CITY Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. https://www.gothamgazette.com/city 2020-06-06T08:09:55+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Voting Absentee is Complicated; How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts 2020-06-05T04:00:00+00:00 2020-06-05T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9462-voting-absentee-is-complicated-how-to-do-it-vote Ethan Geringer-Sameth ethangs@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/absentee_ballot_instructions_kimmosc.jpeg" alt="absentee ballot instructions kimmosc" width="600" height="300" /></p> <p>Absentee voting is complicatd (image via <a href="https://twitter.com/kimmosc/status/1268631126605811712" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@kimmosc</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>New Yorkers worried about going to the polls to vote in this month’s party primary elections don't have to, thanks to a gubernatorial executive order expanding the definition of those eligible to vote absentee.&nbsp;</p> <p>Amid the ongoing risk of spreading COVID-19, Governor Cuomo made the changes in April, giving voters across the state the option to vote via mail-in absentee ballot in addition to traditional in-person voting on primary day, June 23, or one of nine days of early voting, set for June 13-21.</p> <p>Depending on location and party affiliation, there are primaries, mostly in the Democratic Party, for president and the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as State Senate and Assembly, Queens Borough President, City Council District 37 in Brooklyn, and other races.</p> <p>Voters can find out about primary contests that apply to where they live and both their early voting and primary day poll site(s) via the Board of Elections’ online <a href="https://nyc.pollsitelocator.com/search">poll site locator</a>.</p> <p>But many New Yorkers will take advantage of the expanded right to absentee ballot, which is being widely encouraged as New Yorkers continue to battle COVID-19. Cuomo’s order brings the coronavirus and the risk of contracting it under the "temporary illness[es]" that qualify a voter for using an absentee ballot. But absentee voting is somewhat complicated and there is important information New Yorkers need to do it right.</p> <p>Cuomo was constrained by the state constitution, which does not allow him to order a ballot simply be mailed to all eligible voters. The most he could do was expand the eligibility to all and to order that absentee ballot applications be sent out to all eligible voters.</p> <p>For those in New York City, there are several tricky steps involved in the process.</p> <p><strong>Getting an Absentee Ballot</strong><br />All registered voters should receive an absentee ballot application by mail automatically, per the governor's order. But if a voter does not receive one -- or to be more sure to get one --, there are other ways to apply for an absentee ballot with the New York City Board of Elections, the simplest being to <a href="https://nycabsentee.com/">apply via the board's website</a>.</p> <p>Registered voters can also email or fax applications to the board (<a href="mailto:AbsenteeJune2020@boe.nyc">AbsenteeJune2020@boe.nyc</a>; 212-487-5349), mail one to a local borough office, or call the BOE's hotline: 1-866-VOTE-NYC.</p> <p>The deadline to apply for a ballot in person is June 22, but the other options require applications to be submitted by June 16.</p> <p>If all goes well, absentee ballot applications arrive with a prepaid return envelope.</p> <p>All applications ask voters to fill out their information (Name, Borough, Zip Code, and Date of Birth) "exactly as it appears" in the voter record. Applicants must select the reason for applying "in good faith" from a list that includes the expanded Temporary Illness category, as well as being absent from the county on election day, having a permanent disability, or having to care for someone who does. (The New York City BOE has a note on its site informing voters that COVID-19 is covered under Temporary Illness.)</p> <p>Being in jail or prison also qualifies as a valid reason for voting absentee, as is being a patient or resident in a Veterans Health Administration hospital.</p> <p>Upon submitting an application online with the city BOE, voters are notified that: "Applications will be processed in the order that they are received. You do not need to take any further action. Ballots will be mailed beginning the 2nd week of May." The website says that voters who do not have primaries to vote in will not receive a ballot even if they submit an application, but that the BOE will make efforts to notify applicants when this is the case.</p> <p>When applying for a ballot by mail, the same information is required on the paper form, except the name and address as it appears in the BOE's voter rolls arrives pre-printed. Voters must still select a reason for requesting an absentee ballot and where they want to receive it. On the paper form, voters must provide a signature and date.</p> <p><strong>Casting the Absentee Ballot</strong><br />Absentee ballots come with one ballot and two envelopes that must be used.</p> <p>Voters should confirm the ballot is indeed theirs when it arrives and carefully review all of the races on the ballot, filling it out where appropriate and desired.</p> <p>One envelope is a prepaid envelope addressed to the appropriate local board of elections borough office. After completing the ballot, New York City voters must seal it into the other envelope, which is smaller, making sure to sign and date the back, then put it in the larger envelope that’s already addressed to the BOE.</p> <p>Last week, a federal court approved an agreement between state elections administrators and disability advocates allowing local elections boards to email absentee ballots that can be filled out and signed electronically, printed, and mailed (not emailed) back. The advocates say the provision, which is in addition to absentee ballots received by mail, will expand access to registered voters with difficulty writing by hand, though it still presents the challenges of printing and mailing.</p> <p>Voters are given the option to receive the ballot at a mailing address of their choice, or to pick it up in person at the BOE office. Those seeking an emailed ballot under the new agreement must apply <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/Voting/NYAccessibleElectronicAbsBallotApp.pdf">through the State Board of Elections</a>, after which local boards of election provide a prepaid envelope to be used in mailing or returning in person the ballot application to the local board, according to a press release issued by the coalition of disability rights advocates.</p> <p>Ballots can be postmarked on the day before primary day and received within seven days of the election in order to be counted. With primary day June 23, this means postmarked by or on June 22 and received by or on June 30.</p> <p>Voters can also hand deliver absentee ballots to their local borough BOE office Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.</p> <p>Voters wishing to cast their ballot the old-fashioned way -- in-person at a poll site -- still have that option. The June primaries will be the second major election in New York City to have early voting, after its inaugural run in the general election last November. Seventy-nine assigned early voting locations will be opened across the five boroughs over nine days before the election beginning June 13 and ending June 21.</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/absentee_ballot_instructions_kimmosc.jpeg" alt="absentee ballot instructions kimmosc" width="600" height="300" /></p> <p>Absentee voting is complicatd (image via <a href="https://twitter.com/kimmosc/status/1268631126605811712" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@kimmosc</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>New Yorkers worried about going to the polls to vote in this month’s party primary elections don't have to, thanks to a gubernatorial executive order expanding the definition of those eligible to vote absentee.&nbsp;</p> <p>Amid the ongoing risk of spreading COVID-19, Governor Cuomo made the changes in April, giving voters across the state the option to vote via mail-in absentee ballot in addition to traditional in-person voting on primary day, June 23, or one of nine days of early voting, set for June 13-21.</p> <p>Depending on location and party affiliation, there are primaries, mostly in the Democratic Party, for president and the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as State Senate and Assembly, Queens Borough President, City Council District 37 in Brooklyn, and other races.</p> <p>Voters can find out about primary contests that apply to where they live and both their early voting and primary day poll site(s) via the Board of Elections’ online <a href="https://nyc.pollsitelocator.com/search">poll site locator</a>.</p> <p>But many New Yorkers will take advantage of the expanded right to absentee ballot, which is being widely encouraged as New Yorkers continue to battle COVID-19. Cuomo’s order brings the coronavirus and the risk of contracting it under the "temporary illness[es]" that qualify a voter for using an absentee ballot. But absentee voting is somewhat complicated and there is important information New Yorkers need to do it right.</p> <p>Cuomo was constrained by the state constitution, which does not allow him to order a ballot simply be mailed to all eligible voters. The most he could do was expand the eligibility to all and to order that absentee ballot applications be sent out to all eligible voters.</p> <p>For those in New York City, there are several tricky steps involved in the process.</p> <p><strong>Getting an Absentee Ballot</strong><br />All registered voters should receive an absentee ballot application by mail automatically, per the governor's order. But if a voter does not receive one -- or to be more sure to get one --, there are other ways to apply for an absentee ballot with the New York City Board of Elections, the simplest being to <a href="https://nycabsentee.com/">apply via the board's website</a>.</p> <p>Registered voters can also email or fax applications to the board (<a href="mailto:AbsenteeJune2020@boe.nyc">AbsenteeJune2020@boe.nyc</a>; 212-487-5349), mail one to a local borough office, or call the BOE's hotline: 1-866-VOTE-NYC.</p> <p>The deadline to apply for a ballot in person is June 22, but the other options require applications to be submitted by June 16.</p> <p>If all goes well, absentee ballot applications arrive with a prepaid return envelope.</p> <p>All applications ask voters to fill out their information (Name, Borough, Zip Code, and Date of Birth) "exactly as it appears" in the voter record. Applicants must select the reason for applying "in good faith" from a list that includes the expanded Temporary Illness category, as well as being absent from the county on election day, having a permanent disability, or having to care for someone who does. (The New York City BOE has a note on its site informing voters that COVID-19 is covered under Temporary Illness.)</p> <p>Being in jail or prison also qualifies as a valid reason for voting absentee, as is being a patient or resident in a Veterans Health Administration hospital.</p> <p>Upon submitting an application online with the city BOE, voters are notified that: "Applications will be processed in the order that they are received. You do not need to take any further action. Ballots will be mailed beginning the 2nd week of May." The website says that voters who do not have primaries to vote in will not receive a ballot even if they submit an application, but that the BOE will make efforts to notify applicants when this is the case.</p> <p>When applying for a ballot by mail, the same information is required on the paper form, except the name and address as it appears in the BOE's voter rolls arrives pre-printed. Voters must still select a reason for requesting an absentee ballot and where they want to receive it. On the paper form, voters must provide a signature and date.</p> <p><strong>Casting the Absentee Ballot</strong><br />Absentee ballots come with one ballot and two envelopes that must be used.</p> <p>Voters should confirm the ballot is indeed theirs when it arrives and carefully review all of the races on the ballot, filling it out where appropriate and desired.</p> <p>One envelope is a prepaid envelope addressed to the appropriate local board of elections borough office. After completing the ballot, New York City voters must seal it into the other envelope, which is smaller, making sure to sign and date the back, then put it in the larger envelope that’s already addressed to the BOE.</p> <p>Last week, a federal court approved an agreement between state elections administrators and disability advocates allowing local elections boards to email absentee ballots that can be filled out and signed electronically, printed, and mailed (not emailed) back. The advocates say the provision, which is in addition to absentee ballots received by mail, will expand access to registered voters with difficulty writing by hand, though it still presents the challenges of printing and mailing.</p> <p>Voters are given the option to receive the ballot at a mailing address of their choice, or to pick it up in person at the BOE office. Those seeking an emailed ballot under the new agreement must apply <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/Voting/NYAccessibleElectronicAbsBallotApp.pdf">through the State Board of Elections</a>, after which local boards of election provide a prepaid envelope to be used in mailing or returning in person the ballot application to the local board, according to a press release issued by the coalition of disability rights advocates.</p> <p>Ballots can be postmarked on the day before primary day and received within seven days of the election in order to be counted. With primary day June 23, this means postmarked by or on June 22 and received by or on June 30.</p> <p>Voters can also hand deliver absentee ballots to their local borough BOE office Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.</p> <p>Voters wishing to cast their ballot the old-fashioned way -- in-person at a poll site -- still have that option. The June primaries will be the second major election in New York City to have early voting, after its inaugural run in the general election last November. Seventy-nine assigned early voting locations will be opened across the five boroughs over nine days before the election beginning June 13 and ending June 21.</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Promises Faster NYPD Discipline While Past Reform Pledges Remain Delayed 2020-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 2020-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9461-de-blasio-promises-faster-nypd-discipline-while-past-reform-pledges-remain-delayed Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/49623874093_23167cc685_c.jpg" alt="de Blasio Shea NYPD" width="600" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio with Police Commissioner Shea &amp; other NYPD officials&nbsp;(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Mayor Bill de Blasio struggles with the protests against police brutality and racism that have gripped New York City over the past few days, he has promised that NYPD officers will be swiftly disciplined for any misconduct in their response to protesters and that larger structural changes to police accountability are on the way. But the NYPD has been slow to reform its opaque internal disciplinary processes over the years, and has even missed self-imposed deadlines to implement the recommendations issued well more than a year ago by an independent review panel.</p> <p>“I've had this conversation with the Commissioner. If an officer is under investigation, those investigations from now on are going to go faster. We're going to have faster results,” de Blasio said at his daily press briefing on Wednesday, when he was asked about several incidents of apparent police misconduct and excessive force during protests over the last few days, several of which were caught on video. As of Sunday, according to NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, the department was investigating at least six such incidents. Since then, there have been additional incidents, including some where officers harassed reporters and essential workers to enforce a citywide curfew that first went into effect on Monday night.</p> <p>De Blasio, after initially defending the department, has been walking the thin line between critiquing and commending the police. He has also repeatedly cited improvements in the department’s disciplinary practices and the reforms his administration has carried out. “So that work has gone on for six-and-a-half years. It's going to go a lot further in the next year-and-a-half,” he said Wednesday. De Blasio said he wanted to “immediately” see the repeal of Section 50-a of the state civil rights law, which shields police disciplinary records from public disclosure. “I want to see a faster disciplinary process at the NYPD, I believe we can achieve that and I'll provide whatever resources are needed for that,” he added.</p> <p>The NYPD, meanwhile, has dragged its feet implementing reforms that were recommended last year by an independent blue ribbon commission convened by then-Commissioner James O’Neill. The commission made 13 recommendations, which were accepted by O’Neill in February 2019. Five of the recommendations were implemented within 60 days, but others have stalled, and Commissioner Shea struggled to discuss the specifics when asked about them by a reporter at the mayor’s Wednesday briefing.</p> <p>“The independent panel found an effective and fair system and by adopting all of its recommendations, we are improving it every day in every way,” said NYPD Assistant Chief Matthew Pontillo, in a statement. “The recommendations the NYPD has adopted will make the system the strongest and most transparent it can be, within the bounds of state law. It will also build upon a cadre of recent reforms, including the deployment of body-worn cameras, the dissemination of videos from those cameras and the annual publication of data on discipline, among other things.”</p> <p>Among the changes implemented within 60 days were the department’s support for amending, not repealing, 50-a; preventing an expansion in the scope of 50-a; enhanced public reporting on the discipline system; publishing trial room calendars for disciplinary proceedings; and greater reporting of when a disciplinary action is different from what is recommended by an oversight body.</p> <p>Some reforms have since been implemented. The department has been producing memos since the Spring of last year documenting when a disciplinary action varied from a recommendation, but those memos cannot be publicly released because of 50-a. A new policy of enforcement against officers who make false statements became effective on April 1 this year, though it was meant to be in place by the summer of 2019.</p> <p>Other key recommendations have yet to be put into effect, though NYPD officials have said they will be implemented soon. For instance, the NYPD had said a new executive-level civilian liaison would be appointed by the Fall of 2019, but has not yet been chosen. According to an NYPD spokesperson, 34 people applied for the position and the appointment is imminent.</p> <p>The department is also developing a new “disciplinary matrix” that would standardize disciplinary action for cases of misconduct by officers. The NYPD chose to create the matrix on its own instead of having to do so under legislation that had been proposed in the City Council. The disciplinary matrix, the NYPD spokesperson noted, “is expected to be a living document, subject to ongoing evolution and improvement.”</p> <p>The department also promised to speed up lower level disciplinary proceedings by hiring more attorneys, but that has not happened yet because the city budget remains undecided.</p> <p>Finally, the independent panel recommended that the NYPD allow an outside body to audit its new disciplinary system. The department is working with the Commission to Combat Police Corruption on that audit, the first of which will happen by the end of the year, the spokesperson said.</p> <p>“I think our biggest obstacle here is transparency and making sure that we communicate to the public what is going on, what is going on with investigations,” Shea said on Wednesday. “We might not always see exactly eye to eye, but I think that most of the difficulties that we engage in can be cleared up with clear communication and explaining the why.”</p> <p>He said the blue ribbon panel’s recommendations were “overwhelmingly, positively received,” and many put into effect. “Things such as transparency, things such as a uniform discipline system to make sure that there's no inequities, and I believe we've posted some of that. So, we're moving towards it.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/49623874093_23167cc685_c.jpg" alt="de Blasio Shea NYPD" width="600" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio with Police Commissioner Shea &amp; other NYPD officials&nbsp;(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Mayor Bill de Blasio struggles with the protests against police brutality and racism that have gripped New York City over the past few days, he has promised that NYPD officers will be swiftly disciplined for any misconduct in their response to protesters and that larger structural changes to police accountability are on the way. But the NYPD has been slow to reform its opaque internal disciplinary processes over the years, and has even missed self-imposed deadlines to implement the recommendations issued well more than a year ago by an independent review panel.</p> <p>“I've had this conversation with the Commissioner. If an officer is under investigation, those investigations from now on are going to go faster. We're going to have faster results,” de Blasio said at his daily press briefing on Wednesday, when he was asked about several incidents of apparent police misconduct and excessive force during protests over the last few days, several of which were caught on video. As of Sunday, according to NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, the department was investigating at least six such incidents. Since then, there have been additional incidents, including some where officers harassed reporters and essential workers to enforce a citywide curfew that first went into effect on Monday night.</p> <p>De Blasio, after initially defending the department, has been walking the thin line between critiquing and commending the police. He has also repeatedly cited improvements in the department’s disciplinary practices and the reforms his administration has carried out. “So that work has gone on for six-and-a-half years. It's going to go a lot further in the next year-and-a-half,” he said Wednesday. De Blasio said he wanted to “immediately” see the repeal of Section 50-a of the state civil rights law, which shields police disciplinary records from public disclosure. “I want to see a faster disciplinary process at the NYPD, I believe we can achieve that and I'll provide whatever resources are needed for that,” he added.</p> <p>The NYPD, meanwhile, has dragged its feet implementing reforms that were recommended last year by an independent blue ribbon commission convened by then-Commissioner James O’Neill. The commission made 13 recommendations, which were accepted by O’Neill in February 2019. Five of the recommendations were implemented within 60 days, but others have stalled, and Commissioner Shea struggled to discuss the specifics when asked about them by a reporter at the mayor’s Wednesday briefing.</p> <p>“The independent panel found an effective and fair system and by adopting all of its recommendations, we are improving it every day in every way,” said NYPD Assistant Chief Matthew Pontillo, in a statement. “The recommendations the NYPD has adopted will make the system the strongest and most transparent it can be, within the bounds of state law. It will also build upon a cadre of recent reforms, including the deployment of body-worn cameras, the dissemination of videos from those cameras and the annual publication of data on discipline, among other things.”</p> <p>Among the changes implemented within 60 days were the department’s support for amending, not repealing, 50-a; preventing an expansion in the scope of 50-a; enhanced public reporting on the discipline system; publishing trial room calendars for disciplinary proceedings; and greater reporting of when a disciplinary action is different from what is recommended by an oversight body.</p> <p>Some reforms have since been implemented. The department has been producing memos since the Spring of last year documenting when a disciplinary action varied from a recommendation, but those memos cannot be publicly released because of 50-a. A new policy of enforcement against officers who make false statements became effective on April 1 this year, though it was meant to be in place by the summer of 2019.</p> <p>Other key recommendations have yet to be put into effect, though NYPD officials have said they will be implemented soon. For instance, the NYPD had said a new executive-level civilian liaison would be appointed by the Fall of 2019, but has not yet been chosen. According to an NYPD spokesperson, 34 people applied for the position and the appointment is imminent.</p> <p>The department is also developing a new “disciplinary matrix” that would standardize disciplinary action for cases of misconduct by officers. The NYPD chose to create the matrix on its own instead of having to do so under legislation that had been proposed in the City Council. The disciplinary matrix, the NYPD spokesperson noted, “is expected to be a living document, subject to ongoing evolution and improvement.”</p> <p>The department also promised to speed up lower level disciplinary proceedings by hiring more attorneys, but that has not happened yet because the city budget remains undecided.</p> <p>Finally, the independent panel recommended that the NYPD allow an outside body to audit its new disciplinary system. The department is working with the Commission to Combat Police Corruption on that audit, the first of which will happen by the end of the year, the spokesperson said.</p> <p>“I think our biggest obstacle here is transparency and making sure that we communicate to the public what is going on, what is going on with investigations,” Shea said on Wednesday. “We might not always see exactly eye to eye, but I think that most of the difficulties that we engage in can be cleared up with clear communication and explaining the why.”</p> <p>He said the blue ribbon panel’s recommendations were “overwhelmingly, positively received,” and many put into effect. “Things such as transparency, things such as a uniform discipline system to make sure that there's no inequities, and I believe we've posted some of that. So, we're moving towards it.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez on Prosecuting, Protests and Police Misconduct 2020-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 2020-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9465-max-murphy-podcast-brooklyn-district-attorney-eric-gonzalez-on-prosecuting-protests-nypd-misconduct Ben Max bmax@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/podcast20/eric-gonzalez-600.jpg" alt="eric gonzalez 600" width="600" height="507" /></p> <p>Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez (photo: Wikimedia Commons)</p> <hr /> <p><strong>June 03, 2020 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez on Prosecuting Protests and Police Misconduct<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/podcast20/eg-inset-150.jpg" alt="eg inset 150" width="150" height="224" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez joined the show to discuss how his office is monitoring unrest in New York City, handling charges against individuals arrested for various alleged crimes during protests against police brutality as well as some of the attacks on police officers and looting that has occurred recently, and how his office is also holding police officers accountable.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/833654224&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <div style="font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc; line-break: anywhere; word-break: normal; overflow: hidden; white-space: nowrap; text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif; font-weight: 100;"><a href="https://soundcloud.com/gotham-gazette-max-murphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;" title="Max &amp; Murphy">Max &amp; Murphy</a> · <a href="https://soundcloud.com/gotham-gazette-max-murphy/episode-227-brooklyn-da-eric-gonzalez-on-prosecuting-protests-and-police-misconduct" target="_blank" rel="noopener" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;" title="Episode 227: Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez On Prosecuting Protests And Police Misconduct">Episode 227: Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez On Prosecuting Protests And Police Misconduct</a></div> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/podcast20/eric-gonzalez-600.jpg" alt="eric gonzalez 600" width="600" height="507" /></p> <p>Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez (photo: Wikimedia Commons)</p> <hr /> <p><strong>June 03, 2020 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez on Prosecuting Protests and Police Misconduct<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/podcast20/eg-inset-150.jpg" alt="eg inset 150" width="150" height="224" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez joined the show to discuss how his office is monitoring unrest in New York City, handling charges against individuals arrested for various alleged crimes during protests against police brutality as well as some of the attacks on police officers and looting that has occurred recently, and how his office is also holding police officers accountable.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/833654224&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <div style="font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc; line-break: anywhere; word-break: normal; overflow: hidden; white-space: nowrap; text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif; font-weight: 100;"><a href="https://soundcloud.com/gotham-gazette-max-murphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;" title="Max &amp; Murphy">Max &amp; Murphy</a> · <a href="https://soundcloud.com/gotham-gazette-max-murphy/episode-227-brooklyn-da-eric-gonzalez-on-prosecuting-protests-and-police-misconduct" target="_blank" rel="noopener" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;" title="Episode 227: Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez On Prosecuting Protests And Police Misconduct">Episode 227: Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez On Prosecuting Protests And Police Misconduct</a></div> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
De Blasio Offers No Transit Plans as City Heads Toward 'Reopening' 2020-06-03T04:00:00+00:00 2020-06-03T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9456-de-blasio-no-transit-plans-as-new-york-city-heads-toward-reopening-coronavirus Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/intervale-ave-bx.jpg" alt="intervale ave bx" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio rides the bus (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City is set to begin a phased “reopening” on Monday, June 8, as indicators show significant progress in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. But as many New Yorkers start heading back to work, Mayor Bill de Blasio has offered no solutions to balance city residents’ need for transportation, maintaining public health by preventing new coronavirus infections, and preventing all-out gridlock if too many New Yorkers turn to cars.</p> <p>About 5.4 million people rode the New York City subway on an average weekday in 2018 and another 1.8 million rode city buses, <a href="http://web.mta.info/nyct/facts/ridership/">according to MTA data</a>. But the pandemic led to a precipitous drop in ridership as the city went into lockdown, and the MTA -- a state authority that runs the subways and buses -- eventually instituted overnight system closures of the subways for thorough cleanings of trains and stations and the removal of homeless people from the system.</p> <p>With the long-awaited first phase of “reopening” almost upon the city, transit advocates and commuters have been largely left in the dark about how government will ensure that people can safely use mass transit without the fear of contracting the coronavirus and what measures will be put in place to expand mass and other transit offerings. In order to maintain adequate social distancing, trains cannot be packed to the brim as they were during rush hour before the pandemic. Many people, including transit advocates and some elected officials, worry about a major increase in vehicle traffic, further clogging the city’s infamously congested streets and polluting its air.&nbsp;</p> <p>For weeks, de Blasio was largely dismissive of calls for a transit plan, insisting that the city was nowhere close to seeing a crush of people commuting and that it was up to the MTA to lead the subway process, which he said the city would participate in. The mayor appeared at ease with the idea of an increase in car use and to have thought little about creative solutions to offer additional or new options to people.</p> <p>De Blasio estimated that the first phase of reopening – which will allow construction, manufacturing, wholesale, and commercial retail, by pickup only, to resume operation – will involve between 200,000-400,000 people going back to work.</p> <p>“There’s not always a chance to help people all the time in terms of their transportation needs,” de Blasio said at his daily coronavirus briefing on May 29, when asked about transit plans. “People are going to have to improvise and I believe they will.”</p> <p>In an interview on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show later that day, de Blasio defended his comments. “I think we're nowhere near the number of people on the road or the number of people in the subways that we normally would have,” he said, noting that more than a million people have lost their jobs while others are working remotely. “Even if everyone uses their car, it's not in the next few months going to create the kind of congestion we're used to by any stretch. So, I want people to feel comfortable with mass transit, but I know a certain number of people are going to use their car. For the next few months, we're going to get by with that. Going forward though, the future is mass transit. In fact, the future has to be a doubling down on mass transit once we get out of this crisis.”</p> <p>The mayor’s words were further confirmation for his critics that he has never been particularly focused on the woes of commuters, and that his defense of car drivers can override transit policy. Advocates and experts note that though de Blasio does not control the MTA, which is in practice run by the governor, he has authority over the streets and can use his power to expand transit alternatives, expand and build new bike lanes and facilitate a broad expansion of the bus network to handle commuters returning to work while a pandemic is still significantly impacting behavior.</p> <p>“I think it's fair enough to say that he's passing the buck,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “The city should be doing a lot to reconfigure the streets to take pressure off of the subway system, including just putting out much better protected bike lanes so that as many people as possible can ride a bike to work.”</p> <p>Gelinas said the city could rent out open air tour buses so that commuters can safely travel to work without worrying that they may get infected in a closed-air environment where virus transmission is more likely. “I don't think they’re being very creative at the city level,” she said.</p> <p>Compounding the issue has been the apparent lack of coordination, at least on public messaging, between the mayor and the MTA. “Optimally...any type of major announcement, you would have the mayor and the MTA chiefs make it together so that everybody knows everyone is saying the same thing,” Gelinas said. But the mayor and interim MTA New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg have disagreed publicly, with the mayor saying on Friday that he has received little clarity from the MTA. Feinberg responded on Twitter, “With all due respect. We have no idea what the mayor is talking about. The MTA has briefed City Hall multiple times on reopening, including another productive meeting held just yesterday. If the Mayor has questions, he can pick up the phone and call us at any time.”</p> <p>As Gelinas noted, “It's not a hallmark of a government that's functioning well during an emergency.”</p> <p>On Tuesday the mayor called on the MTA to take seven specific steps to meet imminent increased ridership demand, including by increasing service during peak hours, limiting capacity on buses and trains to maintain social distancing, limiting crowding at subway stations, providing face masks, and installing hand sanitizing stations, among others. In his request, de Blasio said the city would provide 1 million masks and called on the MTA to do the same.</p> <p>Barely two hours later, the MTA put out its own letter to the de Blasio administration outlining the steps it will take to ensure a smooth reopening. In a clear indicator that the two parties did not coordinate their releases, the MTA said the state would provide 1 million masks and called on the city to do the same, after the mayor had already said he would.</p> <p>The MTA estimated it would need the city to provide it with 3,000 volunteers to help implement the reopening plan as well as to deploy additional NYPD officers in the transit system. And though the plan states that subways and buses will return to “full, regular service” by day one of phase one, an MTA spokesperson told Gotham Gazette that 24-hour subway service will not resume; the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. nightly overnight cleaning shutdown will continue.</p> <p>&nbsp;On Wednesday, June 3, the mayor said he would release plans to expand bus service in the coming days. “We’ve got to get back to the process of creating faster bus service. I'll have more to say on that as we can get through these next days, obviously. But we do want to absolutely deepen that effort,” he said at his daily briefing in response to a reporter’s question. “I think people do feel more safety right now in health terms in the buses than they do in the subways. I want to see people feel healthy and safe about both. But we do need to double down on buses. And we'll certainly have more to say on the specifics of that soon.”</p> <p>Transit advocates and urban experts believe the mayor is wasting precious time, and was doing so well before the incidents of the last few days with widespread protests against police brutality and significant looting in some pockets of the city. His delays now appear likely to be compounded given he’s now been dealing with a situation that led him to institute a curfew.</p> <p>“The mayor is being very complacent and that complacency can end up being very dangerous,” said Ben Fried, communications director for TransitCenter, a think tank and advocacy group. “He really does have a lot of power to make transit work for people, even in challenging circumstances, because he controls the streets and if he doesn't act on the power he has, then most riders are going to get stuck in traffic and there will be cascading effects that are no good for anyone.”</p> <p>Last week, TransitCenter and other transit advocacy groups including Riders Alliance, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, and Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition <a href="https://transitcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Emergency-busways-and-bus-lanes-letter-to-Mayor-de-Blasio.pdf">wrote</a> to the mayor calling for a network of emergency bus lanes to ensure that essential workers can continue commuting to work smoothly and to prevent additional vehicular traffic on the streets. “Time is of the essence. To lead an equitable recovery for the New Yorkers who have been most affected by the pandemic, City Hall must get out in front of rising car congestion,” the letter reads.</p> <p>The groups called for 20 miles of busways (where most car traffic is prohibited) and bus lanes for medical facilities and essential workplaces by the end of this month and 20 more miles over the summer, particularly in Queens and the Bronx where the Department of Transportation has already looked at bus priority projects.</p> <p>“Today, implementing an emergency bus lane network is an urgent matter of racial justice, public health, and economic necessity,” the letter reads. “Nearly half of regular NYC bus commuters are classified as essential workers. The vast majority are black and brown New Yorkers. They are tending to the sick and vulnerable, ensuring the city doesn’t go hungry, and keeping the lights on.”</p> <p>Fried gave the mayor some credit for ramping up the expansion of bus lanes and pledging to increase bus speeds by 25% by 2020, which he promised in his State of the City speech last year but has made <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/mta-bus-speeds-1-36755491/">slow progress</a> on. “He risks squandering that progress if he doesn't act now,” Fried said. More bus lanes would mean buses can run more frequently leading to less crowding, Fried noted. “That is the path toward a more successful reopening,” he said.</p> <p>During his most recent Friday morning Brian Lehrer Show appearance, a caller implored de Blasio to restore millions in planned cuts to his bus lane program. “I'm going to go back and look at this again because I think you're right,” de Blasio told the caller, Beth. The mayor said buses could be somewhat safer than trains and pledged to take a careful look.</p> <p>“But I think what Beth is saying is ringing a real bell with me that if buses are where people are going to feel more comfortable, then we should lean into buses more and work with the MTA to figure out what's going to help us maximize usage of buses,” de Blasio continued.</p> <p>Later in the appearance he reiterated he is working with the MTA but also awaiting a plan from the authority. “People have to know that there is a plan to limit the number of people on a subway car or a bus,” de Blasio said. “What that looks like, what that number should be, how it's going to be enforced, how we're going to educate people – and we're ready to partner with the MTA on it.”</p> <p>As the experts noted, mass transit isn’t an end in itself. It is crucial to the very reopening that de Blasio is trying to undertake. For businesses to get back on their feet, they will need workers and customers, and short of creating safe ways for people to get around, only those within walking distance will be able to shop at stores or dine at restaurants, Gelinas said.</p> <p>Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director at the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank, said, “I see this as a real test of our ability to be prepared to reopen. Without trust in public transit, we're literally going to grind to a standstill.”</p> <p>“There is a long-term risk of a general breakdown of the transportation system that the city's economy relies on and that is causing people who have the option to leave the city to go somewhere else,” Fried said.</p> <p>The contrast with other cities has been stark. Early on during the pandemic, de Blasio repeatedly claimed that New York City was uniquely unsuited to instituting widespread open streets, like Seattle had done, for instance. He eventually caved to demands from the City Council and the public and announced a plan to create 100 miles of open streets, where most car traffic is disallowed indefinitely.</p> <p>“San Francisco and Boston are taking steps to ensure that people can get around without cars,” Fried said. “They're not waiting months to formulate a plan. They are getting stuff done in a matter of weeks and New York really has to be thinking on the same timetable.”</p> <p>De Blasio has slowly announced more bike lanes, albeit temporary ones that are less effective than alternatives in keeping bicyclists safe, while also cutting funds for permanent bike lanes that were originally proposed in his budget for the next fiscal year.</p> <p>“He's never really put himself in the pedals of a bicyclist,” Gelinas said. “It's very striking that in Paris, in London, you have the mayors just building out a huge network of bike lanes almost overnight...In Paris, you have the mayor riding a bike and setting a good example.”</p> <p>She also noted that in cities like Tokyo and Seoul, transit systems have been adapted to ensure that people can travel back and forth safely. “But we don't really have either of those things at the city level,” she said.</p> <p>On WNYC, de Blasio appeared to acknowledge the need for the plans he has not presented. The subways and buses need to be handled well, the mayor said. “We also know, honestly, a lot of people are just going to refuse to take the bus and subway in the short-term and they're going to try and find other alternatives,” he continued. “We’ve got to navigate all of this. This is so unlike anything we're used to in New York City.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated with the mayor's comments from his June 3 press briefing.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/intervale-ave-bx.jpg" alt="intervale ave bx" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio rides the bus (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City is set to begin a phased “reopening” on Monday, June 8, as indicators show significant progress in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. But as many New Yorkers start heading back to work, Mayor Bill de Blasio has offered no solutions to balance city residents’ need for transportation, maintaining public health by preventing new coronavirus infections, and preventing all-out gridlock if too many New Yorkers turn to cars.</p> <p>About 5.4 million people rode the New York City subway on an average weekday in 2018 and another 1.8 million rode city buses, <a href="http://web.mta.info/nyct/facts/ridership/">according to MTA data</a>. But the pandemic led to a precipitous drop in ridership as the city went into lockdown, and the MTA -- a state authority that runs the subways and buses -- eventually instituted overnight system closures of the subways for thorough cleanings of trains and stations and the removal of homeless people from the system.</p> <p>With the long-awaited first phase of “reopening” almost upon the city, transit advocates and commuters have been largely left in the dark about how government will ensure that people can safely use mass transit without the fear of contracting the coronavirus and what measures will be put in place to expand mass and other transit offerings. In order to maintain adequate social distancing, trains cannot be packed to the brim as they were during rush hour before the pandemic. Many people, including transit advocates and some elected officials, worry about a major increase in vehicle traffic, further clogging the city’s infamously congested streets and polluting its air.&nbsp;</p> <p>For weeks, de Blasio was largely dismissive of calls for a transit plan, insisting that the city was nowhere close to seeing a crush of people commuting and that it was up to the MTA to lead the subway process, which he said the city would participate in. The mayor appeared at ease with the idea of an increase in car use and to have thought little about creative solutions to offer additional or new options to people.</p> <p>De Blasio estimated that the first phase of reopening – which will allow construction, manufacturing, wholesale, and commercial retail, by pickup only, to resume operation – will involve between 200,000-400,000 people going back to work.</p> <p>“There’s not always a chance to help people all the time in terms of their transportation needs,” de Blasio said at his daily coronavirus briefing on May 29, when asked about transit plans. “People are going to have to improvise and I believe they will.”</p> <p>In an interview on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show later that day, de Blasio defended his comments. “I think we're nowhere near the number of people on the road or the number of people in the subways that we normally would have,” he said, noting that more than a million people have lost their jobs while others are working remotely. “Even if everyone uses their car, it's not in the next few months going to create the kind of congestion we're used to by any stretch. So, I want people to feel comfortable with mass transit, but I know a certain number of people are going to use their car. For the next few months, we're going to get by with that. Going forward though, the future is mass transit. In fact, the future has to be a doubling down on mass transit once we get out of this crisis.”</p> <p>The mayor’s words were further confirmation for his critics that he has never been particularly focused on the woes of commuters, and that his defense of car drivers can override transit policy. Advocates and experts note that though de Blasio does not control the MTA, which is in practice run by the governor, he has authority over the streets and can use his power to expand transit alternatives, expand and build new bike lanes and facilitate a broad expansion of the bus network to handle commuters returning to work while a pandemic is still significantly impacting behavior.</p> <p>“I think it's fair enough to say that he's passing the buck,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “The city should be doing a lot to reconfigure the streets to take pressure off of the subway system, including just putting out much better protected bike lanes so that as many people as possible can ride a bike to work.”</p> <p>Gelinas said the city could rent out open air tour buses so that commuters can safely travel to work without worrying that they may get infected in a closed-air environment where virus transmission is more likely. “I don't think they’re being very creative at the city level,” she said.</p> <p>Compounding the issue has been the apparent lack of coordination, at least on public messaging, between the mayor and the MTA. “Optimally...any type of major announcement, you would have the mayor and the MTA chiefs make it together so that everybody knows everyone is saying the same thing,” Gelinas said. But the mayor and interim MTA New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg have disagreed publicly, with the mayor saying on Friday that he has received little clarity from the MTA. Feinberg responded on Twitter, “With all due respect. We have no idea what the mayor is talking about. The MTA has briefed City Hall multiple times on reopening, including another productive meeting held just yesterday. If the Mayor has questions, he can pick up the phone and call us at any time.”</p> <p>As Gelinas noted, “It's not a hallmark of a government that's functioning well during an emergency.”</p> <p>On Tuesday the mayor called on the MTA to take seven specific steps to meet imminent increased ridership demand, including by increasing service during peak hours, limiting capacity on buses and trains to maintain social distancing, limiting crowding at subway stations, providing face masks, and installing hand sanitizing stations, among others. In his request, de Blasio said the city would provide 1 million masks and called on the MTA to do the same.</p> <p>Barely two hours later, the MTA put out its own letter to the de Blasio administration outlining the steps it will take to ensure a smooth reopening. In a clear indicator that the two parties did not coordinate their releases, the MTA said the state would provide 1 million masks and called on the city to do the same, after the mayor had already said he would.</p> <p>The MTA estimated it would need the city to provide it with 3,000 volunteers to help implement the reopening plan as well as to deploy additional NYPD officers in the transit system. And though the plan states that subways and buses will return to “full, regular service” by day one of phase one, an MTA spokesperson told Gotham Gazette that 24-hour subway service will not resume; the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. nightly overnight cleaning shutdown will continue.</p> <p>&nbsp;On Wednesday, June 3, the mayor said he would release plans to expand bus service in the coming days. “We’ve got to get back to the process of creating faster bus service. I'll have more to say on that as we can get through these next days, obviously. But we do want to absolutely deepen that effort,” he said at his daily briefing in response to a reporter’s question. “I think people do feel more safety right now in health terms in the buses than they do in the subways. I want to see people feel healthy and safe about both. But we do need to double down on buses. And we'll certainly have more to say on the specifics of that soon.”</p> <p>Transit advocates and urban experts believe the mayor is wasting precious time, and was doing so well before the incidents of the last few days with widespread protests against police brutality and significant looting in some pockets of the city. His delays now appear likely to be compounded given he’s now been dealing with a situation that led him to institute a curfew.</p> <p>“The mayor is being very complacent and that complacency can end up being very dangerous,” said Ben Fried, communications director for TransitCenter, a think tank and advocacy group. “He really does have a lot of power to make transit work for people, even in challenging circumstances, because he controls the streets and if he doesn't act on the power he has, then most riders are going to get stuck in traffic and there will be cascading effects that are no good for anyone.”</p> <p>Last week, TransitCenter and other transit advocacy groups including Riders Alliance, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, and Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition <a href="https://transitcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Emergency-busways-and-bus-lanes-letter-to-Mayor-de-Blasio.pdf">wrote</a> to the mayor calling for a network of emergency bus lanes to ensure that essential workers can continue commuting to work smoothly and to prevent additional vehicular traffic on the streets. “Time is of the essence. To lead an equitable recovery for the New Yorkers who have been most affected by the pandemic, City Hall must get out in front of rising car congestion,” the letter reads.</p> <p>The groups called for 20 miles of busways (where most car traffic is prohibited) and bus lanes for medical facilities and essential workplaces by the end of this month and 20 more miles over the summer, particularly in Queens and the Bronx where the Department of Transportation has already looked at bus priority projects.</p> <p>“Today, implementing an emergency bus lane network is an urgent matter of racial justice, public health, and economic necessity,” the letter reads. “Nearly half of regular NYC bus commuters are classified as essential workers. The vast majority are black and brown New Yorkers. They are tending to the sick and vulnerable, ensuring the city doesn’t go hungry, and keeping the lights on.”</p> <p>Fried gave the mayor some credit for ramping up the expansion of bus lanes and pledging to increase bus speeds by 25% by 2020, which he promised in his State of the City speech last year but has made <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/mta-bus-speeds-1-36755491/">slow progress</a> on. “He risks squandering that progress if he doesn't act now,” Fried said. More bus lanes would mean buses can run more frequently leading to less crowding, Fried noted. “That is the path toward a more successful reopening,” he said.</p> <p>During his most recent Friday morning Brian Lehrer Show appearance, a caller implored de Blasio to restore millions in planned cuts to his bus lane program. “I'm going to go back and look at this again because I think you're right,” de Blasio told the caller, Beth. The mayor said buses could be somewhat safer than trains and pledged to take a careful look.</p> <p>“But I think what Beth is saying is ringing a real bell with me that if buses are where people are going to feel more comfortable, then we should lean into buses more and work with the MTA to figure out what's going to help us maximize usage of buses,” de Blasio continued.</p> <p>Later in the appearance he reiterated he is working with the MTA but also awaiting a plan from the authority. “People have to know that there is a plan to limit the number of people on a subway car or a bus,” de Blasio said. “What that looks like, what that number should be, how it's going to be enforced, how we're going to educate people – and we're ready to partner with the MTA on it.”</p> <p>As the experts noted, mass transit isn’t an end in itself. It is crucial to the very reopening that de Blasio is trying to undertake. For businesses to get back on their feet, they will need workers and customers, and short of creating safe ways for people to get around, only those within walking distance will be able to shop at stores or dine at restaurants, Gelinas said.</p> <p>Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director at the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank, said, “I see this as a real test of our ability to be prepared to reopen. Without trust in public transit, we're literally going to grind to a standstill.”</p> <p>“There is a long-term risk of a general breakdown of the transportation system that the city's economy relies on and that is causing people who have the option to leave the city to go somewhere else,” Fried said.</p> <p>The contrast with other cities has been stark. Early on during the pandemic, de Blasio repeatedly claimed that New York City was uniquely unsuited to instituting widespread open streets, like Seattle had done, for instance. He eventually caved to demands from the City Council and the public and announced a plan to create 100 miles of open streets, where most car traffic is disallowed indefinitely.</p> <p>“San Francisco and Boston are taking steps to ensure that people can get around without cars,” Fried said. “They're not waiting months to formulate a plan. They are getting stuff done in a matter of weeks and New York really has to be thinking on the same timetable.”</p> <p>De Blasio has slowly announced more bike lanes, albeit temporary ones that are less effective than alternatives in keeping bicyclists safe, while also cutting funds for permanent bike lanes that were originally proposed in his budget for the next fiscal year.</p> <p>“He's never really put himself in the pedals of a bicyclist,” Gelinas said. “It's very striking that in Paris, in London, you have the mayors just building out a huge network of bike lanes almost overnight...In Paris, you have the mayor riding a bike and setting a good example.”</p> <p>She also noted that in cities like Tokyo and Seoul, transit systems have been adapted to ensure that people can travel back and forth safely. “But we don't really have either of those things at the city level,” she said.</p> <p>On WNYC, de Blasio appeared to acknowledge the need for the plans he has not presented. The subways and buses need to be handled well, the mayor said. “We also know, honestly, a lot of people are just going to refuse to take the bus and subway in the short-term and they're going to try and find other alternatives,” he continued. “We’ve got to navigate all of this. This is so unlike anything we're used to in New York City.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated with the mayor's comments from his June 3 press briefing.&nbsp;</p>
After the Apex, Nurses Look Over the Uncertain Coronavirus Horizon 2020-06-02T04:00:00+00:00 2020-06-02T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9455-after-apex-new-york-nurses-look-over-uncertain-coronavirus-horizon Ethan Geringer-Sameth ethangs@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/49899053838_a281e06c82_c.jpg" alt="nurses hospital thanks" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Nurses remain on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>During the COVID-19 pandemic, New Yorkers can be split between the people who have been patients in or staffed hospitals, where wards were likened to war zones, and those living and working everywhere else.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the first weeks of the crisis, as the city braced for the "apex" in the number of coronavirus hospitalizations, nurses perhaps more than anyone else became the de facto front lines of the pandemic and a symbol of the immense societal effort to overcome a crushing threat. As the crisis began to build, they saw their floors inundated with people dying or clinging to life with the worst always believed to be yet to come.</p> <p>The apex came in early April and has since ceded to a slowly diminishing onslaught, where infections, hospitalizations, and deaths continue even as the sound of ubiquitous ambulance sirens fades. For nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals, the daily trauma of witnessing the human costs of the virus remains. Now, as the city moves toward reopening the economy and New Yorkers gather in protest of police violence against black people, nurses are looking ahead to an uncertain future. With many still processing what they have been through, the fear of a resurgence is almost too much to bear.</p> <p>"There's like this feeling of dread," one intensive care nurse said by text message in the dark hours of a recent morning during a break in her shift. She has been working 12-hour nights, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., three to four shifts per week, since her floor was converted into a coronavirus unit in March.</p> <p>"All these pictures of a million people out at the park is making us feel bad and scared," she wrote, "Bc we all feel like we can't handle doing this that much longer." She spoke under the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal from her employer. There is common anxiety among the nurses Gotham Gazette spoke with that more lax behavior in public will lead directly to more infections and more hospitalizations.</p> <p>In ten weeks of crisis, New York City hospitals have seen more than 50,000 COVID-19 patients and 16,500 deaths, three-quarters of the health department's official city count of coronavirus fatalities. At its height in the first week of April, over 1,500 people were being hospitalized each day. Over the course of 12 days, more than 5,000 people died from the virus. Auditoriums became makeshift intensive care units. Hospitals, facing severe staffing shortages, often assigned nurses to positions for which they were undertrained. Protective equipment was scarce, its applicable uses stretched, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the New York City and State health departments changed regularly.</p> <p>"Nobody ever wants to be there again. That was horrible," said Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, an emergency room nurse at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx and the president of the New York State Nurses Association. "We lost faith in our government, our hospitals, our scientific agencies, and we had to all sort of do our own research and it was madness. Nothing was OK."</p> <p>"Having people die in such huge numbers, or to be so sick and not have family around, and not being able to touch them precisely because you didn't have the right PPE, you couldn't even spend time. It was just anathema to what a nurse is supposed to do," Sheridan-Gonzalez said. She said there will be a large need for mental health services for nurses in the coming months, and attrition may be high if nurses aren't better supported in the event of a resurgence.</p> <p>At least 30 NYSNA nurses have died from the virus. The actual death toll is likely much higher, Sheridan-Gonzalez said, as hospitals and institutions have generally not been forthcoming with information, even when pressed by union leaders. Nurses and other front line workers have also been asked by their employer or insurance carrier to prove they contracted COVID-19 on the job in order to get <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9431-frontline-workers-prove-contracted-coronavirus-on-job-workers-comp-nurses" target="_blank">workers' compensation and death benefits</a>, an absurd proposition to the workers themselves.</p> <p>The trajectory of the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths was brought down through the massive social distancing effort that included an unprecedented shuttering of social and economic activity. Over the last week, daily hospital admissions for COVID-19 in the city have hovered around 60, and the death toll has dropped below 50 per day for over a week.</p> <p>The crisis has put a unique level of stress on nurses because, unlike most other disasters that have a discernible beginning and end, the coronavirus pandemic is indefinite, Sheridan-Gonzalez said. Nurses across the board are coming to terms with the possibility that the crisis will never really end.</p> <p>"This is what work now is,” said a nurse working in a psychiatric ward at a Manhattan hospital during a recent phone interview. “This is what we need to learn to get used to,” she added, of the threat of the virus.</p> <p>The city has met nearly all of the state benchmarks required to begin reopening non-essential businesses, most of which have to do with hospital capacity and admissions rates. With 32 percent of ICU beds available and nearly the required 30 percent of total hospital beds, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the city would begin to ease restrictions on certain public activity on June 8.</p> <p>"Everyone's like enjoy it while it lasts bc it's gonna get bad again," the ICU nurse wrote, shortly before the phase one reopening date was announced. "We don't want to get too optimistic about the situation bc it's very unpredictable and out of our control. And it's better to just prepare for the worst mentally."</p> <p>At least 3,780 NYSNA members have been exposed to the coronavirus, of which 58 percent showed symptoms, according to the union, which represents 42,000 nurses statewide. The physical toll has come with a psychological one.</p> <p>"Anyone who worked during this period of time...has been deeply traumatized, particularly people who are taking care of patients who had this illness," Sheridan-Gonzalez said. "And our hospitals were not prepared -- our country was not prepared -- for this huge influx of very sick people for which we had no cure."</p> <p>"We're just starting to process the trauma that we went through. I think we are going to see a lot of mental anguish and PTSD," she said.</p> <p>The ICU nurse said she believes she has post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which occurs in people who have experienced trauma, like abuse or war. "It just feels like it's never gonna be over," she texted.</p> <p>"It feels like the whole thing is totally futile," she added, commenting on efforts to reopen safely and knowing the high mortality rate on her unit over the last few months. She is also concerned about the long-term care of patients who suffered strokes related to Covid, which she believes comprises many of the survivors.</p> <p>"When this is all over our census is going to be skyrocketing,” the psychiatric nurse said. “It's going to be non-stop...Because mental health is going to take such a hit after this. Depression is shooting up, anxiety is shooting up."</p> <p>The nurses union is eying the response of the city and state governments, and private hospitals, to the next chapter of the pandemic in New York and the potential of a second wave of infections.</p> <p>"If this happens again and it's not under control, I think people are going to quit," Sheridan-Gonzales said. “Some people will quit the profession, but I think people are just going to walk right out. I don't know if they're going to be able to take it."</p> <p>The national unrest that has emerged in the last week over the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by Minneapolis police officers, has added a complicated dimension to the next phases of the coronavirus crisis. Since Thursday, nightly protests in New York have become some of the first mass public gatherings since the city entered a state of emergency in mid-March.</p> <p>In a statement Monday, Sheridan-Gonzalez wrote: "Unfortunately, President Trump’s calls to 'Liberate Michigan!,' notably appearing without a mask, rallied his supporters to assemble in huge numbers—the vast majority without masks—to rush reopening cities across the country for many weeks. We're relieved that most people protesting George Floyd’s murder are wearing masks, but we're concerned about those who don’t and the lack of social distancing. The tension between safety and the right to protest is challenging, something we're examining.</p> <p>Asked what she thought of people gathering to protest Floyd's killing and other acts of racialized police violence, the ICU nurse texted: "I hope that people who are most at risk of getting very sick from COVID (people with preexisting medical conditions) will stay home and try and support the movement in other ways."</p> <p>"It would be incredibly tragic if this led to many more COVID-related deaths, especially because the disease has already had a disproportionately negative effect on the black community," the nurse, who is white, said.</p> <p>She added: "I also think it’s important that if these protests do result in more cases of coronavirus, people recognize that it’s a result of the police brutality and do not place the blame on the protesters. It’s important that the medical community comes together and supports the movement, regardless of how people choose to protest, especially because there is so much racial injustice in medicine."</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/49899053838_a281e06c82_c.jpg" alt="nurses hospital thanks" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Nurses remain on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>During the COVID-19 pandemic, New Yorkers can be split between the people who have been patients in or staffed hospitals, where wards were likened to war zones, and those living and working everywhere else.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the first weeks of the crisis, as the city braced for the "apex" in the number of coronavirus hospitalizations, nurses perhaps more than anyone else became the de facto front lines of the pandemic and a symbol of the immense societal effort to overcome a crushing threat. As the crisis began to build, they saw their floors inundated with people dying or clinging to life with the worst always believed to be yet to come.</p> <p>The apex came in early April and has since ceded to a slowly diminishing onslaught, where infections, hospitalizations, and deaths continue even as the sound of ubiquitous ambulance sirens fades. For nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals, the daily trauma of witnessing the human costs of the virus remains. Now, as the city moves toward reopening the economy and New Yorkers gather in protest of police violence against black people, nurses are looking ahead to an uncertain future. With many still processing what they have been through, the fear of a resurgence is almost too much to bear.</p> <p>"There's like this feeling of dread," one intensive care nurse said by text message in the dark hours of a recent morning during a break in her shift. She has been working 12-hour nights, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., three to four shifts per week, since her floor was converted into a coronavirus unit in March.</p> <p>"All these pictures of a million people out at the park is making us feel bad and scared," she wrote, "Bc we all feel like we can't handle doing this that much longer." She spoke under the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal from her employer. There is common anxiety among the nurses Gotham Gazette spoke with that more lax behavior in public will lead directly to more infections and more hospitalizations.</p> <p>In ten weeks of crisis, New York City hospitals have seen more than 50,000 COVID-19 patients and 16,500 deaths, three-quarters of the health department's official city count of coronavirus fatalities. At its height in the first week of April, over 1,500 people were being hospitalized each day. Over the course of 12 days, more than 5,000 people died from the virus. Auditoriums became makeshift intensive care units. Hospitals, facing severe staffing shortages, often assigned nurses to positions for which they were undertrained. Protective equipment was scarce, its applicable uses stretched, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the New York City and State health departments changed regularly.</p> <p>"Nobody ever wants to be there again. That was horrible," said Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, an emergency room nurse at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx and the president of the New York State Nurses Association. "We lost faith in our government, our hospitals, our scientific agencies, and we had to all sort of do our own research and it was madness. Nothing was OK."</p> <p>"Having people die in such huge numbers, or to be so sick and not have family around, and not being able to touch them precisely because you didn't have the right PPE, you couldn't even spend time. It was just anathema to what a nurse is supposed to do," Sheridan-Gonzalez said. She said there will be a large need for mental health services for nurses in the coming months, and attrition may be high if nurses aren't better supported in the event of a resurgence.</p> <p>At least 30 NYSNA nurses have died from the virus. The actual death toll is likely much higher, Sheridan-Gonzalez said, as hospitals and institutions have generally not been forthcoming with information, even when pressed by union leaders. Nurses and other front line workers have also been asked by their employer or insurance carrier to prove they contracted COVID-19 on the job in order to get <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9431-frontline-workers-prove-contracted-coronavirus-on-job-workers-comp-nurses" target="_blank">workers' compensation and death benefits</a>, an absurd proposition to the workers themselves.</p> <p>The trajectory of the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths was brought down through the massive social distancing effort that included an unprecedented shuttering of social and economic activity. Over the last week, daily hospital admissions for COVID-19 in the city have hovered around 60, and the death toll has dropped below 50 per day for over a week.</p> <p>The crisis has put a unique level of stress on nurses because, unlike most other disasters that have a discernible beginning and end, the coronavirus pandemic is indefinite, Sheridan-Gonzalez said. Nurses across the board are coming to terms with the possibility that the crisis will never really end.</p> <p>"This is what work now is,” said a nurse working in a psychiatric ward at a Manhattan hospital during a recent phone interview. “This is what we need to learn to get used to,” she added, of the threat of the virus.</p> <p>The city has met nearly all of the state benchmarks required to begin reopening non-essential businesses, most of which have to do with hospital capacity and admissions rates. With 32 percent of ICU beds available and nearly the required 30 percent of total hospital beds, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the city would begin to ease restrictions on certain public activity on June 8.</p> <p>"Everyone's like enjoy it while it lasts bc it's gonna get bad again," the ICU nurse wrote, shortly before the phase one reopening date was announced. "We don't want to get too optimistic about the situation bc it's very unpredictable and out of our control. And it's better to just prepare for the worst mentally."</p> <p>At least 3,780 NYSNA members have been exposed to the coronavirus, of which 58 percent showed symptoms, according to the union, which represents 42,000 nurses statewide. The physical toll has come with a psychological one.</p> <p>"Anyone who worked during this period of time...has been deeply traumatized, particularly people who are taking care of patients who had this illness," Sheridan-Gonzalez said. "And our hospitals were not prepared -- our country was not prepared -- for this huge influx of very sick people for which we had no cure."</p> <p>"We're just starting to process the trauma that we went through. I think we are going to see a lot of mental anguish and PTSD," she said.</p> <p>The ICU nurse said she believes she has post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which occurs in people who have experienced trauma, like abuse or war. "It just feels like it's never gonna be over," she texted.</p> <p>"It feels like the whole thing is totally futile," she added, commenting on efforts to reopen safely and knowing the high mortality rate on her unit over the last few months. She is also concerned about the long-term care of patients who suffered strokes related to Covid, which she believes comprises many of the survivors.</p> <p>"When this is all over our census is going to be skyrocketing,” the psychiatric nurse said. “It's going to be non-stop...Because mental health is going to take such a hit after this. Depression is shooting up, anxiety is shooting up."</p> <p>The nurses union is eying the response of the city and state governments, and private hospitals, to the next chapter of the pandemic in New York and the potential of a second wave of infections.</p> <p>"If this happens again and it's not under control, I think people are going to quit," Sheridan-Gonzales said. “Some people will quit the profession, but I think people are just going to walk right out. I don't know if they're going to be able to take it."</p> <p>The national unrest that has emerged in the last week over the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by Minneapolis police officers, has added a complicated dimension to the next phases of the coronavirus crisis. Since Thursday, nightly protests in New York have become some of the first mass public gatherings since the city entered a state of emergency in mid-March.</p> <p>In a statement Monday, Sheridan-Gonzalez wrote: "Unfortunately, President Trump’s calls to 'Liberate Michigan!,' notably appearing without a mask, rallied his supporters to assemble in huge numbers—the vast majority without masks—to rush reopening cities across the country for many weeks. We're relieved that most people protesting George Floyd’s murder are wearing masks, but we're concerned about those who don’t and the lack of social distancing. The tension between safety and the right to protest is challenging, something we're examining.</p> <p>Asked what she thought of people gathering to protest Floyd's killing and other acts of racialized police violence, the ICU nurse texted: "I hope that people who are most at risk of getting very sick from COVID (people with preexisting medical conditions) will stay home and try and support the movement in other ways."</p> <p>"It would be incredibly tragic if this led to many more COVID-related deaths, especially because the disease has already had a disproportionately negative effect on the black community," the nurse, who is white, said.</p> <p>She added: "I also think it’s important that if these protests do result in more cases of coronavirus, people recognize that it’s a result of the police brutality and do not place the blame on the protesters. It’s important that the medical community comes together and supports the movement, regardless of how people choose to protest, especially because there is so much racial injustice in medicine."</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
2021 Comptroller Candidates Offer Different Ideas for Addressing City's Fiscal Woes 2020-06-01T04:00:00+00:00 2020-06-01T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9452-2021-nyc-comptroller-candidates-ideas-city-fiscal-woes-lander-rosenthal-benjamin Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41684301742_683e0e6a50_c.jpg" alt="de Blasio city budget graph trends" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>The city's economy &amp; budget are in free-fall (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City’s fiscal woes are worsening by the day as the COVID-19 pandemic has deprived the city of much needed tax revenue while likely forcing severe budget cuts that could be compounded by reductions in state aid. Though there is broad agreement that the best solution can only come in the form of a federal bailout, various other strategies and contingencies are being debated. And several of the candidates seeking to become the city’s next chief fiscal officer -- running for New York City Comptroller in the 2021 election -- differ as they evaluate and propose steps the city itself should be taking to stem the crisis.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed an $89.3 billion executive budget for the 2021 fiscal year beginning July 1. It was a budget pared down by $6 billion from earlier spending plans and which relied on $4 billion drawn from city reserves. At the time the mayor released that budget in mid-April, the city projected a $7.4 billion drop in revenue through the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. That projection has since increased to $9 billion.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the mayor called on the state Legislature to give the city authorization to borrow $7 billion for operating expenses, which it currently cannot do on its own, as he also continued to demand federal aid as outlined in a package passed by the Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives but not taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p>Under state law, the city’s budget has to be balanced each year, which was a result of the financial crisis of the 1970s when the city’s out-of-control spending, including regularly borrowing to cover operating expenses, almost led to insolvency. That is also the reason the city cannot create a dedicated savings fund that does not count as part of the balanced budget.</p> <p>De Blasio’s desperate plea comes as federal aid is held up in Congress and as Governor Andrew Cuomo threatens more than $8 billion in cuts to local aid, which would largely affect education and health care.</p> <p>The four declared or exploring 2021 city comptroller candidates, all of whom are Democrats – Manhattan State Senator Brian Benjamin, Queens Assemblymember David Weprin, Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander and Manhattan Council Member Helen Rosenthal – offered varying perspectives on whether the city should borrow funds and on other measures that could help cut costs, cover expenses, and boost revenue.&nbsp;</p> <p>Budget experts and City Comptroller Scott Stringer, a term-limited Democrat running for mayor, have repeatedly warned against the idea of borrowing for expenses, a proposition that could lead to debt payments for decades. Stringer has estimated that the $7 billion debt would require either $11 billion in payments over 20 years or $12.5 billion over 30 years.</p> <p>“The Mayor should be singularly focused on ensuring our City gets the federal relief we need,”&nbsp; Stringer said in a statement. “While it's too soon to rule out any specific budget action, New Yorkers should know that under the Mayor’s proposal our children could be paying over $500 million a year for the next 20 years. I urge extreme caution.” Stringer has also called on de Blasio to find more efficiencies in a city budget that has grown more than $20 billion in the mayor’s six-plus years in office.</p> <p>Cuomo called the idea of borrowing for operating expenses “fiscally questionable” and the state Legislature refused to take up a vote on it on Thursday (despite the fact that in April Cuomo and the Legislature gave the state itself permission to borrow billions for operating costs). City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2020/05/28/johnson-opposes-de-blasio-borrowing-plan-1288354">expressed opposition</a> to the current bill that would authorize city borrowing, saying it does not include strong enough guardrails.</p> <p>Rosenthal, who previously worked for the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget for seven years, is the only one of the three comptroller candidates who definitively believes the city should borrow funds for expenses. “We have to remember that this is a revenue problem. It's not an expense problem,” Rosenthal said in a phone interview. “So the circumstances are</p> <p>wildly different than the 1970s where we were irresponsibly borrowing.”</p> <p>Rosenthal suggests that the borrowing be limited to $2 billion, to address a part of the problem, while making cuts, finding new productivity savings and new revenue. She also said the mayor should only pull $2 billion, not $4 billion, from reserves.</p> <p>The borrowing should be overseen by a new “revenue oversight board,” Rosenthal said, with a “laser focus” on revenue-building rather than the city’s expenditure, which is currently under the purview of the New York State Financial Control Board. “The Financial Control Board, those three words have baggage and connote wild and irresponsible spending,” she said, arguing that the opposite is true since the city’s bond rating was going up before the pandemic.</p> <p>Among the fiscal control measures that have been floated by budget experts and elected officials are increased taxes on high earners (a favorite of de Blasio’s, though he has tempered calls for higher taxes amid the devastation of the coronavirus recession for fear of higher earners leaving New York) and freezes on wages for hundreds of thousands of unionized municipal workers that are set to increase under the various labor contracts negotiated by the city, alongside deferred retro-payments negotiated when de Blasio first came into office with all the unions operating under expired contracts.</p> <p>Rosenthal pushed back against possible wage freezes, which she said could hurt working class New Yorkers employed by the city. “That, to me, is not a useful idea,” she said. She added, “When I think of city workers, I think of social workers, I think of people paving the road, I think sanitation workers, police, firemen, teachers, most of whom don't make over six figures.”</p> <p>The main solution Rosenthal recommended is undoing the state’s 100% rebate of the stock transfer tax, which is imposed by federal law on stock transactions by brokers and brokerage firms and collected by the state. Those firms can then apply and receive a full refund.</p> <p>The tax brings in as much as $16 billion annually, and even a partial reduction of the rebate would mean billions in new revenue that could be split between the state and city, Rosenthal said. “[That’s] a piece of low-hanging state legislation that should be pursued,” she said, noting that elected officials would be hard-pressed to defend that rebate. During the Democratic presidential race, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had all called for expanding this tax.</p> <p>“The [phrase] ‘taxes on the wealthy’ is a trope and has become a lightning rod for the governor and he won’t agree to it, and that is why we should do the stock transfer tax...I want to hear people say that they don’t want to go after brokers and brokerage houses,”&nbsp;Rosenthal said, noting that these very businesses have been making money during the pandemic.&nbsp;</p> <p>Rosenthal said the money recouped from that tax should go specifically towards covering the city’s revenue shortfall as well as launching a new jobs program that can put New Yorkers back to work at a time of record unemployment because of the pandemic.</p> <p>Lander has been ardently opposed to the mayor’s proposal to borrow for immediate expenses, and would rather see more funding for the city’s capital infrastructure program, which involves borrowing for long-term construction projects and can create thousands of jobs. In light of the pandemic, the mayor <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9346-jails-affordable-housing-capital-projects-delayed-new-york-city-coronavirus-cash" target="_blank" rel="noopener">significantly reduced capital spending over the current and next fiscal years</a>&nbsp;in his latest budget plan, while pushing most planned spending to later years (when he will be out of office).</p> <p>“Borrowing for investments for the long-term actually makes a lot of sense right now,” Lander said, noting that the city is well below the 15% limit that experts recommend for debt services costs, which are paid in the operating budget. “For infrastructure, for economic development, for affordable housing, the kinds of things that are capital projects. That is the kind of borrowing that we have room to do.”</p> <p>“Keynesian economics say that the one counter-cyclical thing that you can do if you're not the federal government in a time like this is make some of those long-term investments,” he added.</p> <p>Lander noted that the city still does not have a grasp on how much revenue it will have next year or an idea of when the economy will fully recover. “It's like you're a family that goes to the grocery store, and takes out a loan to pay your groceries. And the problem is, next week you're still gonna need groceries,” he said. “You’re not going to have more money. And now you're going to owe for next week's groceries and the interest on this week's groceries. So you really, really want to avoid that.”</p> <p>Lander’s “number one” solution for revenue is closing the “carried interest” loophole that allows private-equity and hedge-fund managers to pay the capital gains tax, applied at a lower rate, rather than income tax. Cuomo proposed eliminating the loophole but it would only go into effect if neighboring states also took the same measure. Eliminating the loophole, which could bring in $1 billion in revenue each year, is particularly feasible right now, Lander noted, as New York is coordinating its coronavirus response with those very states (he made the argument in <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/9273-save-our-safety-net-continue-regional-coronavirus-approach-taxes-new-york">a recent op-ed</a>).</p> <p>Other measures could include a tax on the ultra-wealthy and restructuring the corporate tax, though that would not have an immediate effect. Lander also said the city should still move forward with the proposed restructuring of the property tax system, which the mayor has promised for years but has dragged his feet on. “We should restructure it so that as we start to come out of the pandemic and it is possible to start to make the kinds of investments that we need to make, that future increases are equitable and that they come from people like me whose properties have been underassessed and not from people who are already paying more than their share,” he said.</p> <p>In particular, he said that he is “not a huge fan” of the idea of reducing or eliminating the rebate on the stock transfer tax. That move would be easy to circumvent, he said, since those transactions are electronic and brokers could easily move their transactions through another state. “That is basically like an electronic fiction,” he said, insisting it should be done at the federal level.</p> <p>Lander was more circumspect about union wage freezes, though he said that the city should work with labor leaders to look at every possible option to cut costs and find savings. “In New York City's history, there have been plenty of moments of crisis when labor leaders worked with the city to come up with different kinds of savings,” he said. “Those savings can take many different forms, and it's definitely a moment where that dialogue needs to be underway.”</p> <p>Benjamin, who chairs the Senate Committee on Revenue and Budget, has also warned against the city borrowing funds in the near term. “I wouldn't be asking for the $7 billion of [borrowing] authority right now,” he said in an <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9440-max-murphy-podcast-state-senator-brian-benjamin-on-rescuing-new-york-finances-budget-comptroller">interview this past week on the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a>, “because to me, if you're going to ask for the $7 billion authority right now granted to you, then that tells the federal government, ‘Well they solved their problems. They don't need anything from us, right.’"</p> <p>But he also hedged his answer, saying the city should have clear criteria for spending any borrowed funds “specific to COVID-related emergencies or emergencies that are created because of COVID-related issues.” He added, “I think if the city has a very thoughtful need for any of this $7 billion, that that money would be granted.”</p> <p>Senator Liz Krueger, also a Manhattan Democrat, introduced the bill last week to allow the city to borrow the $7 billion. It passed a rules committee vote and is before the finance committee that Krueger chairs.</p> <p>[<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9440-max-murphy-podcast-state-senator-brian-benjamin-on-rescuing-new-york-finances-budget-comptroller">Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: State Senator Brian Benjamin on Rescuing New York's Finances &amp; More</a>]</p> <p>Benjamin was also open to the idea of renegotiating contracts with labor unions on wages and other costs. “It wouldn't be prudent to not look at every single thing. I don't know how you don't look at that,” he said.</p> <p>Benjamin has sponsored legislation to allow the city to create a dedicated rainy day fund and has emphasized that the pandemic made it all that more urgent. “This is the precise time to [create] a rainy day fund...because now we are very clear on what are the consequences when we don't have one,” he said. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature last week.</p> <p>He also indicated that property tax reforms are dead in the water in Albany this year. “We're really dealing with the COVID crisis,” he said when asked about property tax reform, which he had taken a major interest in. “And so I would imagine that we will fervently look at property taxes next year.”</p> <p>Assemblymember David Weprin said rather than looking at the city’s borrowing proposal, state and city officials should be presenting a united front on seeking federal aid. “I think everybody has to unite together, the mayor, the governor, every elected official, to really push for a full-court press on Washington,” he said.</p> <p>“Generally it's not a good idea, in my opinion, to borrow long term for operating expenses,” he added.</p> <p>Weprin proposed several measures that he said could create permanent revenue streams for the city and state. Chiefly, he supports restoring the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax, commonly called the Commuter Tax, which was imposed on nonresidents working in New York City till 1999. “When it was repealed by the legislature, it was just done when the city and state had surpluses. It was very good fiscal times. Obviously, that’s not the case now,” he said. Weprin proposes implementing a 1% tax (it was originally between 0.45 and 0.65%) which he said would bring in about $1.6 billion in recurring annual revenue.</p> <p>He also said he would support a temporary increase in income taxes on the rich, though not without some reluctance. “I wouldn't do that in the first instance but having said that, I think there's a lot of new taxes we can create which would also create new industries and the industries themselves would create revenue,” he said.</p> <p>Weprin wants to legalize online sports betting on professional and college sports, which would require an amendment to the state constitution. He has sponsored a resolution on that amendment along with State Senator Joseph Addabbo, but their efforts have stalled in Albany. As Weprin noted, New York is losing out on easy revenue as state residents travel to neighboring New Jersey, where online sports betting is legal, to place wagers. “We're losing hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue,” he said.</p> <p>He also supports granting a new casino license in New York City with a revenue-sharing agreement between the city and state that he said could raise hundreds of millions. “I think we have to look at creating new industries that'll produce revenue and also produce jobs at the same time,” he said.</p> <p>Weprin was wary of the idea of renegotiating labor contracts that could affect firefighters, police officers, nurses and other government employees who he said are already fighting for additional hazard pay. “I certainly wouldn't be looking to reduce their benefits. They're heroes. They've been on the front line during the Covid-19 crisis,” he said. “When you’re in a major multibillion-dollar fiscal crisis, you don't want to rule anything out, but I certainly would not be looking to change agreed-upon, negotiated labor contracts.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note -this article has been updated.&nbsp;</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated with an interview with Assemblymember David Weprin.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41684301742_683e0e6a50_c.jpg" alt="de Blasio city budget graph trends" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>The city's economy &amp; budget are in free-fall (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City’s fiscal woes are worsening by the day as the COVID-19 pandemic has deprived the city of much needed tax revenue while likely forcing severe budget cuts that could be compounded by reductions in state aid. Though there is broad agreement that the best solution can only come in the form of a federal bailout, various other strategies and contingencies are being debated. And several of the candidates seeking to become the city’s next chief fiscal officer -- running for New York City Comptroller in the 2021 election -- differ as they evaluate and propose steps the city itself should be taking to stem the crisis.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed an $89.3 billion executive budget for the 2021 fiscal year beginning July 1. It was a budget pared down by $6 billion from earlier spending plans and which relied on $4 billion drawn from city reserves. At the time the mayor released that budget in mid-April, the city projected a $7.4 billion drop in revenue through the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. That projection has since increased to $9 billion.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the mayor called on the state Legislature to give the city authorization to borrow $7 billion for operating expenses, which it currently cannot do on its own, as he also continued to demand federal aid as outlined in a package passed by the Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives but not taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p>Under state law, the city’s budget has to be balanced each year, which was a result of the financial crisis of the 1970s when the city’s out-of-control spending, including regularly borrowing to cover operating expenses, almost led to insolvency. That is also the reason the city cannot create a dedicated savings fund that does not count as part of the balanced budget.</p> <p>De Blasio’s desperate plea comes as federal aid is held up in Congress and as Governor Andrew Cuomo threatens more than $8 billion in cuts to local aid, which would largely affect education and health care.</p> <p>The four declared or exploring 2021 city comptroller candidates, all of whom are Democrats – Manhattan State Senator Brian Benjamin, Queens Assemblymember David Weprin, Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander and Manhattan Council Member Helen Rosenthal – offered varying perspectives on whether the city should borrow funds and on other measures that could help cut costs, cover expenses, and boost revenue.&nbsp;</p> <p>Budget experts and City Comptroller Scott Stringer, a term-limited Democrat running for mayor, have repeatedly warned against the idea of borrowing for expenses, a proposition that could lead to debt payments for decades. Stringer has estimated that the $7 billion debt would require either $11 billion in payments over 20 years or $12.5 billion over 30 years.</p> <p>“The Mayor should be singularly focused on ensuring our City gets the federal relief we need,”&nbsp; Stringer said in a statement. “While it's too soon to rule out any specific budget action, New Yorkers should know that under the Mayor’s proposal our children could be paying over $500 million a year for the next 20 years. I urge extreme caution.” Stringer has also called on de Blasio to find more efficiencies in a city budget that has grown more than $20 billion in the mayor’s six-plus years in office.</p> <p>Cuomo called the idea of borrowing for operating expenses “fiscally questionable” and the state Legislature refused to take up a vote on it on Thursday (despite the fact that in April Cuomo and the Legislature gave the state itself permission to borrow billions for operating costs). City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2020/05/28/johnson-opposes-de-blasio-borrowing-plan-1288354">expressed opposition</a> to the current bill that would authorize city borrowing, saying it does not include strong enough guardrails.</p> <p>Rosenthal, who previously worked for the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget for seven years, is the only one of the three comptroller candidates who definitively believes the city should borrow funds for expenses. “We have to remember that this is a revenue problem. It's not an expense problem,” Rosenthal said in a phone interview. “So the circumstances are</p> <p>wildly different than the 1970s where we were irresponsibly borrowing.”</p> <p>Rosenthal suggests that the borrowing be limited to $2 billion, to address a part of the problem, while making cuts, finding new productivity savings and new revenue. She also said the mayor should only pull $2 billion, not $4 billion, from reserves.</p> <p>The borrowing should be overseen by a new “revenue oversight board,” Rosenthal said, with a “laser focus” on revenue-building rather than the city’s expenditure, which is currently under the purview of the New York State Financial Control Board. “The Financial Control Board, those three words have baggage and connote wild and irresponsible spending,” she said, arguing that the opposite is true since the city’s bond rating was going up before the pandemic.</p> <p>Among the fiscal control measures that have been floated by budget experts and elected officials are increased taxes on high earners (a favorite of de Blasio’s, though he has tempered calls for higher taxes amid the devastation of the coronavirus recession for fear of higher earners leaving New York) and freezes on wages for hundreds of thousands of unionized municipal workers that are set to increase under the various labor contracts negotiated by the city, alongside deferred retro-payments negotiated when de Blasio first came into office with all the unions operating under expired contracts.</p> <p>Rosenthal pushed back against possible wage freezes, which she said could hurt working class New Yorkers employed by the city. “That, to me, is not a useful idea,” she said. She added, “When I think of city workers, I think of social workers, I think of people paving the road, I think sanitation workers, police, firemen, teachers, most of whom don't make over six figures.”</p> <p>The main solution Rosenthal recommended is undoing the state’s 100% rebate of the stock transfer tax, which is imposed by federal law on stock transactions by brokers and brokerage firms and collected by the state. Those firms can then apply and receive a full refund.</p> <p>The tax brings in as much as $16 billion annually, and even a partial reduction of the rebate would mean billions in new revenue that could be split between the state and city, Rosenthal said. “[That’s] a piece of low-hanging state legislation that should be pursued,” she said, noting that elected officials would be hard-pressed to defend that rebate. During the Democratic presidential race, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had all called for expanding this tax.</p> <p>“The [phrase] ‘taxes on the wealthy’ is a trope and has become a lightning rod for the governor and he won’t agree to it, and that is why we should do the stock transfer tax...I want to hear people say that they don’t want to go after brokers and brokerage houses,”&nbsp;Rosenthal said, noting that these very businesses have been making money during the pandemic.&nbsp;</p> <p>Rosenthal said the money recouped from that tax should go specifically towards covering the city’s revenue shortfall as well as launching a new jobs program that can put New Yorkers back to work at a time of record unemployment because of the pandemic.</p> <p>Lander has been ardently opposed to the mayor’s proposal to borrow for immediate expenses, and would rather see more funding for the city’s capital infrastructure program, which involves borrowing for long-term construction projects and can create thousands of jobs. In light of the pandemic, the mayor <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9346-jails-affordable-housing-capital-projects-delayed-new-york-city-coronavirus-cash" target="_blank" rel="noopener">significantly reduced capital spending over the current and next fiscal years</a>&nbsp;in his latest budget plan, while pushing most planned spending to later years (when he will be out of office).</p> <p>“Borrowing for investments for the long-term actually makes a lot of sense right now,” Lander said, noting that the city is well below the 15% limit that experts recommend for debt services costs, which are paid in the operating budget. “For infrastructure, for economic development, for affordable housing, the kinds of things that are capital projects. That is the kind of borrowing that we have room to do.”</p> <p>“Keynesian economics say that the one counter-cyclical thing that you can do if you're not the federal government in a time like this is make some of those long-term investments,” he added.</p> <p>Lander noted that the city still does not have a grasp on how much revenue it will have next year or an idea of when the economy will fully recover. “It's like you're a family that goes to the grocery store, and takes out a loan to pay your groceries. And the problem is, next week you're still gonna need groceries,” he said. “You’re not going to have more money. And now you're going to owe for next week's groceries and the interest on this week's groceries. So you really, really want to avoid that.”</p> <p>Lander’s “number one” solution for revenue is closing the “carried interest” loophole that allows private-equity and hedge-fund managers to pay the capital gains tax, applied at a lower rate, rather than income tax. Cuomo proposed eliminating the loophole but it would only go into effect if neighboring states also took the same measure. Eliminating the loophole, which could bring in $1 billion in revenue each year, is particularly feasible right now, Lander noted, as New York is coordinating its coronavirus response with those very states (he made the argument in <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/9273-save-our-safety-net-continue-regional-coronavirus-approach-taxes-new-york">a recent op-ed</a>).</p> <p>Other measures could include a tax on the ultra-wealthy and restructuring the corporate tax, though that would not have an immediate effect. Lander also said the city should still move forward with the proposed restructuring of the property tax system, which the mayor has promised for years but has dragged his feet on. “We should restructure it so that as we start to come out of the pandemic and it is possible to start to make the kinds of investments that we need to make, that future increases are equitable and that they come from people like me whose properties have been underassessed and not from people who are already paying more than their share,” he said.</p> <p>In particular, he said that he is “not a huge fan” of the idea of reducing or eliminating the rebate on the stock transfer tax. That move would be easy to circumvent, he said, since those transactions are electronic and brokers could easily move their transactions through another state. “That is basically like an electronic fiction,” he said, insisting it should be done at the federal level.</p> <p>Lander was more circumspect about union wage freezes, though he said that the city should work with labor leaders to look at every possible option to cut costs and find savings. “In New York City's history, there have been plenty of moments of crisis when labor leaders worked with the city to come up with different kinds of savings,” he said. “Those savings can take many different forms, and it's definitely a moment where that dialogue needs to be underway.”</p> <p>Benjamin, who chairs the Senate Committee on Revenue and Budget, has also warned against the city borrowing funds in the near term. “I wouldn't be asking for the $7 billion of [borrowing] authority right now,” he said in an <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9440-max-murphy-podcast-state-senator-brian-benjamin-on-rescuing-new-york-finances-budget-comptroller">interview this past week on the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a>, “because to me, if you're going to ask for the $7 billion authority right now granted to you, then that tells the federal government, ‘Well they solved their problems. They don't need anything from us, right.’"</p> <p>But he also hedged his answer, saying the city should have clear criteria for spending any borrowed funds “specific to COVID-related emergencies or emergencies that are created because of COVID-related issues.” He added, “I think if the city has a very thoughtful need for any of this $7 billion, that that money would be granted.”</p> <p>Senator Liz Krueger, also a Manhattan Democrat, introduced the bill last week to allow the city to borrow the $7 billion. It passed a rules committee vote and is before the finance committee that Krueger chairs.</p> <p>[<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9440-max-murphy-podcast-state-senator-brian-benjamin-on-rescuing-new-york-finances-budget-comptroller">Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: State Senator Brian Benjamin on Rescuing New York's Finances &amp; More</a>]</p> <p>Benjamin was also open to the idea of renegotiating contracts with labor unions on wages and other costs. “It wouldn't be prudent to not look at every single thing. I don't know how you don't look at that,” he said.</p> <p>Benjamin has sponsored legislation to allow the city to create a dedicated rainy day fund and has emphasized that the pandemic made it all that more urgent. “This is the precise time to [create] a rainy day fund...because now we are very clear on what are the consequences when we don't have one,” he said. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature last week.</p> <p>He also indicated that property tax reforms are dead in the water in Albany this year. “We're really dealing with the COVID crisis,” he said when asked about property tax reform, which he had taken a major interest in. “And so I would imagine that we will fervently look at property taxes next year.”</p> <p>Assemblymember David Weprin said rather than looking at the city’s borrowing proposal, state and city officials should be presenting a united front on seeking federal aid. “I think everybody has to unite together, the mayor, the governor, every elected official, to really push for a full-court press on Washington,” he said.</p> <p>“Generally it's not a good idea, in my opinion, to borrow long term for operating expenses,” he added.</p> <p>Weprin proposed several measures that he said could create permanent revenue streams for the city and state. Chiefly, he supports restoring the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax, commonly called the Commuter Tax, which was imposed on nonresidents working in New York City till 1999. “When it was repealed by the legislature, it was just done when the city and state had surpluses. It was very good fiscal times. Obviously, that’s not the case now,” he said. Weprin proposes implementing a 1% tax (it was originally between 0.45 and 0.65%) which he said would bring in about $1.6 billion in recurring annual revenue.</p> <p>He also said he would support a temporary increase in income taxes on the rich, though not without some reluctance. “I wouldn't do that in the first instance but having said that, I think there's a lot of new taxes we can create which would also create new industries and the industries themselves would create revenue,” he said.</p> <p>Weprin wants to legalize online sports betting on professional and college sports, which would require an amendment to the state constitution. He has sponsored a resolution on that amendment along with State Senator Joseph Addabbo, but their efforts have stalled in Albany. As Weprin noted, New York is losing out on easy revenue as state residents travel to neighboring New Jersey, where online sports betting is legal, to place wagers. “We're losing hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue,” he said.</p> <p>He also supports granting a new casino license in New York City with a revenue-sharing agreement between the city and state that he said could raise hundreds of millions. “I think we have to look at creating new industries that'll produce revenue and also produce jobs at the same time,” he said.</p> <p>Weprin was wary of the idea of renegotiating labor contracts that could affect firefighters, police officers, nurses and other government employees who he said are already fighting for additional hazard pay. “I certainly wouldn't be looking to reduce their benefits. They're heroes. They've been on the front line during the Covid-19 crisis,” he said. “When you’re in a major multibillion-dollar fiscal crisis, you don't want to rule anything out, but I certainly would not be looking to change agreed-upon, negotiated labor contracts.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note -this article has been updated.&nbsp;</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated with an interview with Assemblymember David Weprin.&nbsp;</p>
De Blasio Delay Plus Pandemic Means Property Tax Reform Appears Off the Table This Year 2020-05-29T04:00:00+00:00 2020-05-29T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9444-de-blasio-delay-plus-pandemic-property-tax-reform-off-the-table-2020 Ethan Geringer-Sameth ethangs@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/31775444986_823186a93f_c.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio property tax reform dead" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio's slow-play on property tax reform has now been compounded (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Offie)</p> <hr /> <p>The start of the year 2020 offered what many believed to be the most promising steps in decades to revamping New York's confusing and unfair property tax system. In January, an advisory commission established by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council, which was tasked with comprehensively assessing and reevaluating the property tax system, released a set of recommendations. While coming much later than many had hoped, the recommendations were supposed to lead to community conversations around the city and a set of legislative proposals to be acted on at both the city and state levels to make a more rational and equitable system.</p> <p>But less than four months after the commission released its initial report, the coronavirus pandemic has effectively closed the door on property tax reform this year at the same time the contracting economy re-centers property taxes as the city's most reliable revenue stream.</p> <p>New York City fiscal watchdog and reform groups say addressing inequities in the property tax is more important than ever, but with the advisory commission's next phase on hold and the State Legislature scaling back its work amid the coronavirus crisis, hope for meaningful changes any time soon has vanished.</p> <p>“We are seeing first-hand the economic impact COVID-19 is having in New Yorkers who are struggling to get by. At the same time, we must balance the very real needs of the City, which relies on property taxes to fund the essential city services like hospitals and our first responders," wrote Laura Feyer, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, in response to an inquiry about what changes the city was making. She said the city had taken some steps toward relief for property owners facing hardship due to the pandemic but did not say whether there were plans to resume the timeline for the advisory commission's public forums or broader reform.</p> <p>But property tax reform remains essential, argues Martha Stark, former finance commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloombergn, now serving as policy director of the advocacy group Tax Equity Now, which sued the city and state over inequities in its property tax system. "Given that the city's only mechanism for raising revenue is going to be through the property tax, I don't know how much more urgent it could be to ensure the taxes are done in a way that is fair and that is really reflective of people's values," Stark said in an interview.</p> <p>De Blasio has been seeking federal relief aid and has implored state lawmakers to authorize $7 billion in emergency borrowing to fill what has become a $9 billion budget gap due to lost revenue from tourism, sales and real estate transaction taxes, and more. In the city's latest projections, property taxes now account for 35 percent of the city's total revenue in the current fiscal year, according to officials in the mayor's office and City Council, compared with 30 percent last fiscal year.</p> <p>"Especially since we don't know what's going to happen in Washington, we right now are absolutely dependent on whatever resources we can get and property tax is a part of it for sure," the mayor told reporters on May 10, as part of a response to a question about property tax relief for struggling homeowners and landlords.</p> <p>New York City's property taxes have long been criticized for having an irrational assessment and levy structure that places an uneven burden on low-income communities and communities of color. Homeowners in some of the city’s most booming neighborhoods have among the lowest effective property tax rates, as do some of the most expensive coops and condos, while homeowners in places like the Bronx and Staten Island, which have not seen rapid gentrification, pay a much higher percent of their property's value in real estate taxes. Tenants often serve as a release valve for the high taxes on large rental buildings. With property taxes now making up a larger portion of the city's total revenue, the unequal tax burdens represent yet another example of the pandemic crisis being borne largely on the backs of poor black and Latino New Yorkers.</p> <p>In 2002, newly-inaugurated Mayor Michael Bloomberg, facing a gap of $7.4 billion over two years due to fallout from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, raised property tax rates. Stark says if the city were to increase taxes, "they are going to actually exacerbate the real estate tax differential for those homeowners," increasing the urgency for reform. De Blasio has given no indication he is looking at property tax rate increases.</p> <p>Changing New York City's property tax scheme requires action at both the city and state levels, and while ad hoc changes have been made over the past 40 years, the conflicting interests involved in overhauling a system that touches every resident of the state have been a death sentence to prior reform efforts.</p> <p>The recent momentum came after the Tax Equity Now lawsuit and the Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform, empanelled by de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson in 2018, which released its preliminary report in January, giving city and state lawmakers the beginnings of a roadmap to approach wholesale reform. The commission was slated to hold another round of public hearings and produce a final set of recommendations, many of which will require action in Albany.</p> <p>But the first hearing, scheduled for March 12 on Staten Island, was postponed and it is unclear if any make-up for it or subsequent hearings is in the works.</p> <p>"Virtual hearings would be an independent commission decision, and have not been planned as of now," said Feyer, the spokesperson for the mayor.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Johnson said his office was in conversations with the administration about the next steps for public hearings.</p> <p>Parallel reform efforts in the State Legislature have also stalled.</p> <p>"Property tax reform is not the issue we are dealing with this year," said State Senator Brian Benjamin, a Manhattan Democrat and chair of the Committee on Revenue and Budget, on the <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9440-max-murphy-podcast-state-senator-brian-benjamin-on-rescuing-new-york-finances-budget-comptroller">Max &amp; Murphy Podcast</a> Wednesday.</p> <p>"At this point we are really dealing with the COVID crisis. I would imagine that we will fervently look at property taxes next year. I would have liked to look at it more closely this year and that was the energy we were on and then COVID hit and it's really been hard to focus on that," said the senator, who organized a number of public forums and an expert roundtable on property tax reform last fall in anticipation of the 2020 legislative session and the commission's initial report. Benjamin is also a candidate for New York City Comptroller in the 2021 election.</p> <p>"The time should not be wasted," wrote Andrew Rein, executive director of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit watchdog, in an email to Gotham Gazette. "The Commission's report was a solid start to comprehensive reform."</p> <p>The commission's initial recommendations took aim largely at inequities in the assessment of 1-3 family homes, small rental buildings, and cooperatives and condominiums. It did little to address commercial and large rental buildings, where the tax burden is often passed on to tenants.</p> <p>"While there may be general consensus on many of the recommendations, detailed proposals and legislative language are needed to fully evaluate the impact," Rein wrote.</p> <p>Rein fears the lost momentum might lead to piecemeal changes without a comprehensive approach, which he says could further complicate the opaque and often irrational system. But Stark says there are some steps the mayor can and should take now, amid a crisis known for exacerbating inequities across lines of race and class.</p> <p>"One-, two-, three-family home owners, owners of rental properties where tenants are struggling to pay rent...are going to be struggling to pay their real estate taxes," Stark said. "This could not be a more appropriate moment for the city to really be addressing especially the many inequities that are within their control."</p> <p>One thing the city could do is lower the assessment ratio on certain properties to correct the imbalance in tax burden, Stark said. Another is to undertake extensive quality control to ensure that its assessment models are determining property value based on the value of truly comparable properties, which experts point out is often not the case.</p> <p>A growing chorus of landlords, tenants, and business owners are calling for property tax relief. On May 13, the mayor and the New York City Banking Commission called on the City Council to create a hardship exemption for property owners facing financial challenges due to the pandemic that would eliminate interest on late payments for property taxes due in July on property assessed below $250,000. The measure would require the city to pass a local law, according to a <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/343-20/mayor-de-blasio-nyc-banking-commission-recommend-eliminating-interest-july-property-tax">press release</a> from the mayor's office.</p> <p>"The Council is glad the administration acted on our budget response request and looked at ways to work with struggling property owners. The Council is reviewing these recommendations amid ongoing negotiations with the administration," wrote a Council spokesperson in an email.</p> <p>In May, a group of industry and civic groups, including the Real Estate Board of New York and the NAACP, called on the city to freeze property tax rates and assessments, reduce interest penalties, and allow owners to pay taxes on a monthly basis.</p> <p>The lawsuit by Stark's group, Tax Equity Now (which is not a part of the coalition), is an attempt to force property tax reform through the courts. The effort saw a serious setback when it was dismissed in the appellate division earlier this year, but the group is filing an appeal in the state's highest court.</p> <p>"Part of the reason why we brought our lawsuit is that we didn't think that the political side was going to be able to handle property tax reform,” Stark said. “This has been an issue for 40-plus years and the political side hasn't been able to do anything.”</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/31775444986_823186a93f_c.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio property tax reform dead" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio's slow-play on property tax reform has now been compounded (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Offie)</p> <hr /> <p>The start of the year 2020 offered what many believed to be the most promising steps in decades to revamping New York's confusing and unfair property tax system. In January, an advisory commission established by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council, which was tasked with comprehensively assessing and reevaluating the property tax system, released a set of recommendations. While coming much later than many had hoped, the recommendations were supposed to lead to community conversations around the city and a set of legislative proposals to be acted on at both the city and state levels to make a more rational and equitable system.</p> <p>But less than four months after the commission released its initial report, the coronavirus pandemic has effectively closed the door on property tax reform this year at the same time the contracting economy re-centers property taxes as the city's most reliable revenue stream.</p> <p>New York City fiscal watchdog and reform groups say addressing inequities in the property tax is more important than ever, but with the advisory commission's next phase on hold and the State Legislature scaling back its work amid the coronavirus crisis, hope for meaningful changes any time soon has vanished.</p> <p>“We are seeing first-hand the economic impact COVID-19 is having in New Yorkers who are struggling to get by. At the same time, we must balance the very real needs of the City, which relies on property taxes to fund the essential city services like hospitals and our first responders," wrote Laura Feyer, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, in response to an inquiry about what changes the city was making. She said the city had taken some steps toward relief for property owners facing hardship due to the pandemic but did not say whether there were plans to resume the timeline for the advisory commission's public forums or broader reform.</p> <p>But property tax reform remains essential, argues Martha Stark, former finance commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloombergn, now serving as policy director of the advocacy group Tax Equity Now, which sued the city and state over inequities in its property tax system. "Given that the city's only mechanism for raising revenue is going to be through the property tax, I don't know how much more urgent it could be to ensure the taxes are done in a way that is fair and that is really reflective of people's values," Stark said in an interview.</p> <p>De Blasio has been seeking federal relief aid and has implored state lawmakers to authorize $7 billion in emergency borrowing to fill what has become a $9 billion budget gap due to lost revenue from tourism, sales and real estate transaction taxes, and more. In the city's latest projections, property taxes now account for 35 percent of the city's total revenue in the current fiscal year, according to officials in the mayor's office and City Council, compared with 30 percent last fiscal year.</p> <p>"Especially since we don't know what's going to happen in Washington, we right now are absolutely dependent on whatever resources we can get and property tax is a part of it for sure," the mayor told reporters on May 10, as part of a response to a question about property tax relief for struggling homeowners and landlords.</p> <p>New York City's property taxes have long been criticized for having an irrational assessment and levy structure that places an uneven burden on low-income communities and communities of color. Homeowners in some of the city’s most booming neighborhoods have among the lowest effective property tax rates, as do some of the most expensive coops and condos, while homeowners in places like the Bronx and Staten Island, which have not seen rapid gentrification, pay a much higher percent of their property's value in real estate taxes. Tenants often serve as a release valve for the high taxes on large rental buildings. With property taxes now making up a larger portion of the city's total revenue, the unequal tax burdens represent yet another example of the pandemic crisis being borne largely on the backs of poor black and Latino New Yorkers.</p> <p>In 2002, newly-inaugurated Mayor Michael Bloomberg, facing a gap of $7.4 billion over two years due to fallout from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, raised property tax rates. Stark says if the city were to increase taxes, "they are going to actually exacerbate the real estate tax differential for those homeowners," increasing the urgency for reform. De Blasio has given no indication he is looking at property tax rate increases.</p> <p>Changing New York City's property tax scheme requires action at both the city and state levels, and while ad hoc changes have been made over the past 40 years, the conflicting interests involved in overhauling a system that touches every resident of the state have been a death sentence to prior reform efforts.</p> <p>The recent momentum came after the Tax Equity Now lawsuit and the Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform, empanelled by de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson in 2018, which released its preliminary report in January, giving city and state lawmakers the beginnings of a roadmap to approach wholesale reform. The commission was slated to hold another round of public hearings and produce a final set of recommendations, many of which will require action in Albany.</p> <p>But the first hearing, scheduled for March 12 on Staten Island, was postponed and it is unclear if any make-up for it or subsequent hearings is in the works.</p> <p>"Virtual hearings would be an independent commission decision, and have not been planned as of now," said Feyer, the spokesperson for the mayor.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Johnson said his office was in conversations with the administration about the next steps for public hearings.</p> <p>Parallel reform efforts in the State Legislature have also stalled.</p> <p>"Property tax reform is not the issue we are dealing with this year," said State Senator Brian Benjamin, a Manhattan Democrat and chair of the Committee on Revenue and Budget, on the <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9440-max-murphy-podcast-state-senator-brian-benjamin-on-rescuing-new-york-finances-budget-comptroller">Max &amp; Murphy Podcast</a> Wednesday.</p> <p>"At this point we are really dealing with the COVID crisis. I would imagine that we will fervently look at property taxes next year. I would have liked to look at it more closely this year and that was the energy we were on and then COVID hit and it's really been hard to focus on that," said the senator, who organized a number of public forums and an expert roundtable on property tax reform last fall in anticipation of the 2020 legislative session and the commission's initial report. Benjamin is also a candidate for New York City Comptroller in the 2021 election.</p> <p>"The time should not be wasted," wrote Andrew Rein, executive director of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit watchdog, in an email to Gotham Gazette. "The Commission's report was a solid start to comprehensive reform."</p> <p>The commission's initial recommendations took aim largely at inequities in the assessment of 1-3 family homes, small rental buildings, and cooperatives and condominiums. It did little to address commercial and large rental buildings, where the tax burden is often passed on to tenants.</p> <p>"While there may be general consensus on many of the recommendations, detailed proposals and legislative language are needed to fully evaluate the impact," Rein wrote.</p> <p>Rein fears the lost momentum might lead to piecemeal changes without a comprehensive approach, which he says could further complicate the opaque and often irrational system. But Stark says there are some steps the mayor can and should take now, amid a crisis known for exacerbating inequities across lines of race and class.</p> <p>"One-, two-, three-family home owners, owners of rental properties where tenants are struggling to pay rent...are going to be struggling to pay their real estate taxes," Stark said. "This could not be a more appropriate moment for the city to really be addressing especially the many inequities that are within their control."</p> <p>One thing the city could do is lower the assessment ratio on certain properties to correct the imbalance in tax burden, Stark said. Another is to undertake extensive quality control to ensure that its assessment models are determining property value based on the value of truly comparable properties, which experts point out is often not the case.</p> <p>A growing chorus of landlords, tenants, and business owners are calling for property tax relief. On May 13, the mayor and the New York City Banking Commission called on the City Council to create a hardship exemption for property owners facing financial challenges due to the pandemic that would eliminate interest on late payments for property taxes due in July on property assessed below $250,000. The measure would require the city to pass a local law, according to a <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/343-20/mayor-de-blasio-nyc-banking-commission-recommend-eliminating-interest-july-property-tax">press release</a> from the mayor's office.</p> <p>"The Council is glad the administration acted on our budget response request and looked at ways to work with struggling property owners. The Council is reviewing these recommendations amid ongoing negotiations with the administration," wrote a Council spokesperson in an email.</p> <p>In May, a group of industry and civic groups, including the Real Estate Board of New York and the NAACP, called on the city to freeze property tax rates and assessments, reduce interest penalties, and allow owners to pay taxes on a monthly basis.</p> <p>The lawsuit by Stark's group, Tax Equity Now (which is not a part of the coalition), is an attempt to force property tax reform through the courts. The effort saw a serious setback when it was dismissed in the appellate division earlier this year, but the group is filing an appeal in the state's highest court.</p> <p>"Part of the reason why we brought our lawsuit is that we didn't think that the political side was going to be able to handle property tax reform,” Stark said. “This has been an issue for 40-plus years and the political side hasn't been able to do anything.”</p> <p>

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
The Deadline to Register to Vote in June is Friday - and Other Key 2020 Primary Election Info 2020-05-28T04:00:00+00:00 2020-05-28T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9437-deadline-to-register-to-vote-in-june-is-friday-key-primary-election-info-2020 Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/early-voting-rally.jpg" alt="early voting rally" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Register to vote by Friday May 29 (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s primary election is less than a month away on, June 23, preceded by <a href="https://vote.nyc/page/early-voting-information" target="_blank" rel="noopener">early voting</a> June 13-21, and with all eligible voters allowed to vote absentee due to the coronavirus pandemic. The deadline for new voters to register is this Friday, May 29 [<a href="https://vote.nyc/page/register-vote" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Find more info here</a>].</p> <p>There are state legislative, congressional, and presidential contests on the ballot along with a few local seats like Queens Borough President and a Brooklyn City Council race. Only party-affiliated voters can vote in the primaries, and almost all of the races in New York City are Democratic primaries. All Democrats across the state can vote in the party’s presidential primary, and there are many primaries for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, State Senate, and State Assembly. All Queens Democrats can vote in the borough president primary.</p> <p>Check your voter registration online <a href="https://vote.nyc/page/am-i-registered" target="_blank" rel="noopener">here</a>. Enter your address and party affiliation <a href="https://vote.nyc/page/understanding-ballot" target="_blank" rel="noopener">here to see your sample ballot</a>. You can read the full list of all primaries on the June ballot in New York City <a href="https://vote.nyc/sites/default/files/pdf/candidates/2020/PrimaryContestList_PDF_05_22_2020_CW_852AM.pdf">here</a>.</p> <p>The coronavirus pandemic caused significant upheaval for the state’s political calendar this year and several elections that were meant to take place in the preceding months have been delayed till the June party primary. (Some special elections – for state Assembly, Senate and Queens Borough President – were even cancelled through executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and primaries are being held to fill those seats, to be followed by the fall general election, in more typical fashion.)</p> <p>As many Democratic presidential candidates were dropping from the race and the coronavirus outbreak was taking hold of New York, state leaders inserted language in the April budget to allow the state Board of Elections to cancel the presidential primary if all candidates other than one had conceded. When that happened and Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee, the BOE voted to cancel the primary, but the decision was overturned by a federal judge after a suit by former candidate Andrew Yang, among others, and much protest from former candidate Bernie Sanders and his supporters. The Republican presidential primary was cancelled months ago since President Donald Trump is the party’s only candidate.</p> <p>Though in-person voting will still take place, with strict social distancing guidelines for polling sites, voters are being urged to instead vote through absentee ballots. (Short of that, taking advantage of early voting hours is encouraged. <a href="https://vote.nyc/page/early-voting-information" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Find the list of New York City’s early voting sites here</a>.)</p> <p>In April, the governor allowed all voters to apply for an absentee ballot, using the pandemic as a valid excuse for one; he later mandated that the Board of Elections send all eligible voters an absentee ballot application with paid postage. Votes must then request the ballot, receive that in the mail, fill it out, and send it back.</p> <p>The State BOE has applications available in English and Spanish. The New York City Board of Elections <a href="https://vote.nyc/page/absentee-voting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">provides</a> forms in Chinese, Korean, and Bengali as well.</p> <p>The New York City BOE, along with a few other counties, has an <a href="https://nycabsentee.com/absentee" target="_blank" rel="noopener">online portal</a> where voters can apply for an absentee ballot (this may be advisable for anyone concerned the BOE may not mail them the application as mandated by the governor). Applications are also being accepted by email, fax and by phone by calling 1-866-VOTE-NYC (1-866-868-3692).</p> <p>Boards of Elections began accepting requests for absentee ballots on May 24. A request for an absentee ballot must be postmarked by June 16. Though, again, Boards are supposed to be mailing every eligible voter an application without them having to request one.</p> <p>The deadline for filing an absentee ballot application in person or postmarking an absentee ballot by mail is June 22. Voters can also designate another individual to file their absentee ballot. The deadline for choosing that individual is June 23. If a ballot is mailed, it must be received by June 30 for it to be counted. These deadlines and the unusually high volume of absentee voting expected could mean some races are not called for days or weeks after June 23.</p> <p>Friday, May 29 is the deadline for anyone not already registered to vote who wishes to participate in the June primaries <a href="https://vote.nyc/page/register-vote" target="_blank" rel="noopener">to register</a>, either in person or via mailed form, with postmark no later than that day and received by the BOE by June 3. The BOE will also process changes of address if they are received by June 3.</p> <p>The deadline for changing party affiliation, however, passed February 14.</p> <p>The fall elections, including the general election for president, are set for November 3, with an early voting period beginning toward the end of October.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/early-voting-rally.jpg" alt="early voting rally" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Register to vote by Friday May 29 (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s primary election is less than a month away on, June 23, preceded by <a href="https://vote.nyc/page/early-voting-information" target="_blank" rel="noopener">early voting</a> June 13-21, and with all eligible voters allowed to vote absentee due to the coronavirus pandemic. The deadline for new voters to register is this Friday, May 29 [<a href="https://vote.nyc/page/register-vote" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Find more info here</a>].</p> <p>There are state legislative, congressional, and presidential contests on the ballot along with a few local seats like Queens Borough President and a Brooklyn City Council race. Only party-affiliated voters can vote in the primaries, and almost all of the races in New York City are Democratic primaries. All Democrats across the state can vote in the party’s presidential primary, and there are many primaries for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, State Senate, and State Assembly. All Queens Democrats can vote in the borough president primary.</p> <p>Check your voter registration online <a href="https://vote.nyc/page/am-i-registered" target="_blank" rel="noopener">here</a>. Enter your address and party affiliation <a href="https://vote.nyc/page/understanding-ballot" target="_blank" rel="noopener">here to see your sample ballot</a>. You can read the full list of all primaries on the June ballot in New York City <a href="https://vote.nyc/sites/default/files/pdf/candidates/2020/PrimaryContestList_PDF_05_22_2020_CW_852AM.pdf">here</a>.</p> <p>The coronavirus pandemic caused significant upheaval for the state’s political calendar this year and several elections that were meant to take place in the preceding months have been delayed till the June party primary. (Some special elections – for state Assembly, Senate and Queens Borough President – were even cancelled through executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and primaries are being held to fill those seats, to be followed by the fall general election, in more typical fashion.)</p> <p>As many Democratic presidential candidates were dropping from the race and the coronavirus outbreak was taking hold of New York, state leaders inserted language in the April budget to allow the state Board of Elections to cancel the presidential primary if all candidates other than one had conceded. When that happened and Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee, the BOE voted to cancel the primary, but the decision was overturned by a federal judge after a suit by former candidate Andrew Yang, among others, and much protest from former candidate Bernie Sanders and his supporters. The Republican presidential primary was cancelled months ago since President Donald Trump is the party’s only candidate.</p> <p>Though in-person voting will still take place, with strict social distancing guidelines for polling sites, voters are being urged to instead vote through absentee ballots. (Short of that, taking advantage of early voting hours is encouraged. <a href="https://vote.nyc/page/early-voting-information" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Find the list of New York City’s early voting sites here</a>.)</p> <p>In April, the governor allowed all voters to apply for an absentee ballot, using the pandemic as a valid excuse for one; he later mandated that the Board of Elections send all eligible voters an absentee ballot application with paid postage. Votes must then request the ballot, receive that in the mail, fill it out, and send it back.</p> <p>The State BOE has applications available in English and Spanish. The New York City Board of Elections <a href="https://vote.nyc/page/absentee-voting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">provides</a> forms in Chinese, Korean, and Bengali as well.</p> <p>The New York City BOE, along with a few other counties, has an <a href="https://nycabsentee.com/absentee" target="_blank" rel="noopener">online portal</a> where voters can apply for an absentee ballot (this may be advisable for anyone concerned the BOE may not mail them the application as mandated by the governor). Applications are also being accepted by email, fax and by phone by calling 1-866-VOTE-NYC (1-866-868-3692).</p> <p>Boards of Elections began accepting requests for absentee ballots on May 24. A request for an absentee ballot must be postmarked by June 16. Though, again, Boards are supposed to be mailing every eligible voter an application without them having to request one.</p> <p>The deadline for filing an absentee ballot application in person or postmarking an absentee ballot by mail is June 22. Voters can also designate another individual to file their absentee ballot. The deadline for choosing that individual is June 23. If a ballot is mailed, it must be received by June 30 for it to be counted. These deadlines and the unusually high volume of absentee voting expected could mean some races are not called for days or weeks after June 23.</p> <p>Friday, May 29 is the deadline for anyone not already registered to vote who wishes to participate in the June primaries <a href="https://vote.nyc/page/register-vote" target="_blank" rel="noopener">to register</a>, either in person or via mailed form, with postmark no later than that day and received by the BOE by June 3. The BOE will also process changes of address if they are received by June 3.</p> <p>The deadline for changing party affiliation, however, passed February 14.</p> <p>The fall elections, including the general election for president, are set for November 3, with an early voting period beginning toward the end of October.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Adams, Kallos Introduce Bill to Mandate Nutrition Standards for Food Provided by the City 2020-05-27T04:00:00+00:00 2020-05-27T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9439-bill-to-mandate-nutrition-standards-new-york-city-food-meals-adams-kallos Katie Kirker kkirker@gg.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/pantry-si-project.jpg" alt="pantry si project" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Food being prepared during the coronavirus crisis (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and New York City Council Member Ben Kallos of Manhattan, both Democrats, announced new legislation last week that would mandate nutrition standards for the “grab &amp; go” and home delivered meals provided by the city, which have become essential sources of food for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers during the coronavirus crisis.</p> <p>As unemployment in the city has skyrocketed from 4% to past 14%, children are not attending schools where they often get free meals, and older New Yorkers are not going to senior centers where they get fed, the city has provided tens of millions of free meals over the course of the more than two-month near-shutdown of the city. But as the city has ramped up its food operation, there have been some issues and questions, including over the healthfulness of the meals.</p> <p>The announcement by Adams and Kallos, who have both taken an interest in food and wellness since well before the pandemic, comes “as several New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs have expressed concern about the quality and nutritional standards of the food distributed through the GetFoodNYC initiative, launched in response to the growing number of New Yorkers who have lost jobs or income due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” their announcement of the bill said.</p> <p>The bill would set nutritional standards for snacks and meals funded directly or indirectly by city government, as assigned by the city’s health department or another agency chosen by the mayor. Some exceptions would apply, such as when the meals are regulated by federal or state entities. The legislation would require the city to review menus and food distribution on occasion for compliance and to provide support so that regulated providers meet the nutritional standards, and the agency in charge would have to garner feedback at least once a year from food recipients.</p> <p>As the crisis took hold of the city, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio established the GetFoodNYC hub, where New Yorkers can access various resources and information, including access to SNAP (food stamps) benefits from the Human Resources Association (HRA), a map of hundreds of food pantries and meal pick-up sites in the city, and food delivery assistance. The “grab &amp; go” meal system now provides 500,000 meals per day to anyone who needs food, no questions asked, between 7:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 435 sites across the five boroughs.</p> <p>Halal meals are available at all sites, and Kosher meals are available at 18 sites. Food delivery is ramping up to reach 1 million meals per day by this week, de Blasio recently announced.</p> <p>“We have sick care in our city, our state and our country,” Adams said at a press conference, explaining the rationale behind the bill. “Wait until people get sick and we treat them instead of the underlying cause. The real irony is that our city, literally and figuratively, feeds the health-care crisis through the non-nutritional, sometimes unhealthy food programs. Our tax dollars are being used to make us sick, and that needs to be emphasized. Our tax dollars are used to make us sick.”</p> <p>During the press conference, doctors spoke about the value of nutrition and how it can be preventative and help New Yorkers have better health outcomes, which is increasingly important during a pandemic. Yami Cazola-Lancaster, a health-care professional who spoke during the press conference, suggested that certain plant-based foods, such as lentils or canned beans, are nutritious, would not be more expensive for the city to provide, and would help produce better health outcomes.</p> <p>“I think that the most important thing that government can do is to lead and protect its people,” said Cazola-Lancaster. “Now, it's a sensitive issue because right now we want to address hunger, we want to address true scarcity. However, we have evidence based information about the power of food, the power that food has to both prevent and potentially reverse disease. So this is really important all the time for our citizens, but it's especially important right now because we're dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and New York has been hit so hard. So right now as the government provides food to people who need food, it's in the best interest of everybody to provide more whole plant foods and it doesn't have to be more expensive than what we're already able to do.”</p> <p>On May 21 de Blasio was asked specifically about seniors, many of whom are getting home-delivered meals during the pandemic, and issues with the food that some have reported. The mayor said the food seniors are getting is held to a “high standard.”</p> <p>“While this is emergency food to ensure no New Yorker goes hungry, the city also ensures meals meet nutrition requirements. For the senior meals program, for example, meals have sodium limits and required servings of protein, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains,” de Blasio said. “Due to scale, some vendors are providing shelf-stable boxes, while others are providing fresh food or frozen food as well. If food quality does not meet the program’s standards, the city addresses it directly with the food providers, and has ended contracts with providers who were not living up to their commitment.”</p> <p>“It is important that we utilize everything in our power to ensure we do not feed the health-care crisis,” Adams said. “The legislation that Councilman Kallos is introducing today, would use smart, innovative ways of looking at the foods that we eat everyday. New York is on our dime to make sure that food is healthy and nutritious, to not to react to chronic disease but to start the process of giving people a healthy diet so that they can live a healthy lifestyle.”</p> <p>“But what happens for those who don't have a choice, those relying on our ‘grab &amp; go’ meals or home delivered meals from our city and when they don't even have a choice,” Kallos said. “Candy and potato chips and Bugles and things like that. That is a sometimes treat. That is not something that is part of a core diet and we need to make sure that for those who don't have a choice in the matter or literally relying on the city for their food, that we are providing them with healthy options so that if they eat that diet, they will not only be healthy but lose weight.”</p> <p>Even before the pandemic and its fallout, the city was home to more than 1 million food insecure individuals, while hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have lost their jobs since mid-March, drastically increasing the need for emergency food. New York City is home to over 1.1 million seniors, according to a 2017 report by the City Comptroller, many more of whom are homebound due to social distancing restrictions and senior center closures, increasing the need for meal delivery and other food programs. As more New Yorkers rely on meals provided by the city, nutrition becomes more important.</p> <p>“We are dealing with low-income communities that are already facing this epidemic where we are seeing higher numbers,” Kallos said. “We're seeing an increase of diabetes amongst our black and brown population, particularly New Yorkers who are black are seeing more diabetes than most other populations. And when we're literally handing them candy, that's not something that's going to help. Additionally, I'm a person of the Jewish faith and we're seeing seniors, Holocaust survivors, who are trying to get access to healthy food and they're being provided non-Kosher meals that they literally have to choose between their religion, where they were able to keep Kosher during World War II and the Holocaust, and trying to survive this pandemic. And that's just not a choice anyone should have to make.”</p> <p>Adams said he was set to meet with de Blasio’s emergency food team on Friday to discuss nutrition, which is largely absent from the Feeding New York plan that the city released. There are no specifics about nutrition in the plan beyond saying the city will “provid[e] meals that not only are nutritious, but are also culturally and ethnically appropriate.” Kallos said that nutrition is on the radar of de Blasio’s “food czar,” Kathryn Garcia, but said he and Adams are pushing the new legislation because no action has been taken so far to remedy the problem.</p> <p>

***
by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/pantry-si-project.jpg" alt="pantry si project" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Food being prepared during the coronavirus crisis (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and New York City Council Member Ben Kallos of Manhattan, both Democrats, announced new legislation last week that would mandate nutrition standards for the “grab &amp; go” and home delivered meals provided by the city, which have become essential sources of food for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers during the coronavirus crisis.</p> <p>As unemployment in the city has skyrocketed from 4% to past 14%, children are not attending schools where they often get free meals, and older New Yorkers are not going to senior centers where they get fed, the city has provided tens of millions of free meals over the course of the more than two-month near-shutdown of the city. But as the city has ramped up its food operation, there have been some issues and questions, including over the healthfulness of the meals.</p> <p>The announcement by Adams and Kallos, who have both taken an interest in food and wellness since well before the pandemic, comes “as several New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs have expressed concern about the quality and nutritional standards of the food distributed through the GetFoodNYC initiative, launched in response to the growing number of New Yorkers who have lost jobs or income due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” their announcement of the bill said.</p> <p>The bill would set nutritional standards for snacks and meals funded directly or indirectly by city government, as assigned by the city’s health department or another agency chosen by the mayor. Some exceptions would apply, such as when the meals are regulated by federal or state entities. The legislation would require the city to review menus and food distribution on occasion for compliance and to provide support so that regulated providers meet the nutritional standards, and the agency in charge would have to garner feedback at least once a year from food recipients.</p> <p>As the crisis took hold of the city, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio established the GetFoodNYC hub, where New Yorkers can access various resources and information, including access to SNAP (food stamps) benefits from the Human Resources Association (HRA), a map of hundreds of food pantries and meal pick-up sites in the city, and food delivery assistance. The “grab &amp; go” meal system now provides 500,000 meals per day to anyone who needs food, no questions asked, between 7:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 435 sites across the five boroughs.</p> <p>Halal meals are available at all sites, and Kosher meals are available at 18 sites. Food delivery is ramping up to reach 1 million meals per day by this week, de Blasio recently announced.</p> <p>“We have sick care in our city, our state and our country,” Adams said at a press conference, explaining the rationale behind the bill. “Wait until people get sick and we treat them instead of the underlying cause. The real irony is that our city, literally and figuratively, feeds the health-care crisis through the non-nutritional, sometimes unhealthy food programs. Our tax dollars are being used to make us sick, and that needs to be emphasized. Our tax dollars are used to make us sick.”</p> <p>During the press conference, doctors spoke about the value of nutrition and how it can be preventative and help New Yorkers have better health outcomes, which is increasingly important during a pandemic. Yami Cazola-Lancaster, a health-care professional who spoke during the press conference, suggested that certain plant-based foods, such as lentils or canned beans, are nutritious, would not be more expensive for the city to provide, and would help produce better health outcomes.</p> <p>“I think that the most important thing that government can do is to lead and protect its people,” said Cazola-Lancaster. “Now, it's a sensitive issue because right now we want to address hunger, we want to address true scarcity. However, we have evidence based information about the power of food, the power that food has to both prevent and potentially reverse disease. So this is really important all the time for our citizens, but it's especially important right now because we're dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and New York has been hit so hard. So right now as the government provides food to people who need food, it's in the best interest of everybody to provide more whole plant foods and it doesn't have to be more expensive than what we're already able to do.”</p> <p>On May 21 de Blasio was asked specifically about seniors, many of whom are getting home-delivered meals during the pandemic, and issues with the food that some have reported. The mayor said the food seniors are getting is held to a “high standard.”</p> <p>“While this is emergency food to ensure no New Yorker goes hungry, the city also ensures meals meet nutrition requirements. For the senior meals program, for example, meals have sodium limits and required servings of protein, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains,” de Blasio said. “Due to scale, some vendors are providing shelf-stable boxes, while others are providing fresh food or frozen food as well. If food quality does not meet the program’s standards, the city addresses it directly with the food providers, and has ended contracts with providers who were not living up to their commitment.”</p> <p>“It is important that we utilize everything in our power to ensure we do not feed the health-care crisis,” Adams said. “The legislation that Councilman Kallos is introducing today, would use smart, innovative ways of looking at the foods that we eat everyday. New York is on our dime to make sure that food is healthy and nutritious, to not to react to chronic disease but to start the process of giving people a healthy diet so that they can live a healthy lifestyle.”</p> <p>“But what happens for those who don't have a choice, those relying on our ‘grab &amp; go’ meals or home delivered meals from our city and when they don't even have a choice,” Kallos said. “Candy and potato chips and Bugles and things like that. That is a sometimes treat. That is not something that is part of a core diet and we need to make sure that for those who don't have a choice in the matter or literally relying on the city for their food, that we are providing them with healthy options so that if they eat that diet, they will not only be healthy but lose weight.”</p> <p>Even before the pandemic and its fallout, the city was home to more than 1 million food insecure individuals, while hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have lost their jobs since mid-March, drastically increasing the need for emergency food. New York City is home to over 1.1 million seniors, according to a 2017 report by the City Comptroller, many more of whom are homebound due to social distancing restrictions and senior center closures, increasing the need for meal delivery and other food programs. As more New Yorkers rely on meals provided by the city, nutrition becomes more important.</p> <p>“We are dealing with low-income communities that are already facing this epidemic where we are seeing higher numbers,” Kallos said. “We're seeing an increase of diabetes amongst our black and brown population, particularly New Yorkers who are black are seeing more diabetes than most other populations. And when we're literally handing them candy, that's not something that's going to help. Additionally, I'm a person of the Jewish faith and we're seeing seniors, Holocaust survivors, who are trying to get access to healthy food and they're being provided non-Kosher meals that they literally have to choose between their religion, where they were able to keep Kosher during World War II and the Holocaust, and trying to survive this pandemic. And that's just not a choice anyone should have to make.”</p> <p>Adams said he was set to meet with de Blasio’s emergency food team on Friday to discuss nutrition, which is largely absent from the Feeding New York plan that the city released. There are no specifics about nutrition in the plan beyond saying the city will “provid[e] meals that not only are nutritious, but are also culturally and ethnically appropriate.” Kallos said that nutrition is on the radar of de Blasio’s “food czar,” Kathryn Garcia, but said he and Adams are pushing the new legislation because no action has been taken so far to remedy the problem.</p> <p>

***
by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Muddled, Shifting Messages from De Blasio on Essential Metrics as City Nears 'Reopening' 2020-05-25T04:00:00+00:00 2020-05-25T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9429-de-blasio-muddled-shifting-messages-metrics-city-reopening-cuomo-coronavirus Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/49871088257_d8503f487a_c.jpg" alt="de Blasio coronavirus briefing" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio during a recent coronavirus briefing (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been a battle on shifting sands. As information about the disease and officials’ recognition of its threat evolved over time, so did the government approach, from initially continuing business as usual well after the first cases in the city were confirmed to a statewide shutdown of sorts and strict social distancing guidelines that have now been in place in New York City for over two months.</p> <p>But adding to the uncertainty that has gripped the city during this crisis has been a lack of clear messaging from Mayor Bill de Blasio about how the city is doing on key coronavirus-related public health and recovery metrics set by the mayor himself, as well as those set by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who holds ultimate say over the city’s “reopening.”</p> <p>On April 9, de Blasio announced three key infection and hospitalization “indicators” the city would be tracking to evaluate its progress on the downside of the COVID-19 curve, with goals he said the city would have to meet in order to begin reopening the economy and get people back to their daily lives.</p> <p>“Now, what do we need to start to discuss moving to the next phase, that better phase and to start to discuss any change, any relaxing of restrictions?,” de Blasio said at the time. “We need to see all three of those indicators move in unison in the same direction. We cannot see two of them get better and one of them get worse. That doesn't work. All three have to move together down; all three have to move in a better direction together. They have to do that for at least 10 days to two weeks -- sustained, consistent. If one day gets good and the next day goes bad, that doesn't count. We need to see a clean, clear pattern that sustains itself for several weeks to then say it's time to even discuss some of the positive changes we'd all like to experience.”</p> <p>To begin to even attempt to resume some normalcy, de Blasio said, there would have to be 10-14 days of consecutive reductions in hospital admissions for suspected COVID-19, number of people with coronavirus in the ICU in the municipal hospital system, and the percentage of people testing positive for the virus.&nbsp;</p> <p>But those metrics did not account for the possibility of slight day-to-day upticks amid overall positive trendlines, and other than on Fridays the mayor was not showing any larger picture at his daily public briefings, where he focused only on the day-to-day change. De Blasio presented updates on whether the daily numbers on coronavirus hospitalizations, public hospital coronavirus ICU patients, and positive COVID-19 tests were up or down from the day before, talking about progress or regress and showing red or green arrows for each of the three metrics based on that day-to-day change, not presenting New Yorkers with the fuller picture.</p> <p>Meanwhile, his health department posted its own version of the mayor’s metrics on its website, with thresholds shown relative to the three “milestones,” as the department calls them but the mayor doesn’t, and graphs with easy-to-understand labels like “We want to be below this line” and notes about “consecutive days” below such thresholds but not of consecutive day-to-day decline.</p> <p>Adding to the confusion, de Blasio was using hospitalizations across all of the city’s roughly 66 hospitals, but ICU patients only in the city’s 11 public hospitals. And on the percentage of tests coming back positive, his indicators did not account for the fact that for some time the city was encouraging tests for only highly-symptomatic individuals or those who had been exposed to known coronavirus-positive people, then significantly widened the pool as testing capacity ramped up.</p> <p>Well before Friday, when the mayor announced a shift in how he’d be presenting the metrics that will align him much more with his health department’s website, the city had been showing strong progress on two of the three metrics relative to the thresholds shown by the health department under its “milestones” tab on its widely-used coronavirus data page.</p> <p>But even as he centered his daily briefings around his three indicators, only to shift them as the city got closer to beginning to “reopen,” de Blasio’s tallies matter less to the city’s future than seven metrics Governor Cuomo released in early May, which de Blasio has only discussed when asked by reporters.</p> <p>Cuomo’s March 20 “New York on PAUSE” executive order was what placed New Yorkers under a semblance of stay-at-home restrictions and shut down or significantly limited many “non-essential” businesses, starting March 22. On May 4, Cuomo announced the state’s <a href="https://forward.ny.gov/regional-monitoring-dashboard">seven metrics</a> that regions would have to meet to begin reopening, a process set to occur in four phases. Seven of 10 regions have already hit the metrics to enter phase one, with two more expected early this coming week, leaving only New York City remaining. The metrics to enter phase one include:</p> <p>-Consistent decrease in the three-day rolling average of hospitalizations over 14 days, or keep the daily increase in hospitalizations under 15 over a three-day average.</p> <p>-Consistent decline in daily deaths over 14 days, or keep the daily increase under five deaths over a three-day average.</p> <p>-Fewer than 2 new hospitalizations per 100,000 residents over a three-day rolling average.</p> <p>-A minimum of 30% availability of hospital beds.</p> <p>-A minimum of 30% availability of ICU beds.</p> <p>-A daily testing capacity of 30 tests per 1,000 residents per month.</p> <p>-Hiring a minimum 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents.</p> <p>The first phase of reopening, as determined by the state, will allow manufacturing, construction, and wholesale and curbside-pickup retail to resume operation.</p> <p>So far at his daily briefings, the mayor has not addressed each of the state’s metrics individually, even as the city approaches meeting them all. The city has met four metrics – on hospitalizations, deaths, and testing – and is close to meeting the rest. As of Friday, the city hospital bed availability was at 27% and ICU bed availability was at 28%, and it was on track to soon hire the requisite number of contact tracers, who will help execute the testing, tracing, and isolation program deemed necessary to reopening.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/nys_regions_metrics_reopening_may_22.png" alt="nys regions metrics reopening may 22" width="450" height="278" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>The mayor has expressed familiarity with the state’s metrics when asked about them by reporters, and indicated on Friday that he agrees with them and the reopening stages they allow regions to begin. “I think the state standards make a lot of sense,” de Blasio said. “They're careful. They go through stages. You have to prove each stage before you move to the next one.”</p> <p>On Friday, the mayor announced the city’s shift to “thresholds” for its first phase of reopening, which he said is expected to happen by mid-June. The thresholds are a different way of looking at the mayor’s three indicators, he explained, saying that given the city’s progress it was time to take the longer view.</p> <p>De Blasio said the daily hospital admissions for suspected COVID-19 will have to remain below 200; the daily number of people in municipal ICUs (now counting non-COVID-19 patients as well) will have to be under 375; and the city will have to stay under 15% of people testing positive for coronavirus each day.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We want to move forward,” de Blasio said. “We want to get to that first phase of restart....What is clear is, for the first time I've seen these indicators stay consistently low and so it's time to talk about the indicators differently as we prepare for phase one,” the mayor said, apparently unaware that his health department had been showing such progress and thresholds for days. “The day-to-day changes, the small up-and-downs matter less. What matters more now is staying at a low level and keeping that way. And so, we're going to be about thresholds now. So, our indicators that we talked about before were trend lines, now we're going to talk about thresholds and that's going to be the focus going forward.”</p> <p>On Friday, de Blasio showed that on Wednesday, May 20, there were 76 new hospital admissions of coronavirus patients, 451 patients in ICU, and 11% of positive COVID-19 tests. On Sunday, de Blasio did not hold a briefing but <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCMayor/status/1264570546173476864">tweeted</a> the latest data on his three metrics, attaching graphs and saying, “Hospital admissions and positive tests for COVID-19 are looking good — and the number of patients in @NYCHealthSystem ICUs continues to drop.” Data for Friday, May 22, showed just 53 new hospital admissions, 415 ICU patients, and a 7% positive test rate.</p> <p>He continued, “The strategies are working. Social distancing is working. What you’re doing is working, New York City. Keep it up.”</p> <p>Even between his Friday presentation and his Sunday tweet, de Blasio’s graphs had different labeling: whereas on Friday the three threshold graphs were labeled “indicator threshold,” on Sunday the graphs had the health department language of “we want to be below this line.”</p> <table border="0" style="width: 550px; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" cellspacing="5" cellpadding="5"> <tbody> <tr> <td><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-9705.jpg" target="_blank" type="image/jpeg" class="jcepopup" data-mediabox="1"><strong><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-9705.jpg" alt="522 CV graph 1" width="175" height="99" /></strong></a></td> <td><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-9706.jpg" target="_blank" type="image/jpeg" class="jcepopup" data-mediabox="1"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-9706.jpg" alt="522 CV graph 1" width="175" /></a></td> <td><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-9707.jpg" target="_blank" type="image/jpeg" class="jcepopup" data-mediabox="1"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-9707.jpg" alt="522 CV graph 3" width="175" /></a></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Click to enlarge</span></p> <p>Asked to further explain his decision to focus on new metrics, de Blasio told reporters on Friday, “The trend lines were a great measure, because they said to us, we couldn't just, you know, make a little bit of progress. We have to make a lot of progress. We have to keep moving in the right direction...But we then realized in recent days that with two of the three indicators, we are below the threshold we would need to be at on a long-term basis…So, it got to the point of saying, hey, we need to look at our definition and see if it makes sense at this moment. We're going to always, always vary our approach according to new information and new realities. We're all learning together about this. So, it's this simple. The thresholds now make sense. This is a standard.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s realization had already been apparent to his health department and anyone using its data web-page.</p> <p>With de Blasio's new "thresholds" and as of the latest city and state numbers, the gaps for the city to hit both de Blasio's and Cuomo's metrics to begin "reopening" boiled down to:&nbsp;40 fewer people in city's public hospital system ICUs (city metric); 4% more ICU beds available (state metric); 2% more of total hospital beds available (state metric); and hiring requisite contact-tracers (state metric the city is "expected" to meet soon).&nbsp;</p> <p>But in the bigger picture part of any confusion around metrics and a possible reopening of New York City also stems from different messages being put out by the mayor and the governor, including where de Blasio has focused on his three indicators while Cuomo has presented his seven metrics.</p> <p>At times during the crisis, the two Democrats seem to have continued their long-running feud, with the governor repeatedly making moves that appear to undermine or show up the mayor, and the mayor taking apparent steps to get ahead of the governor or establish his own authority.</p> <p>When de Blasio said a stay-at-home order may need to be issued and told New Yorkers to prepare for it, Cuomo repeatedly shot down the idea just days before putting an order in place to effectively achieve the policy the mayor had said should be considered. After the mayor said schools will need to stay closed for the rest of the school year, Cuomo insisted that the mayor did not have the authority to make such a declaration, before declaring it himself a few days later. The two held separate events on the same morning to welcome the USS Comfort hospital ship to Manhattan’s west side.</p> <p>Even now, the state and city have not come to an agreement on counting the <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2020/05/13/cuomo-de-blasio-cant-agree-on-how-many-new-yorkers-have-died-from-coronavirus-1283901">number of deaths</a> from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. As of May 22, the city <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data.page">reported</a> 16,333 confirmed deaths and 4,753 probable deaths, for a total of 21,086 deaths. The state, on the other hand, <a href="https://covid19tracker.health.ny.gov/views/NYS-COVID19-Tracker/NYSDOHCOVID-19Tracker-Fatalities?%3Aembed=yes&amp;%3Atoolbar=no&amp;%3Atabs=n">reported</a> a total of 15,520 confirmed deaths in New York City as of May 22.</p> <p>Yet Cuomo and de Blasio have both insisted that there is little to no daylight between the state and city. De Blasio said on Thursday, “The big story here now over three months is that the city and state have been very, very much on the same page. There's been a couple of times where there's been different perspectives. We've worked them through. But overwhelmingly...not only did everyone communicate all the time, but there's overwhelmingly a sense of common purpose, common strategic understanding.”</p> <p>On May 15, de Blasio even indicated the city and state may work together to further shift the requirements for the city to begin reopening, saying, “Anything we do would be in close coordination with the state. And look, if conditions suddenly became more favorable, we'd have that conversation with the state and obviously we and they could make adjustments. But, right now, I think we're all aligned that the first half of June is the earliest opportunity for even some lessening of restrictions and we'll work together on that.”</p> <p>At his own daily briefing on Friday, when asked about the different communications from the mayor on reopening, particularly on schools, Cuomo said, “I don't think we're on a different page at all on schools and reopening. My position is I don't have a position. I don't know whether or not they should reopen yet. We're getting more information. We're getting more data. And we'll make the decision on the fall reopening in a timely way. We're telling them, go ahead, do your plans. Tell me how you would take a classroom, reduce the density. Tell me how you would reduce density on a school bus. Tell me how you would reduce density in the cafeteria setting, etc. Give us those plans by July and then we have to make a decision about September. But I don't think there's a difference of opinion or position between the state in the city.”</p> <p>Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa added that there’s been close coordination with the mayor on key decisions, including on allowing small religious gatherings and on reopening beaches over the Memorial Day weekend with strict social distancing restrictions -- though while state beaches are open to swimming, city beaches are not.</p> <p>“We speak to the city 17 times a day,” DeRosa said. “We've been in lockstep on everything. The indicators that they laid out initially line up almost identically with our indicators. And, you know, we did the religious ceremonies decision, which is something that they agreed with. On beaches, we wanted to take into account the local situations and that was something that I know Mayor de Blasio supported. And so we've been operating in lockstep with the city.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/49871088257_d8503f487a_c.jpg" alt="de Blasio coronavirus briefing" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio during a recent coronavirus briefing (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been a battle on shifting sands. As information about the disease and officials’ recognition of its threat evolved over time, so did the government approach, from initially continuing business as usual well after the first cases in the city were confirmed to a statewide shutdown of sorts and strict social distancing guidelines that have now been in place in New York City for over two months.</p> <p>But adding to the uncertainty that has gripped the city during this crisis has been a lack of clear messaging from Mayor Bill de Blasio about how the city is doing on key coronavirus-related public health and recovery metrics set by the mayor himself, as well as those set by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who holds ultimate say over the city’s “reopening.”</p> <p>On April 9, de Blasio announced three key infection and hospitalization “indicators” the city would be tracking to evaluate its progress on the downside of the COVID-19 curve, with goals he said the city would have to meet in order to begin reopening the economy and get people back to their daily lives.</p> <p>“Now, what do we need to start to discuss moving to the next phase, that better phase and to start to discuss any change, any relaxing of restrictions?,” de Blasio said at the time. “We need to see all three of those indicators move in unison in the same direction. We cannot see two of them get better and one of them get worse. That doesn't work. All three have to move together down; all three have to move in a better direction together. They have to do that for at least 10 days to two weeks -- sustained, consistent. If one day gets good and the next day goes bad, that doesn't count. We need to see a clean, clear pattern that sustains itself for several weeks to then say it's time to even discuss some of the positive changes we'd all like to experience.”</p> <p>To begin to even attempt to resume some normalcy, de Blasio said, there would have to be 10-14 days of consecutive reductions in hospital admissions for suspected COVID-19, number of people with coronavirus in the ICU in the municipal hospital system, and the percentage of people testing positive for the virus.&nbsp;</p> <p>But those metrics did not account for the possibility of slight day-to-day upticks amid overall positive trendlines, and other than on Fridays the mayor was not showing any larger picture at his daily public briefings, where he focused only on the day-to-day change. De Blasio presented updates on whether the daily numbers on coronavirus hospitalizations, public hospital coronavirus ICU patients, and positive COVID-19 tests were up or down from the day before, talking about progress or regress and showing red or green arrows for each of the three metrics based on that day-to-day change, not presenting New Yorkers with the fuller picture.</p> <p>Meanwhile, his health department posted its own version of the mayor’s metrics on its website, with thresholds shown relative to the three “milestones,” as the department calls them but the mayor doesn’t, and graphs with easy-to-understand labels like “We want to be below this line” and notes about “consecutive days” below such thresholds but not of consecutive day-to-day decline.</p> <p>Adding to the confusion, de Blasio was using hospitalizations across all of the city’s roughly 66 hospitals, but ICU patients only in the city’s 11 public hospitals. And on the percentage of tests coming back positive, his indicators did not account for the fact that for some time the city was encouraging tests for only highly-symptomatic individuals or those who had been exposed to known coronavirus-positive people, then significantly widened the pool as testing capacity ramped up.</p> <p>Well before Friday, when the mayor announced a shift in how he’d be presenting the metrics that will align him much more with his health department’s website, the city had been showing strong progress on two of the three metrics relative to the thresholds shown by the health department under its “milestones” tab on its widely-used coronavirus data page.</p> <p>But even as he centered his daily briefings around his three indicators, only to shift them as the city got closer to beginning to “reopen,” de Blasio’s tallies matter less to the city’s future than seven metrics Governor Cuomo released in early May, which de Blasio has only discussed when asked by reporters.</p> <p>Cuomo’s March 20 “New York on PAUSE” executive order was what placed New Yorkers under a semblance of stay-at-home restrictions and shut down or significantly limited many “non-essential” businesses, starting March 22. On May 4, Cuomo announced the state’s <a href="https://forward.ny.gov/regional-monitoring-dashboard">seven metrics</a> that regions would have to meet to begin reopening, a process set to occur in four phases. Seven of 10 regions have already hit the metrics to enter phase one, with two more expected early this coming week, leaving only New York City remaining. The metrics to enter phase one include:</p> <p>-Consistent decrease in the three-day rolling average of hospitalizations over 14 days, or keep the daily increase in hospitalizations under 15 over a three-day average.</p> <p>-Consistent decline in daily deaths over 14 days, or keep the daily increase under five deaths over a three-day average.</p> <p>-Fewer than 2 new hospitalizations per 100,000 residents over a three-day rolling average.</p> <p>-A minimum of 30% availability of hospital beds.</p> <p>-A minimum of 30% availability of ICU beds.</p> <p>-A daily testing capacity of 30 tests per 1,000 residents per month.</p> <p>-Hiring a minimum 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents.</p> <p>The first phase of reopening, as determined by the state, will allow manufacturing, construction, and wholesale and curbside-pickup retail to resume operation.</p> <p>So far at his daily briefings, the mayor has not addressed each of the state’s metrics individually, even as the city approaches meeting them all. The city has met four metrics – on hospitalizations, deaths, and testing – and is close to meeting the rest. As of Friday, the city hospital bed availability was at 27% and ICU bed availability was at 28%, and it was on track to soon hire the requisite number of contact tracers, who will help execute the testing, tracing, and isolation program deemed necessary to reopening.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/nys_regions_metrics_reopening_may_22.png" alt="nys regions metrics reopening may 22" width="450" height="278" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>The mayor has expressed familiarity with the state’s metrics when asked about them by reporters, and indicated on Friday that he agrees with them and the reopening stages they allow regions to begin. “I think the state standards make a lot of sense,” de Blasio said. “They're careful. They go through stages. You have to prove each stage before you move to the next one.”</p> <p>On Friday, the mayor announced the city’s shift to “thresholds” for its first phase of reopening, which he said is expected to happen by mid-June. The thresholds are a different way of looking at the mayor’s three indicators, he explained, saying that given the city’s progress it was time to take the longer view.</p> <p>De Blasio said the daily hospital admissions for suspected COVID-19 will have to remain below 200; the daily number of people in municipal ICUs (now counting non-COVID-19 patients as well) will have to be under 375; and the city will have to stay under 15% of people testing positive for coronavirus each day.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We want to move forward,” de Blasio said. “We want to get to that first phase of restart....What is clear is, for the first time I've seen these indicators stay consistently low and so it's time to talk about the indicators differently as we prepare for phase one,” the mayor said, apparently unaware that his health department had been showing such progress and thresholds for days. “The day-to-day changes, the small up-and-downs matter less. What matters more now is staying at a low level and keeping that way. And so, we're going to be about thresholds now. So, our indicators that we talked about before were trend lines, now we're going to talk about thresholds and that's going to be the focus going forward.”</p> <p>On Friday, de Blasio showed that on Wednesday, May 20, there were 76 new hospital admissions of coronavirus patients, 451 patients in ICU, and 11% of positive COVID-19 tests. On Sunday, de Blasio did not hold a briefing but <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCMayor/status/1264570546173476864">tweeted</a> the latest data on his three metrics, attaching graphs and saying, “Hospital admissions and positive tests for COVID-19 are looking good — and the number of patients in @NYCHealthSystem ICUs continues to drop.” Data for Friday, May 22, showed just 53 new hospital admissions, 415 ICU patients, and a 7% positive test rate.</p> <p>He continued, “The strategies are working. Social distancing is working. What you’re doing is working, New York City. Keep it up.”</p> <p>Even between his Friday presentation and his Sunday tweet, de Blasio’s graphs had different labeling: whereas on Friday the three threshold graphs were labeled “indicator threshold,” on Sunday the graphs had the health department language of “we want to be below this line.”</p> <table border="0" style="width: 550px; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" cellspacing="5" cellpadding="5"> <tbody> <tr> <td><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-9705.jpg" target="_blank" type="image/jpeg" class="jcepopup" data-mediabox="1"><strong><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-9705.jpg" alt="522 CV graph 1" width="175" height="99" /></strong></a></td> <td><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-9706.jpg" target="_blank" type="image/jpeg" class="jcepopup" data-mediabox="1"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-9706.jpg" alt="522 CV graph 1" width="175" /></a></td> <td><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-9707.jpg" target="_blank" type="image/jpeg" class="jcepopup" data-mediabox="1"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-9707.jpg" alt="522 CV graph 3" width="175" /></a></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Click to enlarge</span></p> <p>Asked to further explain his decision to focus on new metrics, de Blasio told reporters on Friday, “The trend lines were a great measure, because they said to us, we couldn't just, you know, make a little bit of progress. We have to make a lot of progress. We have to keep moving in the right direction...But we then realized in recent days that with two of the three indicators, we are below the threshold we would need to be at on a long-term basis…So, it got to the point of saying, hey, we need to look at our definition and see if it makes sense at this moment. We're going to always, always vary our approach according to new information and new realities. We're all learning together about this. So, it's this simple. The thresholds now make sense. This is a standard.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s realization had already been apparent to his health department and anyone using its data web-page.</p> <p>With de Blasio's new "thresholds" and as of the latest city and state numbers, the gaps for the city to hit both de Blasio's and Cuomo's metrics to begin "reopening" boiled down to:&nbsp;40 fewer people in city's public hospital system ICUs (city metric); 4% more ICU beds available (state metric); 2% more of total hospital beds available (state metric); and hiring requisite contact-tracers (state metric the city is "expected" to meet soon).&nbsp;</p> <p>But in the bigger picture part of any confusion around metrics and a possible reopening of New York City also stems from different messages being put out by the mayor and the governor, including where de Blasio has focused on his three indicators while Cuomo has presented his seven metrics.</p> <p>At times during the crisis, the two Democrats seem to have continued their long-running feud, with the governor repeatedly making moves that appear to undermine or show up the mayor, and the mayor taking apparent steps to get ahead of the governor or establish his own authority.</p> <p>When de Blasio said a stay-at-home order may need to be issued and told New Yorkers to prepare for it, Cuomo repeatedly shot down the idea just days before putting an order in place to effectively achieve the policy the mayor had said should be considered. After the mayor said schools will need to stay closed for the rest of the school year, Cuomo insisted that the mayor did not have the authority to make such a declaration, before declaring it himself a few days later. The two held separate events on the same morning to welcome the USS Comfort hospital ship to Manhattan’s west side.</p> <p>Even now, the state and city have not come to an agreement on counting the <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2020/05/13/cuomo-de-blasio-cant-agree-on-how-many-new-yorkers-have-died-from-coronavirus-1283901">number of deaths</a> from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. As of May 22, the city <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data.page">reported</a> 16,333 confirmed deaths and 4,753 probable deaths, for a total of 21,086 deaths. The state, on the other hand, <a href="https://covid19tracker.health.ny.gov/views/NYS-COVID19-Tracker/NYSDOHCOVID-19Tracker-Fatalities?%3Aembed=yes&amp;%3Atoolbar=no&amp;%3Atabs=n">reported</a> a total of 15,520 confirmed deaths in New York City as of May 22.</p> <p>Yet Cuomo and de Blasio have both insisted that there is little to no daylight between the state and city. De Blasio said on Thursday, “The big story here now over three months is that the city and state have been very, very much on the same page. There's been a couple of times where there's been different perspectives. We've worked them through. But overwhelmingly...not only did everyone communicate all the time, but there's overwhelmingly a sense of common purpose, common strategic understanding.”</p> <p>On May 15, de Blasio even indicated the city and state may work together to further shift the requirements for the city to begin reopening, saying, “Anything we do would be in close coordination with the state. And look, if conditions suddenly became more favorable, we'd have that conversation with the state and obviously we and they could make adjustments. But, right now, I think we're all aligned that the first half of June is the earliest opportunity for even some lessening of restrictions and we'll work together on that.”</p> <p>At his own daily briefing on Friday, when asked about the different communications from the mayor on reopening, particularly on schools, Cuomo said, “I don't think we're on a different page at all on schools and reopening. My position is I don't have a position. I don't know whether or not they should reopen yet. We're getting more information. We're getting more data. And we'll make the decision on the fall reopening in a timely way. We're telling them, go ahead, do your plans. Tell me how you would take a classroom, reduce the density. Tell me how you would reduce density on a school bus. Tell me how you would reduce density in the cafeteria setting, etc. Give us those plans by July and then we have to make a decision about September. But I don't think there's a difference of opinion or position between the state in the city.”</p> <p>Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa added that there’s been close coordination with the mayor on key decisions, including on allowing small religious gatherings and on reopening beaches over the Memorial Day weekend with strict social distancing restrictions -- though while state beaches are open to swimming, city beaches are not.</p> <p>“We speak to the city 17 times a day,” DeRosa said. “We've been in lockstep on everything. The indicators that they laid out initially line up almost identically with our indicators. And, you know, we did the religious ceremonies decision, which is something that they agreed with. On beaches, we wanted to take into account the local situations and that was something that I know Mayor de Blasio supported. And so we've been operating in lockstep with the city.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p>
Pandemic Reinforces De Blasio's Inaction on School Desegregation Recommendations 2020-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 2020-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9409-pandemic-reinforces-de-blasio-inaction-school-desegregation-recommendations Ethan Geringer-Sameth ethangs@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/deblasio-chance-carmen.jpg" alt="deblasio chance carmen" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio during a school visit (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As the coronavirus pandemic further exposes deep fissures in the city's education landscape for low-income students and students of color, it has also further stalled Mayor Bill de Blasio's already-halting efforts to integrate New York City's deeply segregated schools.</p> <p>In the nine months since a de Blasio-appointed advisory group released its final recommendations on ways to desegregate and in other ways improve city schools, virtually nothing has been said on the subject out of City Hall or the Department of Education beyond a commitment to review them. The mayor said in early September that he would take “the whole school year for deep stakeholder engagement” on the recommendations, but took no public steps in the subsequent six months. Then the pandemic came to New York. The mayor's office is now acknowledging any review effort continues to be on hold as the government's focus and resources are diverted by the pandemic.</p> <p>The school year and the first chapter of pandemic-induced remote learning is nearing an end, with major admissions policy decisions imminent. Whatever changes de Blasio may advance, he has left many advocates for school desegregation, including even members of his own advisory group, confused and frustrated by the lack of action before the outbreak hit.</p> <p>"We have not heard back from the Department of Education about whether or not they are going to move forward on any of our recommendations," said Maya Wiley, co-chair of SDAG and former counsel to de Blasio in the mayor’s office, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. "Our position as a group was that we obviously wanted to hear back and hoped for some response on some of the recommendations. We didn't necessarily believe they all would require a full year."</p> <p>"Yes, it would be better if we had made more progress on the SDAG recs before the pandemic," said City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who has pushed for integration-focused admissions reforms in schools within his district and across the city. "That said, the crisis presents a challenge, which we need to rise to and which creates an opportunity to be more thoughtful about school admissions."</p> <p>With learning, assessment methods, and application processes all disrupted, de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have indicated the city will soon offer changes to school admissions processes, raising hopes and fears of the potential opportunity to expedite reform, though it is unclear how ambitious they may be.</p> <p>"Many things are going to be reevaluated as a result of this crisis,” the mayor said at a press briefing on May 7 when asked about possible changes to school admissions processes, which must move ahead in some form soon. “The whole concept I've been putting forward, that we are not just going to bring New York City back with the status quo that was there before, but we're going to try and make a series of changes that favor equity and fairness. We were already in the process of doing that when it came to school admissions. So, certainly, the screened schools are being reevaluated and we’ll have more to say on that in the future.”</p> <p>De Blasio did not mention the recommendations put forth in August of last year by his School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG), a controversial and sweeping set of proposals that he has largely avoided since their release.</p> <p>"When this pandemic started, we shifted our focus to the success of remote learning and the wellbeing of students and staff,” wrote mayoral spokesperson Jane Meyer by email, in response to questions about the status of the administration's review of the School Diversity Advisory Group’s recommendations. “Our priority right now is the health of New Yorkers and academic success of our students in these extraordinary times, and we’ll continue to adjust policies to meet those goals for the duration of this crisis."</p> <p>When the group published its final report in August, de Blasio said he would assess the recommendations over the next year. “Now we’re going to really dig deep into what makes sense and by the end of the school year we’ll know where we’re going,” he told reporters a few days after the recommendations were released and as the new school year was starting, citing plans to undertake more community engagement. At the time, de Blasio was in the midst of his four-month campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.</p> <p>"We are taking a very, very deep dive into what the recommendations have been from the School Diversity Advisory committee," Carranza said at the time.</p> <p>But the mayor has discussed little publicly since then and the recommendations -- or anything related to school desegregation -- were conspicuously absent from his State of the City address in February, when he outlined his priorities for the year, his next-to-last as mayor, under the theme of “Save Our City.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s further delay in addressing school segregation in New York City, to the extent that it may be attributed to the pandemic fallout, is another example where the coronavirus crisis not only exacerbates racial inequalities by hitting communities of color harder but also by diminishing the government's overall capacity. But the situation also speaks to the slow pace at which the de Blasio administration has approached a particularly thorny issue that goes to the heart of the mayor's promises to end “the tale of two cities” and create "the fairest big city in America."</p> <p>New York has among the most segregated schools of any state in the country, with a heavy concentration in New York City. A groundbreaking UCLA <a href="https://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/research/k-12-education/integration-and-diversity/ny-norflet-report-placeholder/Kucsera-New-York-Extreme-Segregation-2014.pdf">study</a> in 2014 found that 19 out of New York City's 32 school districts had 10 percent or less white students, including all of the Bronx and two-thirds of Brooklyn. It showed a correlation between racial segregation in schools and concentrations of poverty.</p> <p>In 2017, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8769-new-york-city-waist-deep-school-desegregation-conversation-how-did-we-get-here-de-blasio">after years</a> of pressure from advocates and elected officials, the mayor announced the "Equity and Excellence for All" plan to improve all schools, especially those predominantly serving students of color and historically lacking investment. Soon after, he empaneled the School Diversity Advisory Group to explore ways to increase “diversity” in city schools, while he studiously avoided the words “segregation” and “integration.”</p> <p>"We have to improve the quality levels of our public schools and we have to do it in a way that promotes equity – that’s the mission, now – that’s the central mission," he told reporters on June 9, 2017, a few days after the announcing the plan. When pressed on the specific issue of segregation he said: "The quality of education for students is paramount in this discussion. So, when we talk about it, we have to understand, we need any plan to start with the quality of education for all students, including those who have not gotten a fair shake previously."</p> <p>The group, made up of students, parents, and experts, released two sets of recommendations, one in February 2019, which was <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8644-we-re-moving-now-city-pursues-school-desegregation-measures-with-major-looming-test">largely adopted</a> by the mayor and chancellor, and a second in August, which contained significantly more controversial changes to admissions, districting, and tracking policies.</p> <p>"Our hope was that it would spur a lot more innovation and creativity, not just out of the Department of Education at the administrative level, but also within school districts and across school districts," Wiley said in the interview.</p> <p>The recommendations are based on the concept that "more educational opportunity was not a one size fits all," she said, and "a clear roadmap around the kinds of admissions policies that were clearly creating more problems than solutions.”</p> <p>The final recommendations included a range of small and large proposed solutions to the problems of school segregation and its many negative consequences, the most controversial among them being to limit middle school admissions screening and phasing out "gifted and talented" programs, both shown to favor white and Asian students, and the group recommends replacing G&amp;T tracts with more inclusive schoolwide enrichment models. Another controversial point, redrawing school district lines, gets at the geographic element involved in school segregation, especially for elementary schools.</p> <p>The proposal received fierce opposition from some parents who have had the means to prioritize stronger school districts when deciding where to live and for years have found a sympathetic ear in the mayor, as well as a number of local elected officials.</p> <p>Wiley said the big ticket items have come to overshadow simpler, perhaps less-controversial ones.</p> <p>"Some of these are really obvious and easy to fix," she said. "For example, if you use attendance as an admissions factor, you are going to essentially make it more difficult for low-income students of color to be competitive."</p> <p>Another issue is disciplinary history. "A student who may have had a disciplinary issue because they spit gum on the floor. Does that mean they don't deserve real consideration and opportunity to get into a good program in middle school or in high school?" she asked. "We conflate a lot of different kinds of disciplinary issues and also the ways it sometimes works against low-income students of color in particular."</p> <p>According to SDAG's <a href="https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/1c478c_4de7a85cae884c53a8d48750e0858172.pdf">first report</a> in February, 87 percent of New York City public school suspensions are of black and Latino students, despite making up 66 percent of the student population.</p> <p>Fed up with the administration's silence on desegregation, student-led groups IntegrateNYC and Teens Take Charge, which had been prominent advocates in the lead-up to the mayor announcing the SDAG, organized a school boycott to push de Blasio and Carranza to integrate city schools, including by eliminating admissions screens. The boycott was planned for May 18 to coincide with the 66th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision but was called off because of the pandemic. The groups and their allies have continued to use social media and other avenues to keep the conversation alive.</p> <p>As the end of the school year approaches and students and parents look ahead to the fall, some advocates and local elected officials have called on the city to embrace innovative redistricting and admissions models that have been piloted in certain districts. The most prominent one is in Brooklyn’s Community School District 15, where in 2018 middle schools eliminated screening and moved to a ranked-choice lottery system with a 52 percent of seats reserved for low-income students, students in temporary housing, and English-language learners. Enrollment data released last November after the first year showed <a href="https://ny.chalkbeat.org/2019/11/14/21121770/a-push-to-integrate-brooklyn-middle-schools-is-starting-to-show-results-according-to-new-data">promising results</a> for integration.</p> <p>"Next fall, as today’s fourth graders and seventh graders start the process of applying to middle and high schools, the Department of Education will need to make significant changes, since so many of these decisions have relied on grades, attendance, and test scores," wrote Lander, who represents parts of Community School District 15 and championed the new system, in a new <a href="https://council.nyc.gov/brad-lander/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2020/05/Letter-to-Chancellor-Carranza-re.-admissions-during-COVID-19-2.pdf">letter</a> to Carranza. "The admissions changes we made together for middle schools in District 15 last year can serve as a model for how to address middle school admissions for the 2021-22 school year.​"</p> <p>But Lander argues an emergency pandemic response should not be an invitation to replace thoughtful policymaking. "I don't think this moment is a good moment to make permanent long-term decisions. There is just too much uncertainty, too little opportunity to do good, inclusive public process," he told Gotham Gazette in an interview.</p> <p>"In terms of where the city is in regards to integration, not enough system-wide action has been taken,” wrote Matt Gonzales, director of the Integration and Innovation Initiative at NYU and at one point a member of the SDAG, by email. “The lack of action on the SDAG recommendations is definitely an indication of this."</p> <p>"However, if you look at the history of integration efforts in NYC, it is also true that no administration has moved the needle more than the current one. The number of districts and individual schools who've implemented plans has increased," he said.</p> <p>"We very much applauded the fact that the Department of Education, along with the state, were funding districts to look at how they might integrate their schools," said Wiley. "We thought there should be more of that, so that there was actually support for that kind of innovation."</p> <p>"The good news is the Department of Education was doing some of that already. We hoped they would do more. Obviously it's a challenging time now," she said.</p> <p>Gonzales said the pandemic has slowed community planning efforts underway in Community School Districts 13, 16, 28, and 9, "but I am hopeful those resume when society resumes."</p> <p>

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/deblasio-chance-carmen.jpg" alt="deblasio chance carmen" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio during a school visit (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As the coronavirus pandemic further exposes deep fissures in the city's education landscape for low-income students and students of color, it has also further stalled Mayor Bill de Blasio's already-halting efforts to integrate New York City's deeply segregated schools.</p> <p>In the nine months since a de Blasio-appointed advisory group released its final recommendations on ways to desegregate and in other ways improve city schools, virtually nothing has been said on the subject out of City Hall or the Department of Education beyond a commitment to review them. The mayor said in early September that he would take “the whole school year for deep stakeholder engagement” on the recommendations, but took no public steps in the subsequent six months. Then the pandemic came to New York. The mayor's office is now acknowledging any review effort continues to be on hold as the government's focus and resources are diverted by the pandemic.</p> <p>The school year and the first chapter of pandemic-induced remote learning is nearing an end, with major admissions policy decisions imminent. Whatever changes de Blasio may advance, he has left many advocates for school desegregation, including even members of his own advisory group, confused and frustrated by the lack of action before the outbreak hit.</p> <p>"We have not heard back from the Department of Education about whether or not they are going to move forward on any of our recommendations," said Maya Wiley, co-chair of SDAG and former counsel to de Blasio in the mayor’s office, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. "Our position as a group was that we obviously wanted to hear back and hoped for some response on some of the recommendations. We didn't necessarily believe they all would require a full year."</p> <p>"Yes, it would be better if we had made more progress on the SDAG recs before the pandemic," said City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who has pushed for integration-focused admissions reforms in schools within his district and across the city. "That said, the crisis presents a challenge, which we need to rise to and which creates an opportunity to be more thoughtful about school admissions."</p> <p>With learning, assessment methods, and application processes all disrupted, de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have indicated the city will soon offer changes to school admissions processes, raising hopes and fears of the potential opportunity to expedite reform, though it is unclear how ambitious they may be.</p> <p>"Many things are going to be reevaluated as a result of this crisis,” the mayor said at a press briefing on May 7 when asked about possible changes to school admissions processes, which must move ahead in some form soon. “The whole concept I've been putting forward, that we are not just going to bring New York City back with the status quo that was there before, but we're going to try and make a series of changes that favor equity and fairness. We were already in the process of doing that when it came to school admissions. So, certainly, the screened schools are being reevaluated and we’ll have more to say on that in the future.”</p> <p>De Blasio did not mention the recommendations put forth in August of last year by his School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG), a controversial and sweeping set of proposals that he has largely avoided since their release.</p> <p>"When this pandemic started, we shifted our focus to the success of remote learning and the wellbeing of students and staff,” wrote mayoral spokesperson Jane Meyer by email, in response to questions about the status of the administration's review of the School Diversity Advisory Group’s recommendations. “Our priority right now is the health of New Yorkers and academic success of our students in these extraordinary times, and we’ll continue to adjust policies to meet those goals for the duration of this crisis."</p> <p>When the group published its final report in August, de Blasio said he would assess the recommendations over the next year. “Now we’re going to really dig deep into what makes sense and by the end of the school year we’ll know where we’re going,” he told reporters a few days after the recommendations were released and as the new school year was starting, citing plans to undertake more community engagement. At the time, de Blasio was in the midst of his four-month campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.</p> <p>"We are taking a very, very deep dive into what the recommendations have been from the School Diversity Advisory committee," Carranza said at the time.</p> <p>But the mayor has discussed little publicly since then and the recommendations -- or anything related to school desegregation -- were conspicuously absent from his State of the City address in February, when he outlined his priorities for the year, his next-to-last as mayor, under the theme of “Save Our City.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s further delay in addressing school segregation in New York City, to the extent that it may be attributed to the pandemic fallout, is another example where the coronavirus crisis not only exacerbates racial inequalities by hitting communities of color harder but also by diminishing the government's overall capacity. But the situation also speaks to the slow pace at which the de Blasio administration has approached a particularly thorny issue that goes to the heart of the mayor's promises to end “the tale of two cities” and create "the fairest big city in America."</p> <p>New York has among the most segregated schools of any state in the country, with a heavy concentration in New York City. A groundbreaking UCLA <a href="https://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/research/k-12-education/integration-and-diversity/ny-norflet-report-placeholder/Kucsera-New-York-Extreme-Segregation-2014.pdf">study</a> in 2014 found that 19 out of New York City's 32 school districts had 10 percent or less white students, including all of the Bronx and two-thirds of Brooklyn. It showed a correlation between racial segregation in schools and concentrations of poverty.</p> <p>In 2017, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8769-new-york-city-waist-deep-school-desegregation-conversation-how-did-we-get-here-de-blasio">after years</a> of pressure from advocates and elected officials, the mayor announced the "Equity and Excellence for All" plan to improve all schools, especially those predominantly serving students of color and historically lacking investment. Soon after, he empaneled the School Diversity Advisory Group to explore ways to increase “diversity” in city schools, while he studiously avoided the words “segregation” and “integration.”</p> <p>"We have to improve the quality levels of our public schools and we have to do it in a way that promotes equity – that’s the mission, now – that’s the central mission," he told reporters on June 9, 2017, a few days after the announcing the plan. When pressed on the specific issue of segregation he said: "The quality of education for students is paramount in this discussion. So, when we talk about it, we have to understand, we need any plan to start with the quality of education for all students, including those who have not gotten a fair shake previously."</p> <p>The group, made up of students, parents, and experts, released two sets of recommendations, one in February 2019, which was <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8644-we-re-moving-now-city-pursues-school-desegregation-measures-with-major-looming-test">largely adopted</a> by the mayor and chancellor, and a second in August, which contained significantly more controversial changes to admissions, districting, and tracking policies.</p> <p>"Our hope was that it would spur a lot more innovation and creativity, not just out of the Department of Education at the administrative level, but also within school districts and across school districts," Wiley said in the interview.</p> <p>The recommendations are based on the concept that "more educational opportunity was not a one size fits all," she said, and "a clear roadmap around the kinds of admissions policies that were clearly creating more problems than solutions.”</p> <p>The final recommendations included a range of small and large proposed solutions to the problems of school segregation and its many negative consequences, the most controversial among them being to limit middle school admissions screening and phasing out "gifted and talented" programs, both shown to favor white and Asian students, and the group recommends replacing G&amp;T tracts with more inclusive schoolwide enrichment models. Another controversial point, redrawing school district lines, gets at the geographic element involved in school segregation, especially for elementary schools.</p> <p>The proposal received fierce opposition from some parents who have had the means to prioritize stronger school districts when deciding where to live and for years have found a sympathetic ear in the mayor, as well as a number of local elected officials.</p> <p>Wiley said the big ticket items have come to overshadow simpler, perhaps less-controversial ones.</p> <p>"Some of these are really obvious and easy to fix," she said. "For example, if you use attendance as an admissions factor, you are going to essentially make it more difficult for low-income students of color to be competitive."</p> <p>Another issue is disciplinary history. "A student who may have had a disciplinary issue because they spit gum on the floor. Does that mean they don't deserve real consideration and opportunity to get into a good program in middle school or in high school?" she asked. "We conflate a lot of different kinds of disciplinary issues and also the ways it sometimes works against low-income students of color in particular."</p> <p>According to SDAG's <a href="https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/1c478c_4de7a85cae884c53a8d48750e0858172.pdf">first report</a> in February, 87 percent of New York City public school suspensions are of black and Latino students, despite making up 66 percent of the student population.</p> <p>Fed up with the administration's silence on desegregation, student-led groups IntegrateNYC and Teens Take Charge, which had been prominent advocates in the lead-up to the mayor announcing the SDAG, organized a school boycott to push de Blasio and Carranza to integrate city schools, including by eliminating admissions screens. The boycott was planned for May 18 to coincide with the 66th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision but was called off because of the pandemic. The groups and their allies have continued to use social media and other avenues to keep the conversation alive.</p> <p>As the end of the school year approaches and students and parents look ahead to the fall, some advocates and local elected officials have called on the city to embrace innovative redistricting and admissions models that have been piloted in certain districts. The most prominent one is in Brooklyn’s Community School District 15, where in 2018 middle schools eliminated screening and moved to a ranked-choice lottery system with a 52 percent of seats reserved for low-income students, students in temporary housing, and English-language learners. Enrollment data released last November after the first year showed <a href="https://ny.chalkbeat.org/2019/11/14/21121770/a-push-to-integrate-brooklyn-middle-schools-is-starting-to-show-results-according-to-new-data">promising results</a> for integration.</p> <p>"Next fall, as today’s fourth graders and seventh graders start the process of applying to middle and high schools, the Department of Education will need to make significant changes, since so many of these decisions have relied on grades, attendance, and test scores," wrote Lander, who represents parts of Community School District 15 and championed the new system, in a new <a href="https://council.nyc.gov/brad-lander/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2020/05/Letter-to-Chancellor-Carranza-re.-admissions-during-COVID-19-2.pdf">letter</a> to Carranza. "The admissions changes we made together for middle schools in District 15 last year can serve as a model for how to address middle school admissions for the 2021-22 school year.​"</p> <p>But Lander argues an emergency pandemic response should not be an invitation to replace thoughtful policymaking. "I don't think this moment is a good moment to make permanent long-term decisions. There is just too much uncertainty, too little opportunity to do good, inclusive public process," he told Gotham Gazette in an interview.</p> <p>"In terms of where the city is in regards to integration, not enough system-wide action has been taken,” wrote Matt Gonzales, director of the Integration and Innovation Initiative at NYU and at one point a member of the SDAG, by email. “The lack of action on the SDAG recommendations is definitely an indication of this."</p> <p>"However, if you look at the history of integration efforts in NYC, it is also true that no administration has moved the needle more than the current one. The number of districts and individual schools who've implemented plans has increased," he said.</p> <p>"We very much applauded the fact that the Department of Education, along with the state, were funding districts to look at how they might integrate their schools," said Wiley. "We thought there should be more of that, so that there was actually support for that kind of innovation."</p> <p>"The good news is the Department of Education was doing some of that already. We hoped they would do more. Obviously it's a challenging time now," she said.</p> <p>Gonzales said the pandemic has slowed community planning efforts underway in Community School Districts 13, 16, 28, and 9, "but I am hopeful those resume when society resumes."</p> <p>

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Hasn't Visited Rikers Island During His Second Term 2020-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 2020-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9413-de-blasio-hasnt-visited-rikers-island-since-2017-second-term Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/dcc-pont-risland.jpg" alt="dcc pont risland" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio on Rikers Island (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>In his second term in office, Mayor Bill de Blasio has worked with the New York City Council to usher through a plan that will close the scandal-ridden Rikers Island jail complex and replace it with four borough-based facilities by 2026. He has repeatedly decried the crumbling infrastructure and the well-documented incidents of violence, by detainees and guards, among the many issues of the sprawling Island facilities. But the mayor has not visited Rikers Island in three years, and not at all since he was reelected nor since the deadly coronavirus pandemic took hold in the city.</p> <p>The mayor’s last visit to Rikers was in June 2017, a few months before he won his second and final term. Three months prior to that visit, he had announced his support for the plan to close Rikers that had been proposed by the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, convened by former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and chaired by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippmann.</p> <p>The mayor hasn’t always taken a keen interest in the issues that plague Rikers. His first visit to the island was in December 2014, nearly a year into his first term, in the aftermath of federal and state investigations into the conditions of the jails. De Blasio said then and has said repeatedly since that the conditions in Rikers jails were something he did not have a firm grasp of before becoming mayor.</p> <p>He also initially hesitated to back calls from various advocates and elected officials, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Mark-Viverito, then the Lippman Commission’s plan, before adopting the essence of that plan and seeing its initial phases through.</p> <p>The focus on Rikers has only intensified in his second term, however, as the borough-based jails plan sped through the city’s land use review process, finalized by the City Council. The city combined all four jail facilities, located in each borough save Staten Island, into one land use application, shortening the window for its approval. The overall plan faced criticism from some criminal justice reformers, while each individual facility proposal was the target of community opposition. Concessions were made to local Council members, with the sizes of the new facilities reduced, and the plan was approved.</p> <p>The coronavirus pandemic has also renewed attention on Rikers, as city jails have seen clusters of infections, and the deaths of three detainees and ten corrections employees. When the city was beginning to shut down in March, the mayor suspended in-person visits to all jails to limit the spread of the virus. He’s also ordered the release of hundreds of detainees who were being held on nonviolent offenses or were vulnerable during the outbreak because of their age or health.</p> <p>Several news reports have emerged since then of the apparent mismanagement of the crisis by the Department of Correction. The New York Times, in a Wednesday report, quoted several unnamed Rikers corrections officers who complained that they felt at risk because of the failure to respond adequately to the outbreak. But none of it has prompted the mayor to head to the Island to see the issues for himself. In contrast, de Blasio has been visiting food distribution centers, traditional and pop-up hospital facilities, supply warehouses, and other sites.</p> <p>The mayor’s press secretary did not provide comment when asked about de Blasio’s last trip to Rikers and whether he felt it may be necessary to see the conditions there in person during the pandemic.</p> <p>Other elected officials have similarly not been to Rikers in recent months, citing the concern for the safety of detainees and DOC employees. Notably, elected officials haven’t shown the same reluctance to visit hospitals where tens of thousands of New Yorkers infected with the virus have been admitted.</p> <p>In early October, just prior to the Council’s vote to approve the borough-based jails plan, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and several of his colleagues paid their most recent visit to the Island.</p> <p>Johnson said in a statement that the Council is continuing its oversight of the situation on Rikers. “From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I urged for the release of as many incarcerated New Yorkers as possible to tackle the spread of this virus in our jail system,” he said, adding in particular that individuals should not be jailed for technical parole violations.</p> <p>“We had a more than seven-hour long hearing on Tuesday to assess how DOC is handling the crisis. As we mourn the death of DOC staffers and incarcerated individuals, we are in constant communication with the Department, the Board of Correction, and advocates to ensure robust oversight as this situation develops,” he said.</p> <p>A spokesperson told Gotham Gazette that Johnson does not have plans to visit the island any time soon, and that only essential workers should be travelling to and fro.</p> <p>Council Member Keith Powers, who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee which has Rikers under its purview, said he has thought about visiting Rikers but has balanced that with the need to ensure that there is no further spread of the virus. “I thought about going in at some point to see conditions for myself, but I did think it was right to withhold doing that for the time being based on what's going on in the world,” he said.</p> <p>Powers was among the members who went to Rikers in October. He said he has been in constant contact with the Board of Corrections and DOC to conduct ongoing monitoring from afar. He said he is concerned about reports he has received from the Board of Corrections that some social distancing protocols are not being followed, and the concerns being raised by advocates that the conditions at Rikers are ripe to make the crisis worse. “My philosophy here is we can always be doing more and doing better to help people out as they are in our city jails,” he said.</p> <p>He also emphasized that he wouldn’t want to make a symbolic trip to Rikers. “I would do it for substantive reasons to make sure that there is an appropriate response to the Covid crisis within our city jails and to oversee how the operations are running during the public health crisis,” he said.</p> <p>He added, “This crisis only reiterates to me that you can't move vulnerable populations out of sight and out of mind. Because when they are visually out of sight, out of mind, they are from a policy standpoint or from a budgetary standpoint, out of mind for many folks here as well.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/dcc-pont-risland.jpg" alt="dcc pont risland" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio on Rikers Island (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>In his second term in office, Mayor Bill de Blasio has worked with the New York City Council to usher through a plan that will close the scandal-ridden Rikers Island jail complex and replace it with four borough-based facilities by 2026. He has repeatedly decried the crumbling infrastructure and the well-documented incidents of violence, by detainees and guards, among the many issues of the sprawling Island facilities. But the mayor has not visited Rikers Island in three years, and not at all since he was reelected nor since the deadly coronavirus pandemic took hold in the city.</p> <p>The mayor’s last visit to Rikers was in June 2017, a few months before he won his second and final term. Three months prior to that visit, he had announced his support for the plan to close Rikers that had been proposed by the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, convened by former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and chaired by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippmann.</p> <p>The mayor hasn’t always taken a keen interest in the issues that plague Rikers. His first visit to the island was in December 2014, nearly a year into his first term, in the aftermath of federal and state investigations into the conditions of the jails. De Blasio said then and has said repeatedly since that the conditions in Rikers jails were something he did not have a firm grasp of before becoming mayor.</p> <p>He also initially hesitated to back calls from various advocates and elected officials, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Mark-Viverito, then the Lippman Commission’s plan, before adopting the essence of that plan and seeing its initial phases through.</p> <p>The focus on Rikers has only intensified in his second term, however, as the borough-based jails plan sped through the city’s land use review process, finalized by the City Council. The city combined all four jail facilities, located in each borough save Staten Island, into one land use application, shortening the window for its approval. The overall plan faced criticism from some criminal justice reformers, while each individual facility proposal was the target of community opposition. Concessions were made to local Council members, with the sizes of the new facilities reduced, and the plan was approved.</p> <p>The coronavirus pandemic has also renewed attention on Rikers, as city jails have seen clusters of infections, and the deaths of three detainees and ten corrections employees. When the city was beginning to shut down in March, the mayor suspended in-person visits to all jails to limit the spread of the virus. He’s also ordered the release of hundreds of detainees who were being held on nonviolent offenses or were vulnerable during the outbreak because of their age or health.</p> <p>Several news reports have emerged since then of the apparent mismanagement of the crisis by the Department of Correction. The New York Times, in a Wednesday report, quoted several unnamed Rikers corrections officers who complained that they felt at risk because of the failure to respond adequately to the outbreak. But none of it has prompted the mayor to head to the Island to see the issues for himself. In contrast, de Blasio has been visiting food distribution centers, traditional and pop-up hospital facilities, supply warehouses, and other sites.</p> <p>The mayor’s press secretary did not provide comment when asked about de Blasio’s last trip to Rikers and whether he felt it may be necessary to see the conditions there in person during the pandemic.</p> <p>Other elected officials have similarly not been to Rikers in recent months, citing the concern for the safety of detainees and DOC employees. Notably, elected officials haven’t shown the same reluctance to visit hospitals where tens of thousands of New Yorkers infected with the virus have been admitted.</p> <p>In early October, just prior to the Council’s vote to approve the borough-based jails plan, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and several of his colleagues paid their most recent visit to the Island.</p> <p>Johnson said in a statement that the Council is continuing its oversight of the situation on Rikers. “From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I urged for the release of as many incarcerated New Yorkers as possible to tackle the spread of this virus in our jail system,” he said, adding in particular that individuals should not be jailed for technical parole violations.</p> <p>“We had a more than seven-hour long hearing on Tuesday to assess how DOC is handling the crisis. As we mourn the death of DOC staffers and incarcerated individuals, we are in constant communication with the Department, the Board of Correction, and advocates to ensure robust oversight as this situation develops,” he said.</p> <p>A spokesperson told Gotham Gazette that Johnson does not have plans to visit the island any time soon, and that only essential workers should be travelling to and fro.</p> <p>Council Member Keith Powers, who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee which has Rikers under its purview, said he has thought about visiting Rikers but has balanced that with the need to ensure that there is no further spread of the virus. “I thought about going in at some point to see conditions for myself, but I did think it was right to withhold doing that for the time being based on what's going on in the world,” he said.</p> <p>Powers was among the members who went to Rikers in October. He said he has been in constant contact with the Board of Corrections and DOC to conduct ongoing monitoring from afar. He said he is concerned about reports he has received from the Board of Corrections that some social distancing protocols are not being followed, and the concerns being raised by advocates that the conditions at Rikers are ripe to make the crisis worse. “My philosophy here is we can always be doing more and doing better to help people out as they are in our city jails,” he said.</p> <p>He also emphasized that he wouldn’t want to make a symbolic trip to Rikers. “I would do it for substantive reasons to make sure that there is an appropriate response to the Covid crisis within our city jails and to oversee how the operations are running during the public health crisis,” he said.</p> <p>He added, “This crisis only reiterates to me that you can't move vulnerable populations out of sight and out of mind. Because when they are visually out of sight, out of mind, they are from a policy standpoint or from a budgetary standpoint, out of mind for many folks here as well.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Sees Crush of Public Assistance Applications as Coronavirus Recession Takes Hold 2020-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 2020-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9422-city-sees-crush-public-assistance-applications-food-stamps-cash-coronavirus-recession-takes-hold Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/49774416161_4fb2e5b288_c.jpg" alt="New Yorkers seek assistance" width="600" height="380" /></p> <p>New Yorkers wait on line for food (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As New York City shut down amid the coronavirus outbreak, and hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs and livelihoods, the city saw a massive increase in applications for food stamps and cash assistance.</p> <p>According to new data from the city’s Human Resources Administration and Department of Social Services, applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly referred to as food stamps, and for cash assistance have surged since the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect in March.</p> <p>In March, 59,179 individuals applied for SNAP benefits, which are available to low-income New Yorkers, compared with 24,271 in March last year. The month of April saw an even larger jump, with 84,171 applications for SNAP, a 207% increase compared to 27,416 in April last year. In total from February through April this year, 170,446 people have applied for SNAP, a stark contrast with the 73,533 who applied in the same period last year.</p> <p>Applications for cash assistance -- which is available to those who are eligible “based on income and resources, household composition, and other factors,” according to the HRA website -- have also jumped, albeit not as high. There were 34,213 applications in April, compared to 25,677 in April last year; 37,734 people applied for cash assistance in March this year, compared to 24,136 last year. From February through April, 94,634 New Yorkers have sought cash assistance, compared to 72,077 in the same time last year. According to HRA, applications have since leveled off and returned to pre-pandemic levels in the last week of April.</p> <p>Along with the immense volume of applications, the city’s social service agencies have had to quickly adapt to the conditions imposed by the pandemic. HRA already had a system in place to allow individuals to apply for SNAP online and on the phone. But cash assistance applications required in-person visits to an HRA office, which became infeasible after the city went into lockdown. The city then requested and received a waiver from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which was granted in late March. Online applications for cash assistance increased from 8% in the first week of March to 93% in the week ending March 28. They have since decreased.&nbsp;</p> <p>"In response to this unprecedented crisis, we’ve taken unprecedented steps at DSS-HRA to increase access to vital benefits and resources for New Yorkers in need––and we continue our top-to-bottom review of our policies and procedures to see how we can keep adapting and go further," said HRA-DSS spokesperson Isaac McGinn, in a statement. "In the past several weeks, we’ve implemented sweeping reforms at a scale and speed never before seen to ensure the 3-million-plus New Yorkers who count us to make ends meet remain connected to essential benefits and don’t have to worry about losing services, which is more important than ever."</p> <p>At Mayor Bill de Blasio’s daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday, HRA-DSS Commissioner Steven Banks told reporters his agency has faced applications at “unprecedented levels that nobody could have predicted.”</p> <p>“In order to address that, we have reassigned 1,300 members of our staff to address this on precedent demand, and we're working through those applications,” he said.</p> <p>According to <a href="https://labor.ny.gov/stats/pressreleases/pruistat.shtm">new data released Thursday</a> by the U.S. Department of Labor and New York State Department of Labor, the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate in New York City jumped from 4.1% in March to 14.2% in April. The increase was “the largest on record...since current record keeping began in 1976.” The data shows that New York City was down 891,800 jobs from April 2019 to April 2020.</p> <p>As of May 16, more than 2.27 million New Yorkers (from New York City and beyond) had applied for unemployment insurance through the state government, according to Department of Labor data. The state has paid out more than $10 billion in benefits, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, up from $2.1 billion paid out all of last year.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/49774416161_4fb2e5b288_c.jpg" alt="New Yorkers seek assistance" width="600" height="380" /></p> <p>New Yorkers wait on line for food (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As New York City shut down amid the coronavirus outbreak, and hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs and livelihoods, the city saw a massive increase in applications for food stamps and cash assistance.</p> <p>According to new data from the city’s Human Resources Administration and Department of Social Services, applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly referred to as food stamps, and for cash assistance have surged since the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect in March.</p> <p>In March, 59,179 individuals applied for SNAP benefits, which are available to low-income New Yorkers, compared with 24,271 in March last year. The month of April saw an even larger jump, with 84,171 applications for SNAP, a 207% increase compared to 27,416 in April last year. In total from February through April this year, 170,446 people have applied for SNAP, a stark contrast with the 73,533 who applied in the same period last year.</p> <p>Applications for cash assistance -- which is available to those who are eligible “based on income and resources, household composition, and other factors,” according to the HRA website -- have also jumped, albeit not as high. There were 34,213 applications in April, compared to 25,677 in April last year; 37,734 people applied for cash assistance in March this year, compared to 24,136 last year. From February through April, 94,634 New Yorkers have sought cash assistance, compared to 72,077 in the same time last year. According to HRA, applications have since leveled off and returned to pre-pandemic levels in the last week of April.</p> <p>Along with the immense volume of applications, the city’s social service agencies have had to quickly adapt to the conditions imposed by the pandemic. HRA already had a system in place to allow individuals to apply for SNAP online and on the phone. But cash assistance applications required in-person visits to an HRA office, which became infeasible after the city went into lockdown. The city then requested and received a waiver from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which was granted in late March. Online applications for cash assistance increased from 8% in the first week of March to 93% in the week ending March 28. They have since decreased.&nbsp;</p> <p>"In response to this unprecedented crisis, we’ve taken unprecedented steps at DSS-HRA to increase access to vital benefits and resources for New Yorkers in need––and we continue our top-to-bottom review of our policies and procedures to see how we can keep adapting and go further," said HRA-DSS spokesperson Isaac McGinn, in a statement. "In the past several weeks, we’ve implemented sweeping reforms at a scale and speed never before seen to ensure the 3-million-plus New Yorkers who count us to make ends meet remain connected to essential benefits and don’t have to worry about losing services, which is more important than ever."</p> <p>At Mayor Bill de Blasio’s daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday, HRA-DSS Commissioner Steven Banks told reporters his agency has faced applications at “unprecedented levels that nobody could have predicted.”</p> <p>“In order to address that, we have reassigned 1,300 members of our staff to address this on precedent demand, and we're working through those applications,” he said.</p> <p>According to <a href="https://labor.ny.gov/stats/pressreleases/pruistat.shtm">new data released Thursday</a> by the U.S. Department of Labor and New York State Department of Labor, the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate in New York City jumped from 4.1% in March to 14.2% in April. The increase was “the largest on record...since current record keeping began in 1976.” The data shows that New York City was down 891,800 jobs from April 2019 to April 2020.</p> <p>As of May 16, more than 2.27 million New Yorkers (from New York City and beyond) had applied for unemployment insurance through the state government, according to Department of Labor data. The state has paid out more than $10 billion in benefits, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, up from $2.1 billion paid out all of last year.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>