under the initiative, we began to host a series of events, workshops, and community forums, including “Know Your Rights” events where we provide people with access to information on immigration fraud, rights, and legal services.

In the coming year, we will continue this work, investing in programs and services where we can be most impactful and joining together with local residents and businesses to ensure that our community remains safe and supportive for people of all backgrounds.

That’s because regardless of just how divisive and discriminatory our national leaders are towards immigrants and vulnerable communities, we will stand strong – as we have for 128 years – for all people, regardless of race or religious creed.

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Alan van Capelle is President and CEO of Educational Alliance, a social service provider for the Lower East Side and East Village.

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We Must Answer #MeToo with Comprehensive Sexuality Education


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As a coalition of health educators, advocates, students, community service providers, and teachers, we know that the stories behind #MeToo are not new. For many of us, it is what led us to this work. Our own stories of assault, harassment, or discrimination, and the stories of the people we love drove us to want to create a better world for the next generation. So that women are not always asked what they were wearing, and so that LGBTQ youth are not told their true self and gender is ‘just a phase’ they’ll grow out of with conversion therapy.

We also know that “Time’s Up” for providing all young people with the tools and information they need to build healthy communities and relationships—and that New York City should be a leader when it comes to sexuality education.

The #MeToo movement has unearthed the extent to which sexual harassment, assault, and the devaluing of women, both cis and trans, pervades our society. No workplace or institution is free from these realities and we are just beginning to take a hard look at the societal systems in place that enable such continued abuse.

This reckoning is long overdue, but we are ready for it.

We are called now to ask ourselves what needs to change. What do we truly want to be different than it was?

Workplace accountability and equal pay, survivor protections to safely report abuse, better representation of women and people of color in positions of power. These are all urgent needs, and yet they don’t fully get to the root of what’s needed for a societal shift to meet the scale of the #MeToo movement.

If we are going to commit to the values of gender equity, trusting women, and enthusiastic consent, it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of learning.

Luckily, we have an unprecedented opportunity in this current moment to invest in that learning. But we need to start from the ground up. We need to teach our young people from an early age how to identify and cultivate healthy relationships, how to ask for and give consent freely, and how to respect and love one’s own body and respect the bodies of others, with sensitivity to people’s backgrounds and experiences different from their own. These are not one-off conversations or hour-long school assemblies. This requires continual skills-building around communication, empathy, and inclusion, and for us to embed these lessons and tools in our educational system from day one through an interdisciplinary approach.

Truly comprehensive sexuality education requires that students learn about safe sexual practices and wellbeing, body autonomy and positivity, consent communication, anti-bullying measures and bystander intervention, where to access trusted confidential health care, how to navigate technology and social media in intimate relationships, and must include lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming students in each topic.

Comprehensive sexual health education also requires that these lessons be taught in all grades K-12, enabling schools to incorporate social and emotional learning skills and core values into the classroom from an early age and start with foundational lessons around respect and positive relationships that allow for more complex and critical discussions to be had later on.

The latest revelations of the #MeToo movement have shown us how ill-equipped we are in our understanding of consent and positive sexual behavior. We need to teach people of all genders how to engage in healthy relationships, and how to ask for consent, rather than putting the burden on one person to shout “no” loudly enough.

We know that comprehensive sex ed works; study after study has shown the positive health and emotional benefits sexuality education provides young people. But right now in New York City, it’s too little too late. According to the Department of Education’s own findings, almost half of last year’s graduated 8th-graders never received a semester of health in middle school, when lessons on sexual health are supposed to be taught. A recent report by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and the creation of a Mayoral Task Force on sexual health education, highlight the extent to which this issue needs to be urgently addressed in New York.

At Sexuality Education Alliance of New York City, we’ve heard from teachers who have great models for sexual health education at their schools, and we know it’s possible. All students deserve comprehensive, inclusive, and skills-based sexual health education. And they deserve it at every grade and stage of life.

If we’re truly committed to addressing the ways our society enables a culture of discrimination and gender-based violence, and to saying #TimesUp, then we need to commit to large-scale educational change and do our part to honor the people who have come forward to share their stories. This is one of the biggest and most pervasive issues we’re facing today--no investment is too big to build the future we want.

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Elizabeth Adams is the Co-Chair of the Sexuality Education Alliance of New York City and director of government relations at Planned Parenthood of New York City. On Twitter @ElizaBAdams.

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Death of Bloomberg-Era School Roils East Harlem


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Protesting school closure (photo: Andrea Gabor)


Earlier this month, Kevin Medina, a high-school sophomore, stepped up to the microphone at a crowded public hearing to defend the East Harlem middle school that, he says, changed his life.

“I’m a Hispanic kid,” said Medina, who now attends Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology. “I live with my grandmother, who is disabled and who is on welfare. We have nothing. But because of this school I may go to M.I.T. for free. Because of these teachers, who made sure we have everything we need.”

Medina was talking about Global Technology Preparatory, a public middle school that had introduced him to Google’s Code Next program, which is designed to recruit gifted black and Latino students into the tech industry. “Because of Global Tech, I know as much computer science as a college freshman or sophomore,” he added.

Medina was among dozens of alumni, parents, former teachers, and community members who came out, over the last two weeks, to offer testimonials for the small school that, they say, did big things for the poor kids of color in its charge. However, last week, at a contentious hearing of the Panel for Education Policy, which makes the final determination on proposed school closings and mergers across the city, the education department won approval for its plan to “merge” Global Tech with P.S. 7, a K-8 school. The two schools share a building on East 120th Street in East Harlem.

Global Tech, which was founded under Mayor Bloomberg, is one of the rare schools effectively being closed even though it is not failing; the reason given by the education department is that the two merged schools are both under-enrolled.

A one-to-one laptop school, Global Tech has consistently scored above its peers on standardized tests. It also has offered supports that have enabled a population of poor students of color, over one-third of whom had Individualized Education Plans (I.E.P.s), to attend some of the city’s best public schools. Most of its alums also have gone on to college.

“Consolidations are intended to improve under-enrolled schools and to address the budgetary and programmatic and performance challenges that arise as a result of low enrollment,” explained Josh Wallack, deputy chancellor at the Department of Education, at a joint public hearing held earlier this month in the P.S. 7 auditorium. “Students attending the consolidated P.S.7 will have access to a wider variety of academic and enrichment opportunities, interventions and other supports that would not be financially feasible for either of the individual schools to offer in the absence of a consolidation.”

That’s an argument current Global Tech parents and former teachers dispute. They say the merger was engineered at the end of the last school year, before required consultation with the community, and to the detriment of both schools. Last spring, Alexandra Estrella, the District 4 superintendent, forced out Global Tech’s principal, David Baiz. She also rejected every teacher-tenure application Baiz had approved. In the wake of Baiz’s departure, all but two of Global Tech’s 16 full-time faculty took jobs at other schools—though most returned for the hearings, sporting t-shirts inscribed “Greatness that Perseveres” and “GTP Forever.”

By the start of this school year, middle-school classes at the two schools were already co-mingled. The MacBooks once assigned to each Global Tech student are scattered throughout the building. Students with I.E.P.s are not receiving mandated services, according to several parents and former teachers who maintain contact with Global Tech families. While Global Tech’s after-school program is still offered by Citizen Schools, a nonprofit contracted by the city, it is no longer mandatory and few students attend. There have also been reports of “raging fights” and “chaos and disarray,” according to a broadly distributed email from Chrystina Russell, the school’s founding principal.

Estrella also replaced P.S. 7’s principal, Jackie Pryce-Harvey, who had helped found Global Tech. After Pryce-Harvey’s departure, some special programs there also disappeared. Indeed, at one point, Baiz and Pryce-Harvey had suggested merging P.S. 7’s middle school with Global Tech, under Baiz’s leadership; but the idea was rejected by Estrella.

“Respectfully, GTP never had a problem with resources,” said Ramona Gross at the joint public hearing on Global Tech. Gross credits the school and its programming for the fact that her son, William, who had an I.E.P., is now a freshman at Utica College.

“He came to Global Tech a small, quiet, scared, stuttering kid,” said Gross. “Global Tech taught him leadership” and self-confidence.

Current parents and students also say they are unhappy with the merger. Ysabel Martinez’s youngest son, Joseph, picked Global Tech because his brother Josniel had a wonderful experience at the school. Josniel, who had an I.E.P., represented Global Tech at a White House conference in 2011; he now attends York College, a four-year CUNY school, and aspires one day to become president.

The boys’ mother says, in Spanish: “I didn’t know about the changes. I didn’t know the principal had left, that it’s a different school.”

Joseph is not happy at the merged school, she adds, and they are now looking for a new school.

During her turn at the microphone, Shannon Meminger, a former Global Tech dean, reeled off well over a dozen partnership-based programs the school had offered, many of them anchored by a mandatory after-school program, itself a partnership with Boston-based Citizen Schools: the Apollo theater, Google, Little Kids Rock, as well as other arts- and science-oriented programs.

Yet, the one thing Global Tech has struggled with since its inception is enrollment. The school has never had more than about 175 students and enrollment has plunged during the recent year of turmoil to fewer than 130 students.

Neighborhood charter schools, which now educate one out of every four children in Harlem and cream students who do well on standardized tests—one reason public schools like Global Tech fill up with kids with I.E.P.s.—may contribute to the enrollment challenges. Private donations also allow charters to spend on advertising and recruiting families.

Others at the hearings blamed Bloomberg who built his new small-school strategy on closing failing schools. The problem with this theory is that Global Tech’s entrepreneurial approach to raising funds and forging partnerships, its dedicated educators—not a single teacher left during Baiz’s last year as principal—and relatively strong student performance, made it just the sort of small school the Bloomberg administration was inclined to protect.

Not so Carmen Fariña, the schools chancellor who will soon retire, and who has expressed her distrust of small schools and overseen 21 consolidations. “We don’t run schools as charities,” Fariña said during last week’s panel hearing. Nor did she respond to demands for an investigation of superintendent Estrella, whose actions at Global Tech, as well as other District 4 schools, including Central Park East 1 and Esperanza, have earned her censure and scorn.

“The school was shot, decimated by the superintendent,” says Isaac Carmignani, one of the members of the Panel for Education Policy appointed by Mayor de Blasio. “I spoke from the stage about my concern about what we heard. You don’t get 150 people speaking with one voice from all stakeholders.” Carmignani added that he voted for the merger because there is no going back for Global Tech. (The panel’s vote included six for merger, four abstentions and one recusal.)

Not everyone was moved by the testimony in favor of Global Tech. Servia Silva, the District 4 union representative, never spoke on behalf of the school. Neither Silva nor Estrella responded to interview requests.

Several participants expected a representative of the Manhattan Borough President to defend the school; the borough president, Gale Brewer, came to the meeting herself, but did not speak. Michael Kraft, a panel member appointed by Brewer, says she doesn’t try to influence his vote. Kraft, who said he knew nothing about Global Tech until a week or two ago, voted to abstain because he, too, agrees, “The school that gave those great supports is just not there anymore.”  

There are two lessons from the unraveling of Global Tech: First, the process for getting meaningful community input before schools are closed or merged is broken. Second, the education bureaucracy that Mayor Bloomberg tried to dismantle is, under Mayor de Blasio, as strong as ever.

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Andrea Gabor is the author of “After the Education Wars,” to be published by The New Press in June 2018, and Bloomberg Chair of Business Journalism at Baruch College/CUNY. On Twitter @aagabor.

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State Leaders Must Blunt Impact of Federal Tax Reform on New York Nonprofits and the People Who Rely on Us

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(photo via The Governor's Office)


The recently passed federal tax law will deepen inequality and jeopardize the health and wellbeing of families and individuals across our state. This legislation penalizes New Yorkers by capping the state and local tax (SALT) deduction and will create deficits that are likely to result in catastrophic cuts to the programs they depend on. These tax “cuts” will drive up the national deficit, which will then be cynically used as a rationale for slashing investments in critical programs such as food assistance, public housing, and affordable healthcare.

Our state leaders must take action to ensure that we can weather this storm.

Federal aid accounts for one-third of the New York State budget and directly accounts for 8-10% of the New York City budget. The state is already facing a deficit that will be exacerbated by any federal cuts to state assistance or Medicaid spending.  For example, homelessness is a major problem in our city and two-thirds of the New York City Housing Authority’s budget comes from federal aid. Cuts in aid to states would also have a significant impact on our children as 41% of the budget for the Administration for Children’s Services and 8% of the Department of Youth & Community Development funding comes from the federal government. Lack of funds at these agencies would impact foster care, adoption services, after-school programs, and Head Start. When direct aid is cut, families and individuals will rely even more heavily on nonprofit human services organizations. Our nonprofits deliver essential programs through contracts with city and state governments that support people through every stage of life, including early child education, elder care, shelter for people experiencing homelessness, job placement, and nutrition assistance. However, these government contracts rarely cover the full cost of providing services, which has resulted in a chronically underfunded sector.

At the same time, this federal legislation dis-incentivizes charitable giving.

Private fundraising has been an important (but insufficient) tool for filling the deficit that comes with government contracts. The tax bill raises the standard deduction, and with that increase many people will not itemize anymore, meaning that they will not see a tax benefit in making charitable donations. According to the Indiana University School of Philanthropy in a report commissioned by Independent Sector, 82 percent of charitable giving comes from people who itemize their tax return, and it is estimated that charitable giving will go down by about $13 billion.

Too many organizations are already at a breaking point. In New York City, 18% of nonprofit human services organizations are insolvent. This tax bill could push them over the edge at the exact moment when they are needed most. While we know this is a difficult budget year, given the deficit and uncertainty at the federal level, it is now more important than ever that we make sure our nonprofits are financially strong and resilient.

We are asking the state to make investments in our workforce and our infrastructure to ensure we are strong enough to continue serving communities well into the future. The underfunding of human services is not a new issue, but we need the Governor to lead in this area and 1) fund the minimum wage for human services workers contracted by the State, 2) continue the Nonprofit Capital Infrastructure Fund – a highly sought after grant program that assists nonprofits in making crucial improvements to their buildings and technology, and 3) fund a wage adjustment for a workforce that has gone without a salary increase in over eight years.

The Governor’s Executive Budget recognizes the federal threats to New York and includes an impressive agenda, which requires the close collaboration of human services providers across the state who are threatened not only by federal policies, but also by years of state policies and funding decisions that have jeopardized their ability to serve as anchors for their communities. Our organizations are dedicated to elevating the human potential of our families and communities, and we were gravely disappointed that some of our representatives did not act in the best interests of our state in passing this damaging tax legislation. However, New York now has an opportunity to be a progressive leader for the country by making investments in the human services sector. In times of challenge and uncertainty, nonprofits are our communities’ first line of defense and careful planning and adequate financial resources from the city and state are needed to protect these essential services.

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Center for New York City Affairs
Fiscal Policy Institute
FPWA
Human Services Council of New York
United Neighborhood Houses

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Note: this column has been updated to correctly identify Independent Sector as the funder of the Indiana University study, not the United Way as originally written.

The Next Step to Reform District Attorney Campaign Finance


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Four NYC DAs  (photo: @ManhattanDA)


For the past four months, the people of Manhattan have grappled with accusations of their District Attorney cultivating a pay-to-play culture in which the rich and powerful skate by serious criminal charges -- if their lawyers contribute sizable donations to DA Vance’s campaign. In a public display of penance for allowing the appearance of corruption to permeate, Vance requested The Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School to investigate ways to better insulate our elected prosecutors from the influence of donors. The CAPI recommendations make for a good headline after months of bad PR for the DA, but will not change the status quo.

Following the report, Vance said he will adopt the ‘blind’ practice used for judicial candidates who are raising money for their campaigns. Unfortunately the failings of this model are widely known, and are surely no secret to Vance himself. It follows a legal fiction that removing the DA from the fundraising eliminates the potential conflict. That is absurd.

It is pure fantasy to suggest a candidate will have no knowledge of who is donating to their campaign. Full transparency is an ideal all elected officials should be striving for in our electoral system, especially when it comes to the funding of campaigns. That is why the records of who has donated to candidates are fully public, easily obtained by the click of a button. There’s no ‘blind’ approach to raising money when the names, addresses and amount of money donated are so easily accessed by the public, press, campaign, and candidates. Especially for a DA like Cy Vance who has been in office for almost a decade and has built a donor list based on strong relationships with certain criminal defense lawyers and law firms.  

Then we come to the donor cap recommendations -- riddled with far too many loopholes. By restricting the $320 donation cap to only attorneys appearing before the DA office, the policy is extremely limited, allowing many other non-appearing attorneys from the same law firm to donate individually up to $3,850. Undoubtedly, high-profile wins for firms are good for business. Perhaps that’s why Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s personal lawyer, had his coworkers raise over $18,000 for Vance just a few months after the DA chose not to prosecute the Trump children. Under the CAPI recommendations, this could continue to happen. In fact, under Vance’s new self-imposed fundraising rules, he would only have to wait six months after a case is resolved to accept donations from the exact lawyers who appeared before his office.

Even with the cap from partners and some lawyers, there are a multitude of ways that law firms with an attorney or attorneys who appear before the DA office can donate significant amounts of money to the DA. It will just take some creativity. This permits the existence of the conflict that CAPI admits exists -- attorneys donate to create "positive relationships" with the DA's office, "which, could, in theory inspire some of them to become contributors to the DA's campaign." An understatement to say the least.

The CAPI recommendations represent an incomplete addition to the conversation of reforming the way we fund our DA races, something the report acknowledges. This report should not signal the tidy conclusion of how the rich and powerful were seemingly able to curry favorable treatment through campaign donations by their lawyers. We need true comprehensive reform to make our system one New Yorkers can confidently rely on. I have legislation that will bring us one step closer to this by forbidding large donations to DAs from criminal defense lawyers or their law firms. Let’s get this passed and move toward a fairer system for all.

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Dan Quart is a member of the New York State Assembly representing Manhattan’s East Side. On Twitter @AMDanQuart.

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With MTA Facing Massive Shortfall, A Lot Riding on New Congestion Pricing Push


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Gov. Cuomo in the subway (photo: The Governor's Office)


Governor Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” commission produced a framework for a congestion pricing plan, released just after the governor’s Executive Budget for the 2018-19 Fiscal Year, which begins April 1. The congestion pricing framework outlines a three-year phase-in that would provide revenue of $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year starting in 2020, most of which would be intended for the MTA Capital Plan.

That is also the year the MTA must begin its next five-year capital plan for continued investment in the upgrade and preservation of the subway, bus, and commuter rail systems. The current $30 billion plan, the 2015-19 plan, faced a shortfall of $15 billion when initially proposed in 2014, and it was not until 2016 that the governor and the Legislature finally adopted a framework for that plan. The 2020-2024 plan likely faces a similar funding shortfall of $15 billion, so money flowing from a congestion pricing program for the MTA in 2020 would arrive just in time to fill much of that shortfall, although the Fix NYC framework did not outline a specific disposition of the money from a congestion pricing set-up.

A November 2017 report by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, “ Financial Outlook for the MTA,“ stressed that the MTA’s capital funding shortfalls could be even larger than $15 billion because more than $7 billion in the 2015-19 plan that the state government committed to providing the MTA still does not have an identified funding source.

Beyond that, MTA Chair Joseph Lhota’s Subway Action Plan Phase Two indicated a need to add $8 billion in capital funding for the subway system. The MTA is not under an obligation to offer the details of its 2020-2024 Capital Plan until the fall of 2019 so it is not clear how all these unmet needs and proposals might fit together. But a shortfall of more than $20 billion is likely.

The comptroller’s office suggested the MTA accelerate the release of the details of its 2020-24 plan to enable greater public engagement in the process of coming to terms with these important decisions. The MTA should do this -- the governor, the Legislature, and the public need to get a handle on what the MTA thinks is needed sooner rather than later. (The comptroller’s report confirmed the concerns raised in my September column: “The MTA’s Long-Term Financial Problem is Severe and May Soon be Worse.”)

If the Legislature does not enact a formidable congestion pricing plan, worth $1 to $1.5 billion a year, enough revenue to support $10 billion or more in bonded funds for the mass transit system, or find some other alternative, it will be catastrophic for the subway, bus, and commuter rail systems, the fundamental infrastructure that allows for the wealth of the New York City metropolitan area. In fact, even if the proposed congestion pricing plan is adopted, the MTA’s greater than $20 billion shortfall would only drop by half and there would still be $10 billion to find unless the federal government were to step in to provide much larger amounts of money than at present.

Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to tax millionaires was envisioned to raise $750 million a year, with $500 million to fund $8 billion worth of bonds for the MTA, and $250 million to subsidize low-income New Yorkers’ subway and bus rides with half-fare MetroCards. Together the congestion pricing plan and the millionaires tax might raise nearly $20 billion for the MTA, coming close to closing the gaps in meeting mass transit capital needs.

Both proposals face significant opposition in the Legislature, from State Senate Republicans opposed to the millionaires tax, to everyday legislators of both parties who simply don’t wish to impose new charges or fees on their constituents to drive into Manhattan, either because they feel the charges are unfair or won’t solve the congestion problem.

Governor Cuomo has not yet submitted a bill to the Legislature that provides the details of the congestion pricing plan or how the money would be used. He has said he wants to discuss the issue with the Legislature first, although he has embraced the concept advanced by Move New York that the tolls on the outer borough bridges that don’t feed the Manhattan central business district should be reduced. That means some of the Fix NYC revenue would be diverted to reduce those particular tolls and not available to the MTA for its capital needs.

The governor has also submitted bills in the budget to force New York City government to come up with much more money for the MTA, a move the de Blasio administration is strongly opposing.

One bill would force the City to pay the 50% of Chair Lhota’s Subway Action Plan that the chair had demanded of the City and that Mayor de Blasio had refused to pay. Another bill would give the MTA the power to create special districts in New York City where subway expansions add property value and allow the MTA to obtain portions of city property taxes related to the new value created for the MTA Capital Plan. The concept was used to pay for the 7-train extension by dedicating revenue from property in the Hudson Yards area to cover the costs, although that plan was a creation of the City of New York and the City controlled the dispositions of funds, unlike the governor’s proposal here, where it does not appear the City would have a say in the matter.

Another Cuomo budget bill is perhaps the most dramatic of all -- it says the City of New York must pay the full cost of the New York City Transit Authority capital plan. The City of New York has a seat on the MTA Capital Review Board and a vote on the New York City Transit Authority Capital Plan, so it has the power to veto that part of the plan. This power does not quite fit with the obligation to fund the plan, nor does it square how parts of the New York City Transit Authority Capital Plan might get funded from other sources of revenue and how the City negotiates the package. The MTA’s capital needs are so immense it is reasonable to ask New York City government to increase its contribution, perhaps even in a major way, but the governor’s proposals are orders rather than requests and may simply be opening gambits for negotiation.

Another major issue is the gargantuan expense of the MTA’s construction programs and purchases. A recent New York Times series described the immense waste of funds in the projects. The MTA, the governor, and the Legislature cannot ignore the problem -- the size of the MTA’s needs just costs too much money and the City and State just can’t afford to write checks to cover $20-30 billion shortfalls.

Right now congestion pricing is the main issue on the table. Mayor de Blasio and the Legislature should support it.

Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio should bury the hatchet, at least as far as the mass transit system goes. There needs to be a consensus about addressing the giant shortfalls faced by the capital needs of the system. It’s also worth mentioning that both former Mayor Bloomberg and the newer Move New York plan sought to use congestion pricing funds to improve express bus service in areas of the City poorly served (or not served at all) by the subway system, and that issue, among others, certainly needs to be taken into account.

The MTA needs an astonishing $2 billion a year in new sources of revenue for the cash and debt service on bonds to cover more than $20 billion needed through 2024-25. If congestion pricing fails and there is no meaningful replacement the prosperity and public safety of the metropolitan area will be threatened.

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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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Dr. King Wanted Housing Justice That Governor Cuomo Must Deliver


Andrew Cuomo NAN Al Sharpton

Gov. Cuomo receives an award, 2016 (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Governor Cuomo recently gave his 2018 State of the State address. Like years past, he highlighted his accomplishments and reminded New York of the “historic commitments” he’s made to solve our most pressing issues. High among those issues was -- and remains -- homelessness. He called on our “compassionate society” to care for the homeless and, discussing criminal justice reform, invoked the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., quoting, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

I agree, Governor Cuomo: New Yorkers are compassionate; homelessness is wrong; and it is the government’s job to meet the needs of all New Yorkers. And in the spirit of Martin Luther King, I would add that it is the community’s responsibility to hold government accountable when it is not meeting the needs of its people.

I am homeless. For the past two years I’ve been staying on friends’ couches and in shelters while I look for housing. At this year’s State of the State address, I joined the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance coalition, and was one of the 24 people who were arrested while blocking the entrance of the State Capitol. Despite freezing temperatures, New Yorkers from around the state met there to protest Governor Cuomo’s housing failures.

Governor Cuomo’s record on housing has hurt New Yorkers. Tenants are not able to keep up with rising rents, our scarce public housing is deteriorating, and our state has more people homeless than ever on record.

A recent U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued report says that 88,352 people slept in shelters across New York State on a given night last January -- and there are many more, uncounted. Under Governor Cuomo’s watch, the state’s homeless population has swelled by several thousand.

At this year’s State of the State address, the Governor reminded us of his 2016 commitment to invest $20 billion to confront homelessness and create affordable housing. He went on to promise to build on his commitment but provided no details. I cannot help but question whether money will actually materialize and if the housing will ever be built. For nearly two years, we’ve witnessed delays in funding and only partial allocations of the resources we so desperately need.

Governor Cuomo did provide clarity on one thing, however. He threatened to strip local governments of funding for homelessness services if cities fail to conduct effective street outreach programs. This comes at a time when the State has already failed to fairly share the costs of sheltering people with local governments. While street homelessness is a problem that every city should be prepared to deal with, it simply isn’t possible to do without the State’s support.

As always, the question of money will arise. We have already heard phrases like “budget deficits” and “tough decisions,” which only translates to continued homelessness and desperation for those of us living the policies we hear debated.

The truth is, we have the resources to pay for ending the homeless crisis right here in our State.

New York is home to Wall Street, billionaires, millionaires, and real estate developers -- some of the wealthiest people and institutions in the world. With the right tax and budget policies, we could ensure that vital housing programs are funded and that truly affordable housing gets built for low income people.  And with political will and bold leadership, we could slow the continuous stream of low-income New Yorkers who are moving from permanent housing into shelters, by expanding protections for tenants, at no cost at all.

We have some room for hope. Unlike previous years, at this year's address Governor Cuomo committed to closing the carried interest loophole -- a provision in our tax code that gives the wealthiest people in our state massive tax breaks. Closing this loophole would generate billions of dollars for New York, protecting us from the Trump Administration’s disastrous tax and budget policies. We’ll wait to see if Governor Cuomo moves words into action, and truly aligns with New Yorkers who support economic fairness.

Ahead of the Governor’s presentation of his budget plan and on the heels of the Martin Luther King Day, let’s hope Governor Cuomo remembers the more than 88,000 people who are homeless across the state. Let’s hope he makes the investments we so badly need. And let’s hope he remembers that Dr. King dedicated his life to demanding justice for all.

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Georgia Morgan is a member of VOCAL-NY, a grassroots organization that builds power among low-income people impacted by homelessness, HIV/AIDS, drug use, and mass incarceration. On Twitter @VOCALNewYork.

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Governor Cuomo’s Workforce Investment Plan is a Promising Start


Cuomo New York families

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


In a time when more and more training and credentialing is necessary to enter the labor market, Governor Cuomo’s workforce development proposal included as part of his 2018 State of the State symbolizes an important recognition that our economy depends on having a skilled and qualified workforce to meet the demands of tomorrow.

The sense of urgency can be found in the realities that today’s young adults are facing in entering the labor market. Seventeen percent of, or 136,000, 18-to-24 year olds in New York City are out of school and out of work. As the economy continues to redefine itself, young adults are increasingly turning to part-time, gig-like employment opportunities to string together income. Many young adults were pushed to earn a college degree—as part of the American rite of passage—only to graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt and entering a labor market with historically low-wages. Consequently, today’s young adults have significantly less income and wealth accumulation than what their parents were making when they were young adults.

The challenges young adults face today are, in part, reflective of the dire need to reimagine how we are preparing young adults to launch their lives with a family-sustaining career. This means ensuring they have equitable access to postsecondary training and credentialing while meeting labor market demand. It’s time for New York State to better leverage its strong and growing economy by building a 21st century workforce development system necessary to adequately prepare rising generations to participate in a constantly changing and increasingly competitive global context.

To be clear, this is not to be confused with the phenomenon of pushing every young person to go straight from high school into a four-year bachelor’s-degree program—although everyone should have access to pursue a college degree if they desire. In fact, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 42 percent, or 1.7 million, New York State residents without bachelor’s degrees have good, blue-collar jobs earning an average of $59,000 a year. This directly challenges the mainstream narrative that every young person needs a four-year degree and makes clear the need to invest in a 21st century workforce development system that can help meet the needs of employers in growing industry sectors, without needing a four-year degree.   

Governor Cuomo’s proposal to add $175 million to support workforce development efforts, establish a statewide workforce development office, design a data system, and establish a one-stop shop for job seekers and employers is a victory in and of-itself. However, we must remain diligent to ensure his vision becomes the reality New Yorkers need it to be.

The proposed $175 million of funding through the Regional Economic Development Councils is a much needed and timely investment—especially given the rapidly changing nature of the economy. Critical to the success of Governor Cuomo’s bold proposed investment is to ensure that these resources are structurally permanent dollars the workforce, education, and economic development systems can depend on year-to-year in order to adequately train New Yorkers to meet labor market demand.

Because actual funding for the workforce system has declined significantly over the last decade—despite the increasing need for more industry-specific training and credentials—some of the initial resources should be used to build up and modernize the existing workforce development infrastructure. This will allow the workforce development system the opportunity to partner with employers and industry sectors, going beyond their current capacity to create cutting edge, innovative training and skill-development strategies for tomorrow’s workforce.

While Governor Cuomo’s proposal to establish a new State Office of Workforce Development is an important step in the right direction, to be effective, this office must have the authority and capacity to truly facilitate interagency coordination and systems building, and must be adequately resourced as a structural part of the Executive Chamber answerable to the Governor. This office must also be accountable to the New York State Legislature through public oversight hearings and annual reporting to maximize transparency and effectiveness.

Governor Cuomo’s proposal to create a one-stop shop online portal for workers and businesses is a 21st century idea that JobsFirstNYC called for in Unleashing the Economic Power of the 35 Percent, recognizing the fractured and siloed nature of education, training, and employment. If effective, this portal will be a transformative tool that will include job and career information, education and training resources, geographical information on how to find social services related to work, and more.

Finally, Governor Cuomo’s plan to create a statewide data analytics system modeled after Monroe Community College’s framework is a welcomed idea. At first glance, the proposal seems to only focus on the demand side data that is critical to informing where more training and workers are needed to fill skills gaps. However, to be truly comprehensive, this new system must include a universal way to understand and measure programmatic performance that is easy to engage with and will help employers find creative solutions to meet their employment needs. This will ensure that state resources are being used efficiently and help the workforce development adjust its practice accordingly.

As Governor Cuomo and state legislators work to pass the state budget in the coming months, they must ensure that any workforce development strategy empowers local communities to leverage resources that meet the unique need of their economies. Additionally, the state’s workforce development investment must be given the flexibility and infrastructure to create innovative workforce development strategies that are responsive to current demand and can anticipate tomorrow’s evolving needs.  

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Kevin Stump is vice president of Policy, Communications, and In-School Practice for , JobsFirstNYC and Co-Chair of the #InvestinSkillsNY Campaign. On Twitter @KevinStump & @JobsFirstNYC.

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Celebrating ‘Renewal’ Success as We Acknowledge More Work To Do


celebrating renew

Mayor de Blasio & Chancellor Fariña on a school visit (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)


School is back in session after an eventful December and long break. As students returned to our community schools, so many were grateful to be back where supports and resources are in place. For many of our students, community schools provide additional support services; food pantries; mental health and social-emotional learning programs; and family support aligned to what’s happening in the classroom. In other words, they focus on educating the “whole child.”  

Coming back to school in the new year feels like a good time to recognize the commitment the city and many nonprofits like mine have made to creating community schools. And, three years into the Renewal School program— the largest school turnaround effort in New York City’s history, which has a two-pronged strategy: the infusion of a strong instructional core and the conversion of every school into a community school—it’s time to look at the results. Each Renewal School has a non-profit partner to lead its transformation into a community school; the goal is to bring together the expertise of educators and community partners to make improvements across all the areas schools need to succeed.

My organization, Partnership with Children, is a partner in nine Renewal Schools, and we are proud that two of them – Renaissance School of the Arts in East Harlem and P.S. 67 in Fort Greene – have made steady progress and will transition out of the Renewal program to become “Rise Schools.” As we evaluate the potential of the investments made in Renewal Schools, we need to recognize the success of these schools and others like them.

Renaissance School of the Arts is exemplary because it has the right people and resources in place, thanks in large part to its Renewal School status. The school leadership and faculty are strong and have implemented new cutting-edge teacher training. Partnership with Children’s social work team has provided counseling, a parent support group, and social-emotional learning workshops. By working together, Renaissance and Partnership with Children have established a flourishing school culture where a strong student voice is developing, both in and out of the classroom. You see it in an active student government, a student-run school store, and even the way students communicate and support their ideas when interacting with adults.

Attendance is at 95% so far this year, up from 89% for the 2013-14 school year. Since 2014, the percentage of students proficient in English Language Arts (ELA) has increased 17 points and the percentage of students proficient in math has increased 13 points. There is need for more improvement, but the model is working at Renaissance.

We also have an excellent partnership at P.S. 67 with the ambitious and impressive principal and her dedicated team. Partnership with Children staff are in the school building before, during, and after the school day – and on the weekends and during the summer – working side-by-side with the principal. Parents stay after drop-off and pick-up to meet with guidance counselors and social workers, teachers are eager and faculty retention is increasing, and student outcomes are improving. Proficiency in ELA has improved 20 percentage points; in math, 10 points. This is what happens when everyone in a school building puts their resources, experience, and heads together.

The students, faculty, staff and leaders at both of these schools are ambitious and aligned, and that is part of what helped them make gains that other Renewal Schools have struggled to make. They’ve broken down silos and gotten all the adults in the school community on the same page. Data absolutely drives their work.

In light of the news about the schools that are closing, I urge us not to overlook the success of schools like Renaissance and P.S. 67, and the others moving from Renewal to Rise Schools. It should inspire us to re-commit to this radical transformation of schools – not pull back from that call to action. The DOE has committed to continuing the Community Schools partnerships and investments in educating the whole child in the 21 new Rise Schools—those that have met their benchmarks, including Renaissance and P.S. 67.  And it is also responsibly making the difficult decision to close the schools that are farthest off their benchmarks.

Programs are always politicized, but let’s not let our children be. I applaud the commitment of the DOE, the City, and our fellow community-based organizations to take on the challenges of these schools – underperforming and under-resourced for decades – at an unprecedented scale.

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Margaret Crotty is the executive director of Partnership with Children. On Twitter @PWCNYC.

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