Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/931 Fri, 14 Aug 2020 07:53:53 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) A Housing Policy to Stimulate the New York Economy https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9654-housing-policy-condo-conversion-stimulate-new-york-economy-recovery https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9654-housing-policy-condo-conversion-stimulate-new-york-economy-recovery condo mond

New York City (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


After months of being on pause and the ravages of COVID-19, we need to be thinking of ways to jumpstart our New York economy. Just as one can take a seemingly dead battery and revive it with the right charge and a set of jumper cables, we too can help to restart our economy with a charge of the right stimulus: changing the condo conversion laws to make condo conversion easier again. 

Condo conversion refers to when a developer changes a rental residential building, typically owned by one landlord, to a condominium in which the units can be purchased by the current tenants or by “outside” buyers who did not live in the building before it became a condominium. 

Prior to last summer, it was required that 15 percent of the units in a building had to be purchased by a combination of existing tenants or outside purchasers in order for a building to be converted to a condominium. In summer 2019, the law was changed to require 51 percent of tenants to purchase in order to convert buildings to condominiums. This increase has effectively resulted in stopping new conversions and the economic activity related to it, as well as the opportunity for tenants to purchase their units at a discounted price.

New York should once again permit condo conversions with 15% of units sold while adding in an affordable housing component.

This would help those in need of housing assistance, an especially dire need with New York unemployment at more than 20%. An affordable housing contribution from both developers and purchasers on initial and future closings would be a source of private funds to help support this important and critical public need. 

This simple stimulus formula costs no infusion of cash from the public sector. To the contrary, it generates funds for the public sector in the form of city and state transfer taxes, income taxes, and filing fees, and most importantly at this time of high unemployment, it generates increased jobs thereby reducing unemployment and the cost of unemployment payments from the government. 

Condo conversions not only help to stabilize neighborhoods and improve old housing stock, they create jobs and work for many types of businesses. In addition to development companies,  they create work for contractors, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, security and building maintenance staff, architects and engineers, lawyers and accountants, advertising and public relations firms, advertising for newspapers, creative and web design firms, photographers, real estate brokers, mortgage brokers, lenders, title companies, furniture stores, lighting stores, decorators, appliance stores, hardware stores, and more. 

Non-eviction condo conversion plans improve the living conditions of all building residents, whether they choose to purchase their apartment or not. In addition, tenants purchasing under condo conversion plans often secure their unit at a discount to the current market rate, and can typically obtain financing with lower down-payments, making home ownership more affordable.

In summary, simply amending the condo conversion laws with these proposed changes will create jobs, reduce unemployment, generate revenue for government, reduce governmental expenditure, generate private sector income, and help those in need of housing assistance. So, what are we waiting for? Now is the time to make this change and let a public-private partnership be a spark of needed energy in our recovery economy.

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Roberta Axelrod is Director of Condo Conversions, Time Equities, Inc.

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A Housing Policy to Stimulate the New York Economy Wed, 05 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Two Plans Map Path Forward for Devastated New York City Economy https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9612-two-new-plans-map-path-forward-for-devastated-new-york-city-economy https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9612-two-new-plans-map-path-forward-for-devastated-new-york-city-economy New York City economy construction jobs plans

Getting New York City back to work (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


With COVID-19 infection rates low and New York moving through phased ‘reopening,’ the attention of elected officials, business leaders, and others has turned toward the city’s economic recovery. This month, two groups, the Partnership for New York City, which represents many of the city’s largest businesses, and a new coalition, the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group, have released recovery plans with somewhat different focuses and conclusions about how the city should move forward.

New York City and State have suffered some of the worst economic consequences of the pandemic in the country thus far. New York City’s unemployment rate currently stands at 20.4%, up from up from just over 4% when the coronavirus outbreak hit here, according to the State Department of Labor.

Between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, New York State shed 8.2% of its GDP, tied with Nevada, another state economy with a large tourism sector, for the largest decrease in the nation.

“This will be infinitely harder than the recovery after 9/11,” said Dan Doctoroff, who was New York City Deputy Mayor of Economic Development from 2002 to 2007, and is currently Sidewalk Labs CEO, during a recent digital forum held by the Center for an Urban Future. “If we don't change the trajectory, New York City is heading into a period of negative growth.” Doctoroff said that “reversing this trend will require a new model for inclusive growth that addresses long-standing inequities,” particularly citing housing affordability and insufficient public transportation as injustices that need to be addressed.

New York State anticipates losing 7% of its GDP in 2020 and up to 14% by the end of 2023, according to the state’s Division of the Budget. In comparison, the state suffered declines of 2% after 9/11 and 10% after the 2008 financial crisis and those dips were for a relatively shorter period of time than the multi-year downturn currently projected. Reduced household income will also mean that the city’s affordable housing shortage will grow from 650,000 to 760,000 units within the next year, according to consulting firm Oliver Wyman’s research for the Partnership for New York City.

Several economic indicators point to the city and state economies rebounding slightly in recent weeks as the city has moved through the state-designed reopening phases, but they are still far from their pre-pandemic levels. The New York Federal Reserve’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey, conducted in early July, indicates improving business conditions.

For example, revenue for Manhattan’s small businesses, which are heavily reliant on commuters, declined 70% from February to March, but has improved to 40% off pre-pandemic levels. Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island small business revenues declined 40-60% at the nadir of the pandemic, but have since rebounded to 10-25% less than pre-pandemic levels. The Bronx is the only borough where small business revenues are not below January 2020 levels.

Still, the city’s collections from taxable sales were down 47% in June from the same month in 2019. Residential real estate sales were down 55% and commercial real estate sales down 57% for April-June of this year compared to the same period last year.

The Partnership for New York City estimates in its report that as many as a third of the city’s 230,000 small businesses in neighborhood commercial corridors may go out of business due to the economic downturn and as many as 520,000 jobs were lost from the small business sector alone as consumer spending dipped by 44%.

Jonathan Bowles, the executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, noted that “much of the city's recent job growth has been high-wage industries.” This has had “huge benefits for New York City,” but “the challenge moving forward is to expand access in every way possible —apprenticeships, in-depth training, CUNY, innovative HS models, and more.”

Partnership for New York City Calls for Public-Private Collaboration
The Partnership asserts that with such massive job and revenue losses, the state and local governments will need to partner more with the private sector to rehabilitate the economy. Its report, entitled “A Call for Action and Collaboration,” compiled research from 14 consulting firms and interviews with industry experts.

They found that 70% of the New York City metro region’s office employees have safety concerns about returning to work in the near future. Industries able to operate remotely have experienced increased productivity and lowered costs, meaning that it is likely that many work-from-home policies will continue even after the pandemic. This could possibly permanently reduce the number of workers who commute into Manhattan each day and thus have a deleterious effect on businesses that cater to these commuters.

One of the report’s more relatively-positive findings is that there are currently some 200,000 job vacancies in the city. The Partnership says closing the skills gap through more workforce development programs would help fill these opportunities with the recently unemployed.

The Partnership for New York City supports five main actions to leverage the city’s major corporations and mobilize its members. One is to start a “Health Innovation Partnership,” which would set a universal standard for a “health passport,” build up a robust contact-tracing program, and finance investment in the life sciences sector. Another is to launch a restart clearinghouse to improve access to financial and technical resources for small- and minority-owned businesses.

A third is the “Education Innovation Partnership,” which would use the private sector to help the city’s public education system establish high-quality online learning and hybrid programs for both in-school and remote education.

Believing that state and municipal revenue shortfalls will mean less government funding for key programs, the Partnership is calling for an employer-led effort to expand job training, credentialing and hiring of city residents to fill the 200,000 job vacancies in the city.

The Partnership is currently active advocating for federal relief for city, state, and transit agency needs, liability protection for employers and institutions, and a less restrictive visa policy for students and workers. A new federal relief package is expected soon, though it’s unclear what it may include for helping to plug huge city, state, and MTA budget gaps.

As of July, according to the New York City Comptroller’s Office, subway ridership is still less than a fifth of and bus ridership is at just under half of pre-pandemic levels. MTA ridership appears to have plateaued in the most recent week, even with the city moving into “phase four” of its reopening. The fall-off in revenue for the MTA has left the transit agency in a dire fiscal position.

The Partnership also says it will hold “cross-sectoral problem-solving sessions” around the issues of transit, taxation, security, housing, and racial justice.

[LISTEN: Partnership for New York City CEO Kathryn Wylde discusses the Partnership's new report and more on the Max & Murphy podcast]

New Coalition wants a “Recovery for All”
Meanwhile, the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group, which is led by the NYC Employment & Training Coalition and includes over 80 business and human services leaders throughout the city, has its own plan, “Recovery for All: A Vision for New York City’s Equitable Economic Recovery,” which takes a slightly different approach. Where Partnership for New York City envisions the private sector stepping up in a major way, this coalition believes that an equitable recovery will be achieved through significant government action.

The report calls for an increase in public works projects and direct public employment, as well as relief programs for the most-affected individuals and communities. The coalition is also calling for an “education and training ecosystem” for the displaced workforce and marginalized communities, as well as recovery efforts for local small business and nonprofits, and support for new business development.

The “Recovery for All” report asserts that recent Black Lives Matter protests “have made it abundantly clear that New Yorkers want a stronger safety net and economy that proactively benefits the many, not the few.” Recent data indicates that New York’s residents of color have been harder hit by the pandemic’s economic consequences than their white neighbors, which has also been the case for the public health emergency. Black (27%), Hispanic (33%), and Asian (28%) New Yorkers have all seen higher levels of worker dislocation than white New Yorkers (23%).

The coalition wants to see the city build new revenue streams, primarily through taxes on high earners, and increased cuts to certain programs to redirect funding towards community investment so that the city’s post-recovery economy is a “sustainable” one. They caution against “austerity” budget measures that could even further harm marginalized communities.

According to the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group, the city has the opportunity to address two crises at once, the economic one wrought by the pandemic through mass unemployment and the ongoing climate crisis, by investing in upgraded infrastructure.

The coalition suggests ramping up short- and long-term infrastructure projects, and several potential projects the city should focus on. These include broadband installation, greening and repairs of NYCHA facilities, the “Cleaner and Greener New York” plan that would build up green infrastructure such as solar and wind power generation and coastal resiliency, and upgrades to public-health and child-care infrastructure.

The coalition is also calling for a “true universal basic income for all New Yorkers,” as well as expansion of current means-tested cash assistance. It wants direct cash assistance for individuals, families, and communities most affected by the pandemic, as well as increases to both the state’s earned income tax credit and child and dependent care tax credit.

The “Recovery for All” and Partnership for New York City reports both stress that an economic recovery for New York City relies on workforce development. However, the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group believes that the government, not private businesses, should take the lead on this through programs to help jumpstart businesses such as transitional employment, wage subsidy, work-based learning programs and apprenticeships. The coalition is also calling on the city to develop a citywide workforce development system, which non-profit service providers have long called for.

Also like the Partnership’s, the “Recovery for All” report highlights the need for assistance for small businesses in particular. It advocates for reducing red tape and increasing free or low-cost technology and technical training for local businesses, among other steps.

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

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Two Plans Map Path Forward for Devastated New York City Economy Wed, 29 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: A Devastating Economic Picture in New York & What To Do About It https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9618-max-murphy-podcast-devastating-economic-picture-new-york-what-to-do-kathy-wylde https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9618-max-murphy-podcast-devastating-economic-picture-new-york-what-to-do-kathy-wylde 238 economic 600

New York City (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


July 22, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: A Devastating Economic Picture in New York & What To Do About It

Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, joined the show to discuss the Partnership's new report on the New York City economy, what government and the private sector should both do -- at times together -- to rebuild the city economy, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org.

Max & Murphy · Episode 238: A Devastating Economic Picture In New York & What To Do About It

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: A Devastating Economic Picture in New York & What To Do About It Wed, 22 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
An Inclusive Recovery Starts With An Inclusive Process https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9601-inclusive-coronavirus-recovery-starts-inclusive-process-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9601-inclusive-coronavirus-recovery-starts-inclusive-process-new-york-city stakeholders meeting covid recovery idea 

Gather stakeholders around the table (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Major financial decisions in New York, such as city and state budgets and economic development deals, are typically made behind closed doors in processes that are opaque to the public and rushed through our legislatures. The recent budget deal between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council was no different — addressing a $9 billion shortfall with contingencies and fuzzy math. It included an insufficient plan to restart our economy and will ultimately prove to be shortsighted, as we approach a fiscal crisis that will affect us for years.

We cannot meet this generational economic challenge by using the same old standard operating procedures and backroom deals. In order to create an inclusive recovery that works for all New Yorkers, we must include input from all New Yorkers.

New York was able to recover from the 1975 fiscal crisis in part because of the empowerment of a commission that led to the creation of the New York State Emergency Financial Control Board and other safeguards that were subsequently implemented.

While both the Governor and Mayor are correctly advocating for significant help in the form of financial aid from Washington, an inclusive commission of experts should be in place to implement a strategy for using that aid and back-up plans if it doesn't arrive.

The commission should include labor leaders of both public and private sector unions, whose organizations represent approximately 22% of New York City’s total workforce and provide a foundation for a prosperous middle class. Our small business community should be represented, in particular the hospitality industry that was hit so hard by the COVID-19 crisis. Voices that are too often left out of the process, such as leaders from immigrant and Black communities, tenant leaders, and others must play a central role in identifying areas of need, and the most direct means to assist New York families in crisis.

As the former Finance Chair of the New York City Council, I know that there is no substitute for expertise. Elected officials and government experts on budget and finance, including our current and former city Comptrollers, should also be important and necessary parts of this commission.

An inclusive recovery must include new sources of revenue so that we don’t have to balance our budget on cuts alone. I strongly support the full legalization of marijuana, with the revenue generated from new taxes split between New York State and the local municipalities where the sales originate. I also believe it is time to legalize the multibillion-dollar industry of sports wagering in New York in a manner that is competitive with our neighboring states. These simple policy changes will create important sustainable jobs for the 21st century.
An inclusive commission would be instrumental in ensuring that these are union jobs wherever possible, and that jobs and new tax revenue directly benefit individuals from our most vulnerable communities.

While the specific structure and role of a commission could be up for debate, there is no denying that our city will come back stronger if we include more voices in an open, honest decision-making process.

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David Weprin is a member of the New York State Assembly and candidate for New York City Comptroller. On Twitter @DavidWeprin.

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An Inclusive Recovery Starts With An Inclusive Process Sat, 18 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
New York’s Working Men and Women are Ready To Go Back to Work https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9588-new-yorkers-ready-go-back-to-work-labor-construction-infrastructure https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9588-new-yorkers-ready-go-back-to-work-labor-construction-infrastructure gov cuomo inspect

Construction needs to boom again (photo: governor's office)


New York, and the nation, are recovering from an economic hit unlike any other in our history. It has been tough and now is the time to get back to work.

Let’s build our way out of the pain of the last several months with innovative, ambitious, and transformative projects that will put wages for working New Yorkers back into the economy and let our hard-hit state speed the healing by rebuilding our aging infrastructure.

Hard work is the backbone of our nation. Hard work is what gives us purpose. And, hard work is what the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has always been, and always will be, about. We’re ready - and I know we’re not the only ones.

Fortunately, from both an infrastructure and economic development perspective, there are some large projects waiting in the wings that will make a real difference in the lives of all New Yorkers. Investment is needed in transmission lines, onshore wind, solar, hydro, offshore wind, and improvements at our ports – renewable energy projects will put the men and women of this state back to work.

The Champlain Hudson Power Express is one such project. The buried and resilient electric transmission line will create more than 2,000 construction-related jobs for New Yorkers, add millions in tax revenue annually to local governments that desperately need the funding and bring firm, green energy to New York City, satisfying the power needs of over 1 million residents for more than 50 years. The project will do this while reducing harmful emissions and helping the Governor and Mayor move towards a more renewable, sustainable future. 

With construction set to begin in 2021, the Champlain Hudson Power Express will be the first of many significant green building projects to break ground. These green innovative projects are poised to create thousands of new jobs for our union labor force. There is a reason this project and other clean energy job generators are supported by business leaders across the state.

Reviving and rebuilding New York’s economy is imperative, and it starts with organized labor.  We’re ready to build, whether it’s offshore or upstate wind and solar, electrification of New York City, or installing solar panels on the roofs of apartment buildings and schools. We’re ready to install car chargers and we’re ready to train the next generation workforce to build this new and exciting green economy. 

The IBEW and all of organized labor are ready to turn these initiatives into opportunity. That’s what New Yorkers do. We are grateful for the leadership our Governor and the Mayor showed us during these last months. We can thank them by turning their green visions into action and jobs. And in doing so, turn their clean energy goals into clean energy realities.  

We are ready to rebuild our great state. We are ready to build the Champlain Hudson Power Express and much more.

Let’s work together to move New York State forward.

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Christopher Erikson is the Business Manager for IBEW-Local 3.

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New York’s Working Men and Women are Ready To Go Back to Work Wed, 15 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Black Business Owners Hang On Through Covid Crisis as Black Lives Matter Movement Surges https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9583-black-business-owners-covid-19-black-lives-matter-new-york-city-coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9583-black-business-owners-covid-19-black-lives-matter-new-york-city-coronavirus 3 restaurant melba

Mayor de Blasio & Chirlane McCray dine at Melba's in Harlem (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Miriam Milord, the Black owner of BCakeNY in Brooklyn, had to completely reimagine her custom dessert business when the coronavirus pandemic hit New York. She usually served events of around 75 to 100 people, but, with social distancing guidelines, customers cancelled those gatherings. All of her orders disappeared.

“So that stopped, you know, from one day to the next pretty much,” said Milord. “So not only were we not selling cakes, we also were actually returning deposits.”

Milord is one of many Black small-business owners in New York City who have faced unique challenges because of COVID-19, but also experienced new waves of support with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Although 2.2 million small businesses operate in the city, only 2 percent of businesses of any size are Black-owned, according to city and federal government data.

Small businesses have faced immense challenges because of mandated pandemic-related closures like lost revenue, laid-off staff, and access to funds. But Black-owned businesses, according to a recent report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have lower revenues, hire fewer employees, and are more vulnerable to a crisis like COVID-19, on average, than their white counterparts. 

The city, state, and federal governments, local chambers of commerce, and other entities have implemented a range of policies, grants, loan programs, and other services to help small businesses during COVID-19, including targeted programs for Black-owned businesses. These solutions have met varying degrees of success, with some Black business owners leaning on aid and others struggling to access it, leading some entrepreneurs to use other strategies to stay afloat.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce report says 95 percent of Black-owned businesses in the U.S. are sole proprietorships with no paid employees, compared to about 70 percent of white-owned businesses that have no paid employees. Black entrepreneurs are also almost three times more likely than white entrepreneurs to have their business impacted by a lack of capital. Lower family wealth overall means Black entrepreneurs have a harder time accessing personal and family savings to start a business. The report also says lack of “human capital,” or experience and mentorship, also discourages the creation of Black-owned businesses.

As the pandemic unfolded, 41 percent of Black-owned businesses nationwide closed in April, compared to 17 percent of white-owned ones, according to a study by the University of Santa Cruz. In a July MWBE report conducted by the office of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, 85 percent of minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBEs) said they could not survive for six more months.

Many Black business owners have welcomed extra sales from those involved in or supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. Milord said she lost more than half her staff in the first few days of the city shutdown, although the city allowed her to stay open because she sold food.

With her remaining employees, Milord said she changed her business concept so her customers could design from home and shifted the sizing options for her desserts to accommodate smaller groups, like two-person weddings. With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, she said she sees more support on social media and remains optimistic that new customers will return.

“We received a lot of genuine support as well, just people ordering a cake, like when you put your money where your mouth is, you’re actually really supporting,” said Milord. “I think everyone’s temporary discomfort can result in a lot of growth and good for everyone.”

Government Policies and Aid
The city, state, and federal governments have passed several policies and started many loan programs aimed at small businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.

At the end of March, Mayor Bill de Blasio initiated a small business relief program in a public-private partnership between Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, Tapestry Inc.'s Coach Foundation, and Pursuit that would provide loans of up to $75,000, according to a press release from the mayor’s office. Due to overwhelming demand, the fund stopped accepting applications. According to the July report by the city comptroller’s office, only 40 MWBEs applied for the New York City Business Continuity Loan, of which just six were approved.

The most sweeping small-business survival program during the coronavirus crisis has come from the federal government in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), launched on April 3 by the U.S. Small Business Administration and implemented in two phases for a total of almost $660 billion. The PPP aims to help small businesses stay open and keep their employees on payroll, though it, along with other federal measures, did not prevent millions from losing their jobs due to the pandemic recession.

Although the PPP has helped more than 300,000 small businesses in New York State, according to SBA data, others struggle to access it, especially Black entrepreneurs. Small, Black-owned businesses frequently lack a human resources manager or administrator beyond the owner to gather extensive paperwork in a short period of time.

Mikey Cole, owner of Mikey Likes It Ice Cream in Harlem and the Lower East Side, said he lacked guidance on how to apply and is currently on the waiting list for the loan.

“If someone tells you, ‘Hey we gave you this fund to help your business survive’ but then you have to come up and show a mountain of information,” said Cole, “it’s like, how do you expect us to get all these records all at once so fast?”

Some business owners who have received the PPP, while grateful for the money, said they felt confused on how to spend it to obtain loan forgiveness, especially with changing guidelines. A bill approved by Congress in the first week of June changed the spending period for forgiveness from a mandatory eight weeks to an optional eight weeks or 24 weeks and lowered the amount that had to be spent on payroll from 75 percent to 60 percent. It also extended the period a business owner could rehire staff.

As of June 30, about $130 million in nationwide PPP funding remains unallocated, according to a new report by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Locally, the New York City Council passed several bills on May 13 to aid small businesses, like capping fees from third-party food delivery apps, suspending indoor and outdoor cafe fees, prohibiting threats from landlords to commercial tenants, halting enforcement of personal liability provisions in commercial leases or rental agreements, and delaying renewal requirements for licenses and permits from city agencies during the duration of the emergency.

Deputy Mayor of Strategic Policies Initiatives and Co-Chair of the mayor’s Racial Inclusion and Equity Task Force J. Phillip Thompson said small businesses owned by people of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and are among those most struggling to survive.

“The bills signed today will give small business owners in our hardest-hit communities the support they need to get through this pandemic, and help ensure a fair and equitable recovery in New York City,” Thompson said when de Blasio signed the legislation into law on May 26.

On May 22, exactly two months after the state ‘shutdown,’ Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the $100 million New York Forward Loan Fund, which provides flexible and affordable loans for small businesses, especially for those owned by people of color and women (often referred to as MWBEs, or women- and minority-owned business enterprises).

“Minority-owned businesses face a far greater risk and have received less in federal relief,” Cuomo said during a briefing. “We're going to focus on MWBEs that did not receive federal assistance and focus on really small businesses.” The state assigned five community development financial institutions to start reviewing applications on June 1, and they will distribute funds on a rolling basis, according to the Empire State Development website.

The city’s Department of Small Business Services, or SBS, oversees various economic initiatives for entrepreneurs across the five boroughs. When the city entered phase one of reopening under state guidelines on June 8, SBS also released new resources that included a small business hotline, digital resource fairs, face covering distribution sites, and plain language industry guides that relay mandatory guidelines and best practices.

The mayor started the Small Business Emergency Grant Program on June 4 with $500,000 of initial funds from SOMOS Community Care. The grant provides up to $10,000 to small businesses, with a focus on MWBEs, as well as those with less than $1.5 million in annual revenue, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

On June 11, de Blasio announced Signature Bank would donate $750,000 in funds to the grant to further support small business owners across the five boroughs who experienced damage to their storefronts during recent looting. The program was to start in the Bronx, which saw one night of looting in a concentrated area home to many MWBEs.

The same day, de Blasio also initiated the Restaurant Revitalization Program. The plan provides restaurants with short-term payroll support for restaurants, up to $30,000 each to pay subsidized employees wages of at $20 an hour for at least six weeks, according to a press release. The statement also says it prioritizes the city’s hardest hit communities as well as those restaurants that commit to paying the minimum wage with tips on top and race and gender equity among employees within three to five years. The mayor also announced a collaboration with the advocacy organization One Fair Wage for the launch of the High Road Kitchens program in the city, which made $1 million available for local restaurants with up to $35,000 per establishment, according to the press release.

On June 18, Mayor de Blasio signed an executive order easing sidewalk cafe laws and rules, and encouraged business owners to self-certify through the city’s new Open Restaurants program, allowing more outdoor dining as the city eased some restrictions.

Melba Wilson, owner of Melba’s Restaurant in Harlem and the board president of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, a trade advocacy group, said she always wanted to have tables outside but the process seemed too taxing before the mayor’s executive order.

“It literally took us all of four minutes to self-certify,” said Wilson. “And you know, nothing really happens that quickly with the city, right?”

Wilson’s restaurant became the first recipient of the DineOut NYC program, a partnership between David Rockwell’s Rockwell Group and the NYC Hospitality Alliance to build pro bono outdoor seating. DineOut NYC will create outside arrangements for four other Black-owned restaurants, one in every other borough, according to Wilson.

Mayor de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, tested out the new sidewalk seating at Melba’s by eating outdoors, right after the city entered phase two of reopening, which allowed restaurants outdoor dining on top of the takeout and delivery they had been allowed to continue throughout the shutdown.

Chambers of Commerce
Local chambers of commerce can serve as on-the-ground conduits for businesses to access resources, and some of the five borough-based chambers have especially focused on Black-owned businesses during the current crisis. Chambers help provide financing, connect members to each other, answer questions about running a company and provide other services. Several chambers reported they’ve employed an adaption of their “Chamber on the Go” program during the pandemic.

The program usually involves an on-site assessment of a member’s business to recommend SBS, chamber, and local resources or instantly provide support, but some have shifted to phone calls to survey their members’ needs.

After monitoring their businesses, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, which serves the borough with the most Black businesses according to the Center for an Urban Future, launched their Bring Back Brooklyn Fund in April. The initiative provides no-interest loans of up to $30,000. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce earmarked 65 percent of the money towards MWBEs, according to a press release.

The chamber found in an April survey that 90 percent of Brooklyn MWBEs had not received funding from the federal PPP. By the end of June, the chamber raised almost $230,000, according to a press release, and as of this past week, four small businesses received a total of $28,000 in funding, said Tondalaya London, Vice President of Business Services at the Brooklyn Chamber.

Many small businesses have also faced difficulty in rehiring employees. Owners have said their staff feel unsafe returning to work or want to continue collecting unemployment, which sometimes pays them more than their job had. The current pandemic unemployment compensation includes an extra $600 a week under the federal CARES Act, which President Trump signed on March 27, and which will last until July 31.

To address workforce issues, the Queens Chamber of Commerce is trying to partner with local colleges, universities, and trade schools to act as a liaison between students or recent graduates who need jobs and small businesses who need employees, according to President and CEO Tom Grech. He said that of the QCC’s 1,150 members, about 90 percent have fewer than 10 workers.

“I think the chamber, and we, have a moral imperative to retrain all those folks who have lost their jobs,” Grech said. “Now it’s time to really work together. The new normal is not whatever the normal was in the past, right?”

As small businesses push further into phase three of reopening, they may need to adjust their operations to survive through the pandemic. The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce announced their “Pivot to Win” program at the end of June, which will offer small and medium-sized businesses support through webinars, training sessions, large-scale marketing efforts, connections to corporate suppliers and vendors, and time with expert mentors that will help them rethink their business model.

Chamber President and CEO Jessica Walker said the program will especially target Black-owned businesses and other minority-owned firms.

“Right now, we need to help businesses through the long haul,” said Walker. “So really what we’re trying to do is provide resources that a lot of big companies have and make sure small businesses are empowered to really run an efficient, profitable, competitive business. I do think there’s so much creativity that has not been tapped or maximized.”

Business Adaptations
Black small-business owners have had to adapt to the setbacks all small businesses are facing right now during COVID-19, but also confront their own set of challenges. Small businesses in the city have dealt with drops in revenue and staff as well as less access to loans or grants. But Black-owned small businesses have also contended, historically, with less financial capital than their white counterparts, less of a savings cushion to fall back on, and a greater lasting impact on their communities from disasters, according to the 2020 report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Without the PPP, Cole implemented different ways of selling his ice cream that focused on the close community bonds he has formed over the years. He said he prepackaged pints of ice cream for pick-up, and would also personally deliver his product to his customers.

“As the weekend came I would jump in the vehicle and deliver the stuff myself,” said Cole. “People were happy like, ‘Wow, Mikey, it’s actually you!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna give you the scoop, it’s gonna be just like how it is when you’re in the store.’”

Wilson, of Melba’s, said she furloughed two-thirds of her staff and lost 85 percent of her revenue within the first few weeks of closing her comfort-food eatery. She now manages to make 75 percent of what she once did before COVID-19, but that means expanding service by six hours, increasing social media outreach, creating new family-style food packages, and introducing liquor takeout (made legal during the pandemic), she said.

“We had to be creative,” said Wilson. “We had to pivot and I think that’s what you do, when times are different, you have to pivot.”

Business owners are also banding together to convince the government to implement policies that lessen the challenges caused by the coronavirus. The NYC Hospitality Alliance, a non-profit organization representing restaurant and nightlife establishments, pushed for the simplified sidewalk cafe process, the cap on delivery fees through third-party food delivery apps, and takeout alcohol, according to Karl Franz, board member of the Alliance and owner of the Harlem cocktail bar 67 Orange Street.

With the Black Lives Matter resurgence, Franz said the Alliance is also focusing on finding access and recognition opportunities for Black business owners, including connections to capital, awards, and media exposure.

Black Lives Matter’s Influence
As Black-owned small businesses grapple with a string of challenges, they also feel the effects of the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests have heightened calls for racial justice and have also ushered an influx of support for Black-owned businesses. Social media posts, articles, and online spreadsheets have lifted word of local and online Black companies where people can spend their dollars. Crowd-sourced tools like Shop Black Owned by Coast, a workplace productivity app company, and Janet Gardner, a copywriter and creative strategist, have mapped businesses in the city for consumers to locate potential places to shop.

Milord said she saw an increase in new customers ordering her custom cakes.

“I definitely feel like we had calls and emails from people who usually wouldn’t call and email,” said Milord. “So overall I think it’s great. Obviously, there’s lots of work to do but I definitely appreciate progress.”

While anecdotally Black entrepreneurs have noticed a boost in customers, it remains difficult to quantify. According to Franz, at the end of May, 67 Orange Street generated 40 percent of its usual revenue. By the end of June, that number increased to 66 percent, but this rise may be attributable to a variety of factors, such as Franz’s use of his PPP and EIDL funds, phase two of reopening, or new government policies, not only Black Lives Matter supporters’ consumerism.

However, other products, such as books, are easier to link to Black Lives Matter’s influence. Wilson said all of her cookbooks sold out, which she attributes to the lists of Black entrepreneurs shared online. (Broadly, books related to Black Lives Matter, race, and similar themes have been selling in large numbers through many avenues and by several metrics.)

While business owners generally welcome the support, they feel wary of its sustainability. Milord said stores like hers have existed for years, and she questions whether new supporters will treat buying from Black-owned businesses as a short trend or a more permanent habit. Others like Cole said while many do come in with the intent of supporting the cause, the quality of his ice cream will compel them to return.

“I love it if someone comes in and says ‘Is this Black-owned?’” said Cole. “But at the end of the day, what did you come here for? You came here for some good ice cream? Just come and see if we have good ice cream. Let the product speak for itself.”

Phase Three Moves Ahead
Although the city has now moved into phase three of reopening, which opened nail salons, massage centers, spa salons, tanning salons, and tattoo shops, Black entrepreneurs must still address new and ongoing setbacks.

While many restaurants implemented outdoor dining options during phase two, sidewalk seating offers less room for customers than usual. After seeing the apparent negative impact of indoor dining on coronavirus infection rates in other states, de Blasio and Cuomo decided to delay it indefinitely in the city to prevent an increase in COVID-19 cases. 

“If you open your eyes, you see the citizen compliance slipping. You see government compliance not correcting it,” said Cuomo during a July 1 briefing. “What's going to happen? The virus is going to spread.”

De Blasio decided to try to alleviate some of the impact of this decision last week by introducing 22 new locations designated for further expanded outdoor dining. This initiative combines the Open Streets and Open Restaurants programs and will extend restaurant seating onto car-free streets throughout the five boroughs, according to a July 2 press release.

“I hope to see this program expand in the coming days to areas in Brooklyn that have not historically been prioritized for safe streets and economic development initiatives, like East New York and Canarsie,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

Rent also poses an immense challenge to Black business owners. In a June 2020 survey by the NYC Hospitality Alliance, almost three-fourths of landlords did not waive rent in relation to COVID-19, but only a fifth of respondents reported paying their full rent. Franz said more people have started to pay attention to the economic disparities that always existed in Black communities now that COVID-19 has devastated them.

“It’s increasing the awareness of things that, if you’re a Black or brown entrepreneur, you knew all along, you’ve been yelling about all along,” said Franz. “Just like George Floyd revealed the reality of what policing in Black communities is really like, the reality is, when you look at the economic disparities that exist in Black communities, the fact that you have these things happening makes a lot more sense.”  

Franz said he wants to see the city and state eliminate interest on all past tax-related debt, which he has seen burden Black-owned businesses because of lack of funding, and provide access to capital for struggling businesses with the fewest strings attached.

Along with rent, Black business owners in particular have spoken out against what they see as racially discriminatory enforcement. Borough President Adams joined Bronx City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, The Black Institute, and Black and brown business owners on July 3 to demand a halt to what they called “overly punitive enforcement on Black and Brown businesses” by the NYPD, the New York State Liquor Authority, and other city and state entities, according to a press release from Adams’ office. Business owners spoke out against steep fines, required changes to a business’s method of operation like shorter hours, and liquor license revocations.

“I am calling for an immediate moratorium on the issuance of summonses and violations except in egregious circumstances, and for the New York Attorney General’s office to immediately conduct an investigation into whether this enforcement is being applied in a racially discriminatory manner,” said Adams.

Another issue that disproportionately affects Black and other minority-owned businesses is contract procurement. Through June 18, the city has registered over $3 billion in contracts to businesses to address the COVID-19 crisis, including for food, personal protective equipment, temporary staffing, technology, medical supplies, and building testing centers, according to Comptroller Stringer’s office. In its July MWBE report, the comptroller’s office found that although 325 of the 500 MWBEs surveyed said they were ready and able to receive these city contracts, only 62 could compete due to what the comptroller’s office called “onerous restrictions and non-responsiveness from the City.” Only 10 of those who competed received contracts, according to the survey.

While more businesses can reopen, owners must still secure PPE for their workers. SBS offers small businesses five face masks per employee through partner organizations throughout the five boroughs, according to their website. They also created a list of non-medical PPE manufacturers and suppliers if companies want to buy additional PPE.

Chambers of commerce have also stepped up to provide PPE. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce found in a June survey that nearly half of MWBEs in the borough lacked PPE, although 70 percent would reopen. The chamber partnered with NY Presbyterian and unveiled a $500,000 grant program so businesses could buy masks, gloves, shields, contactless payment devices, and deep cleaning services, according to a June press release. It will source PPE and cleaning services from “local small businesses and vendors, a majority of which are minority, women or immigrant–owned businesses,” the press release said. As of early July, 18 local small businesses have been approved for PPE grants totaling about $25,000, according to BCC Vice President of Business Services London.

Milord interacts with customers behind a shield, a drastic change from sitting down with her clientele to design custom cakes. She said she feels hopeful as people start making plans again.

“In situations like that you learn a lot that you can later implement going forward, so we’re working on that silver lining to take the positive from it,” said Milord. “It’s definitely getting busy again, which is great.”

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by Melissa Lent, Gotham Gazette
  

Read more by this writer.

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Black Business Owners Hang On Through Covid Crisis as Black Lives Matter Movement Surges Sun, 12 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
‘Real’ Unemployment in New York City is as High as 25%, with 1 Million Out of Labor Force Due to Pandemic https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9578-real-unemployment-new-york-city-25-percent-1-million-out-of-labor-force-coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9578-real-unemployment-new-york-city-25-percent-1-million-out-of-labor-force-coronavirus announces 200 new ferry service

Construction workers (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


Labor statistics can be very confusing, especially for the general public.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) just released its June 2020 report, and while it does show an uptick in employment across the nation, economic pain remains widespread. The numbers for New York City and New York State, while they lag behind the national report, show more severe difficulties. A New York Times article described the stunning local catastrophe.

Unemployment Stats - Who's In, Who's Out
Writing about the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2020 employment report, I discussed the fact that more than 6 million persons had dropped out of the labor force between February and May 2020 and were no longer counted in the unemployment rate released that month.

Believe it or not, these labor force dropouts are not counted as unemployed.

It is the "civilian noninstitutional population 16 and over" who are working or looking for work who are counted as the labor force, and the percentage of those working or looking for work are calculated as the "labor force participation rate" out of the total civilian noninstitutional population over 16.

But those who have just dropped out of the labor force are human beings, not statistics, and are part of the overall human damage of the current covid recession and labor market concerns in general.

The U.S. June Employment Report
In the just released BLS June 2020 report the updated number for those who have dropped out of the labor force since February is 4.6 million. About 1.7 million persons re-entered the labor force in June, with presumably most regaining employment. Here is the table showing the data from the BLS June employment report for the size of the labor force and the participation rate:

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Overall, the BLS reported for June that payroll employment rose by 4.8 million from May and the unemployment rate dropped to 11.1% from 13.3%. It showed a partial resumption of economic activity since the pandemic-induced major job shutdown in March and April that cut 22.2 million American jobs; 2.7 million jobs had been regained in May. The table shows the labor force was 164.5 million in February 2020 and 159.9 million in June 2020.

But now, Coronavirus Surges in Parts of the U.S.
While the gain was good news, the data were collected in mid-June and since then the explosion in coronavirus cases in the South and West has led to curtailment of economic activity in some states, including the three largest states: California, Texas, and Florida, and seems likely to limit near-term recovery of the economy. And, of course, nearly 15 million of the 22 million Americans who have lost their jobs since February are still unemployed.

New York City and State
Comparable data on labor force dropouts are available for New York City and State along with the general employment reports. The overall unemployment rates for New York City and New York State for May (state-by-state reports lag behind the national report) taken from the New York State Labor Department (whose data come from BLS) were as follows:

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NYS and NYC Lost Jobs
New York State lost nearly 1.7 million jobs, and New York City about 890,000 jobs, respectively, between February and May 2020, according to data from State Labor Department releases that use the BLS reports (these data are not seasonally adjusted). These are payroll jobs, which include out-of-state residents, and represent different numbers than household employment data, which also include the self-employed. Here are the New York payroll reports:

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Unemployment rates are calculated from the Household data, which also show the size of the labor force on a monthly basis and the dropouts can be calculated from this data -- they move over to the category of not in the labor force and are not included in the unemployment rates.

Adding Labor "Dropouts" to New York City Stats Reveals a Real Unemployment Rate That Could be as High as 25%
Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that 462,000 persons dropped out of the labor force in New York State between February and May 2020, from 9.551 million to 9.089 million. In New York City, 381,000 persons dropped out of the labor force during this period, with the force dropping from 4.051 million to 3.670 million persons. Here are the data, taken from BLS state employment situation reports:

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If the size of the labor force in New York City was still the same number of people as in February, 4.05 million, but the number of persons who have dropped out since that time (381,000) were added to the number unemployed in May, 671,000, the number unemployed would be 1.05 million out of what would be 4.05 million people in the labor force. That would bring the unemployment rate to just over 25% in New York City.

No Matter How You Calculate It, the Pandemic's Effect on the City's Employment is Staggering
Of course the real number wouldn't be that high because some of the dropouts might have decided to retire, or no longer be seeking work for some noneconomic reason like taking care of family. But the point is that the number of New York City residents who are out of the labor force since February, related to the pandemic, is immense.

In May 2020 the number of persons who dropped out of the labor force from February at the national level was 6.3 million; in New York City, the number was 381,000, or about 6% of the total number of labor force dropouts across the country, more than double the city's share of the nation's population, which is 2.5%.

Don't Expect a Quick Recovery in the City
The next state-by-state employment situation from the Bureau of Labor Statistics will be released on July 17. At the national level, about one-third of the persons who had dropped out of the labor force through May returned to the labor force by mid-June. New York State permitted all the regions of the state except New York City to expand their economic activity to a Phase III level pursuant to state guidelines, while New York City was allowed to reach Phase II level. The BLS is likely to have recorded some of this increase in economic activity in New York and our hard-hit state may show some meaningful improvement. But it's within the context of the severe damage to the economy, and predictions of economic recovery are far in the future.

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

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‘Real’ Unemployment in New York City is as High as 25%, with 1 Million Out of Labor Force Due to Pandemic Thu, 09 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Infrastructure Investment Can Restart the Economy, But Prioritize Fixing What We Have https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9447-infrastructure-investment-can-restart-the-economy-but-prioritize-fixing-what-we-have https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9447-infrastructure-investment-can-restart-the-economy-but-prioritize-fixing-what-we-have si water hurricane

Existing infrastructure needs major investment (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


Governor Cuomo traveled to Washington on Wednesday to meet with President Trump, where he pitched the president on infrastructure investments like an expanded Second Avenue Subway and a new Penn Station. The governor is right to push for a national public works program, which would get thousands of newly unemployed Americans working again while tackling urgent infrastructure needs. 

The last time the nation embarked on a major public works program, it produced dozens of large-scale projects in New York that helped dig the city and the country out of the Great Depression—from the RFK Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel, and LaGuardia Airport to post offices, hospitals, high schools, and swimming pools across every borough.

A bold public works program would give New York a similar boost during these devastating economic times. But New York’s infrastructure needs are different than they were during the 1930s. Today, what the city needs most is a massive campaign to upgrade and maintain the infrastructure it already has. 

For decades, New York City has fallen behind the mounting state-of-good-repair needs of its crumbling public infrastructure, with serious consequences for the city’s livability and long-term health.

For instance, while building new miles of subway is a worthy goal, the urgent need is to stabilize the current system. Fixing the city’s crumbling subways and modernizing the bus system will require at least $40 billion over the next five years, including $7 billion just to upgrade decades-old signals and cut down on delays. These investments can restore confidence in public transit in a moment of crisis—and with the system shut at night and the city on lockdown, now is the time to get to work.

New York City’s aging infrastructure needs extend far beyond public transit. The city’s beleaguered public housing—home to a disproportionate share of residents impacted by the current crisis—is waiting on more than $31 billion in urgent infrastructure repairs, including crucial fixes to moldering apartments and crumbling facades. 

The city’s average public hospital—essential to the pandemic response—is over 57 years old, and the system is staring down nearly $400 million in critical repair and maintenance costs.

The city’s public parks—especially vital now that New Yorkers have few other options for recreation and exercise—are more than 73 years old, on average, and face more than $634 million in needs, including decaying drainage systems, crumbling retaining walls, and disintegrating bulkheads. 

Parks are far from the city’s only green infrastructure challenges. Thousands of acres of concrete and asphalt need to be greened to reduce stormwater runoff. And meeting the city’s ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require fast-tracked upgrades to retrofit far more public buildings. 

Many of these assets receive little notice until they fail. Over the past decade, the city has averaged 459 water main breaks annually, more than one per day. The number of fracture-critical bridges jumped from 47 in 2012 to at least 67 in 2018. 

Add to the list the stunning repair needs affecting the city’s public schools, colleges, and libraries—institutions that provide a sense of community in neighborhoods citywide, while preparing New Yorkers to participate in the economic recovery.

The Department of Education has nearly $2.5 billion in urgent, short-term capital needs, with over $100 million more at CUNY’s community colleges. And the city’s three public library systems—where the average branch library is more than 65 years old—are facing nearly $900 million in capital expenses to overhaul aging branches, replace leaky roofs, fix broken boilers, and upgrade HVAC systems. In addition, these institutions and many others need major upgrades to expand broadband access and help close the city’s persistent digital divide.

As the city at the epicenter of a national catastrophe, New York will need a historic level of federal investment to restore livelihoods and restart the country’s largest local economy, with lasting benefits for the nation and the world. Investing in infrastructure is a vital place to start. 

But in a city as old as New York, the first priority should be repairing, restoring, and modernizing the aging infrastructure that we’ve already got. There’s no shortage of shovel-ready work to do.

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Jonathan Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, a New York–based think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity. Eli Dvorkin is CUF’s editorial and policy director. On Twitter @jbowlesnyc, @wetwax, & @nycfuture.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Infrastructure Investment Can Restart the Economy, But Prioritize Fixing What We Have Thu, 28 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
No to Austerity, Yes to Efficiency and Fairness: Getting Our Budget Priorities Straight for a Strong Post-COVID New York https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9415-no-austerity-budget-priorities-strong-post-covid-new-york-coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9415-no-austerity-budget-priorities-strong-post-covid-new-york-coronavirus exec bud 18

Major budget questions loom as coronavirus takes its toll (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)


As we work to show COVID the door, tough budget decisions are ahead. Governments at every level are grappling with the unprecedented toll this pandemic has had on the economy. 

COVID has laid bare structural inequities too stark to ignore. While some work comfortably from home, others put themselves in danger on the front lines. While some flee to the Hamptons, others pass the virus between family members in cramped New York City apartments.

These choices become even more stark when we take a cold, hard look at post-coronavirus state and municipal budgets. New York State is facing a $10-$15 billion budget deficit. New York City projects a $7.4 billion loss in tax revenue. 

Where should we go to fill the budget gaps? 

Our executives have given us hints of what they want to do. We are told that painful cuts are necessary, that sacrifices must be made.

Mayor de Blasio already took a scythe to just about every program with the prefix summer including the Summer Youth Employment Program, a program that provides summer jobs for at-risk teenagers. He has also cut services that affect our daily lives, like trash pickup days and electronics recycling.

Governor Cuomo pushed to cut health-care funding in this year’s budget, even as our public hospitals struggle to treat an influx of coronavirus patients, and we’re told to wait with baited breath for more cuts to come.

The mayor continually refuses to lessen property tax burdens on low- and middle-class homeowners and renters, many of whom are bearing the brunt of COVID’s pain, while the governor has refused to consider revenue raisers on ultra-millionaires, billionaires, and large corporations, many of whom are left unaffected by the virus’ scourge.

We believe these are misguided decisions. We reject the choice between austerity budgeting and a tax burden shouldered by low- and middle-income New Yorkers.

Instead, we need an honest assessment of how we can raise revenues by looking to those who can afford to pay their fair share.

The very wealthiest New Yorkers will not face eviction or foreclosure, like so many other New Yorkers. They will not struggle to access unemployment benefits. They will wait out the storm in second homes.

As a matter of basic fairness, these individuals less impacted by COVID can and should contribute more.

We should also look at corporations that have profited specifically because of this pandemic. These large corporations can and should pay more to rebuild our economy when this is all over.

Passing austerity budgets that cut essential services will only doubly punish our frontline workers and those struggling to make ends meet during and after this pandemic. After all, our essential workers — EMS, police, firefighters, Parks Department employees, grocery store workers, transit workers, nurses, doctors, and so many others — are about 40% people of color; 75% of whom live in the so-called outer boroughs. One-third of our frontline workers are from low-income households.

An austerity approach will inevitably push our city deeper into recession and make it even harder to dig out of this financial hole.

In addition to revenue raisers on those who can afford it, we need substantial federal funds and can borrow up to 20% of the budget from the Federal Reserve’s COVID-19 emergency lending program.

Finally, we also must take a hard look at the waste in our budgets. The New York City budget has ballooned by $20 billion in the last six years alone. The state budget is certainly not immune to wasteful spending either. 

Instead of making cuts to hospitals, CUNY, and summer employment, we need to look at the programs with unproven impact, the spending that doesn’t go directly into communities.

For example, procurement contracts make up nearly 40% of the city budget’s recent growth. These contracts should be reviewed and scrapped or renegotiated as necessary. In 2018, the Independent Budget Office suggested that simply switching to open source software could save the city $30 million per year.

For every wasteful or unproven program we know about, there may be many more that we haven’t yet identified, in part for lack of looking close enough. These budgets need to be scrutinized and every revenue-raising option must be explored before we cut a single dollar to any program that working-class New Yorkers rely on. 

This pandemic has put us through the wringer in the most brutal way. All of us are reflecting on what kind of society we want to be when we emerge from this dark time. 

Our post-COVID government budgets will demonstrate our values. We stand for a New York City and State that cares for its people and lifts up those who need it most.

***
State Senator Andrew Gounardes and City Council Member Justin Brannan represent parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter @agounardes & @JustinBrannan.

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No to Austerity, Yes to Efficiency and Fairness: Getting Our Budget Priorities Straight for a Strong Post-COVID New York Thu, 21 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
To Prepare for Future Crises and Recover from This One, Bring the Supply Chain Back to the United States https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9419-prepare-future-recover-coronavirus-recession-bring-supply-chain-back-to-united-states https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9419-prepare-future-recover-coronavirus-recession-bring-supply-chain-back-to-united-states joseph clara tsai donation foundation

Ventilators arriving in New York from China (photo: governor's office)


It’s been incredibly horrifying to watch scenes unfolding at New York City’s public hospitals as medical staff struggle to keep pace with the coronavirus pandemic. Although doctors and nurses—from Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn to Jacobi in the Bronx—have shown remarkable courage under fire, they are under siege from an invisible enemy that shows no mercy to those in its path.

The situation has been tough for my mother to bear. She’s a home health aide working on the frontlines to protect some of New York’s most vulnerable residents—the developmentally disabled. But she’s also a refugee who fled a civil war in Uganda more than three decades ago and gave birth to my younger sister and me at one of the city’s hardest hit public hospitals, Elmhurst.

As we grapple with our country’s coronavirus reckoning there are elements that are reminiscent of the war-torn Uganda she escaped. The uncertainty of when life will return to some sense of normalcy. The shadow of death that seems to lurk all around us. The mental anguish that has gripped America’s consciousness.

Yet, there is one element of this crisis that is deeply vexing: why were we so unprepared, why didn’t we have enough ventilators or personal protective equipment? When New York and other states turned to the federal government, President Trump’s response was effectively: you’re on your own. Besides the ineptitude of the president, the answers don’t only lie in Washington, but also in corporate boardrooms across America.

Over the past four decades, our country’s manufacturers have been blazing a trail across the world seeking places—mostly emerging economies—to produce their goods for much cheaper than they would in the United States. This intense focus on cheaper cost of goods and maximizing profits is a result of a shift in America’s corporate culture that sought to place the maximization of shareholder value above all other stakeholders—employees, customers, suppliers, communities, etc. As the labor arbitrage took place, corporate profits began to soar and much of the country’s manufacturing capacity began to disappear. It’s a correlation that’s difficult to ignore.

The end results weren’t only cheaper goods and lower costs, but a long list of supply chains that no longer existed in the United States—including personal protective equipment and ventilators, just to name a few. This dynamic has led to an erosion of well-paying middle-class jobs and threatens our national security. In 1940, 60% of New York City’s workforce was employed in manufacturing. Today, that number is 16%. We are now relying mostly on China to supply us with critical equipment to save American lives. 

This pandemic should not only serve as a call to action for policymakers in Washington to enhance the nation's public health infrastructure, but to also demand American corporations shift away from this myopic view of shareholder supremacy. This should begin with repatriating supply chains deemed critical to America’s national security. 

Americans should make the equipment that will save their lives. This includes manufacturing PPE, pharmaceuticals, tests, and medical devices on our shores so that we are prepared for future disease outbreaks and crises that disrupt the world. The government must take the lead to invest in medical manufacturing to bolster our national supply to prevent future shortages on equipment. And as we move out past this crisis, we must look for ways to modernize our manufacturing industry to meet our country’s needs while moving us forward. Specifically, we need to focus on greening manufacturing—retrofitting former manufacturing plants to become more environmentally friendly, producing renewable energy infrastructure, and better training American workers would create jobs and address environmental hazards.  

Our government must do more to hold accountable American corporations that ship jobs overseas. American multinationals that will not repatriate should be taxed at significantly higher rates for shipping jobs outside our country. This revenue is sorely needed as we face this economic crisis. Also, corporations that seek bailout funds related to the pandemic must demonstrate that the majority of their workforce is American; otherwise they should be deemed ineligible. And as we move forward, EPA regulations must be strengthened to ensure manufacturing plants are not environmentally harming the surrounding communities.   

We have a long way toward recovery, but recovery has to start with a reflection on why our country was so woefully unprepared for this crisis. We must ensure that all Americans, and most importantly corporate America, contribute to the rebuilding of our nation.

***
Adem Bunkeddeko is a candidate for Congress in New York’s 9th District, covering parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter @adembunkeddeko.

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To Prepare for Future Crises and Recover from This One, Bring the Supply Chain Back to the United States Thu, 21 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000