New York budget season has begun (photo: Make The Road New York)
Immigrant, Black, and brown New Yorkers have experienced unspeakable losses and suffered catastrophic economic consequences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Community members have lost loved ones and lost jobs at disproportionate levels, and struggled week after week to try to pay their rent and feed their families. And they have made very clear that they expect bold, transformational solutions from state government to meet the scale of the need.
Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo has continued to fail to rise to the occasion. As we saw again in his State of the State and budget addresses, the governor keeps responding to this crisis with the politics of austerity. Yet again, he spread falsehoods to dim the prospect of raising taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers and throw cold water on efforts to meet the needs of excluded workers, tenants, and more.
Last week, Make the Road New York launched its 2021 Respect and Dignity platform, which counters Cuomo’s politics of austerity with a vision for a true economic recovery for New Yorkers. Instead of merely looking to Washington, our state needs to pass bold and crucial legislation that will benefit all communities and deliver justice.
Our platform begins with raising taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers to meet survival needs of those who are struggling. Hundreds of thousands of community members are currently blocked from unemployment and all income relief, due to their immigration status or recent incarceration. Our most vulnerable neighbors are in mounting rent debt and in constant fear of losing their homes. The demand for food pantries has increased exponentially — working-class New Yorkers are going hungry.
Meanwhile, New York’s billionaires have become $77 billion richer since the start of the pandemic. While billionaires have profited throughout, immigrant, Black, and brown communities are hurting more than ever. Governor Cuomo must stop shielding the wealthiest New Yorkers and begin putting working-class people of color first. This legislative session, Albany leadership and Governor Cuomo must pass legislation to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers and create an Excluded Workers Fund, which will allow for direct cash payments to workers who have been denied economic relief.
Rebuilding our state also requires prioritizing tenants and canceling rent. Working-class New Yorkers are facing staggering rent and mortgage debt, leaving families on the brink of eviction with bills they will never be able to pay back. We must protect tenants and homeowners by passing the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act and canceling rent and mortgage payments immediately for those who need it.
To those who, like Cuomo, say the money’s simply not there, we say: nonsense. Six items of progressive revenue legislation, known as the Invest in Our New York package, would raise $50 billion, more than enough to deliver real relief to excluded workers and tenants, and reverse cuts to vital services like health care and education. With Democratic supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature, the governor should stop impeding progress and legislators should pass these bills.
A true recovery for New York does not stop there. We must work to rebuild our state to protect trans women of color and our students from over-policing and criminalization. It is imperative we repeal the Walking While Trans Ban, which the State Senate is about to pass, and ensure we put an end to ineffective and discriminatory discipline practices in our childrens’ schools.
The Walking While Trans repeal bill has enough support from legislators to pass — it should be a priority for the legislative calendar in both chambers. And as criminalization of Black and brown youth has continued to run rampant throughout the pandemic, Albany must also pass the Solutions Not Suspensions Act to help dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.
Over the last two years, immigrant and working class New Yorkers have organized and led substantial progress in Albany through vital measures including strengthening the rent laws to restoring access to driver’s licenses for all and limiting ICE’s access to courthouse grounds to the repeal of 50-a’s shield of police disciplinary records. But the pandemic has further exposed the gaping inequalities and vulnerabilities facing communities of color. New York must center equity in ensuring that our communities survive this pandemic and have their basic needs met.
Now, more than ever, we urge Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to address the needs of our communities, protect and help New Yorkers get back on their feet.
Javier H. Valdés and Deborah Axt are the Co-Executive Directors of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @javierhvaldes & @debaxt.