ALBANY, NY (03/07/2012)(readMedia)-- Members of the Hunger Action Network of NYS, Empire State Economic Security Campaign (ES2), New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, Growing TogetherNY and many other advocacy organizations from across NYS joined forces today to urge Albany lawmakers to push for a budget that puts people first and closes a variety of corporate tax loopholes before further cutting programs and services to needy New Yorkers.
The groups support such policy initiatives as increasing the minimum wage, creating access to education for welfare participants and restoring the increase to the welfare grant. The group rallied at the Capitol and formed a human chain on the stairwell connecting the Governors office to the Senate Chambers. The protesters engaged in a "mic check" where they juxtaposed the incredible human suffering in NYS with the apparent willingness to let huge corporations and the rich pay lower taxes.
"It is time for the Governor and NYS Legislature to put income equality on the agenda. It is a scandal that year after year New York leads the country and the world in the gap between the rich and the poor and yet the Governor wants to cut the meager increase in welfare benefits to 50 cents a day for a family of three. We need to make the minimum wage a living wage rather than a poverty wage, we need to raise the minimum unemployment benefit and we need make housing affordable for low-income and working families," said Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of Hunger Action Network of NYS.
The wealthiest 1% of New York residents get 35% of the income in NYS. Lower income New Yorkers pay a higher percentage of their income in state and local taxes than the wealthy.
"With hunger and homelessness at record levels it is unconscionable that we can continue to cut services for needy New Yorkers while at the same time letting profitable, multi-national, multi-state corporations pay little or nothing in state income taxes, said Ron Deutsch, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness. "Before we cut one more dime from needy New Yorkers it is time to ask the wealthiest corporations to pay their fair share in taxes."
Welfare benefits in NYS have fallen to less than 50% of the federal poverty level. Three years ago, state lawmakers agreed after 19 years of neglect to raise the basic welfare grant ($297 for a family of three) by 10% a year for a family of three. Yet Governor Cuomo blocked the third year of the increase when he became Governor and is proposing to save $6 million by cutting this year's already delayed increase in half, even though the state continues to have a billion dollar surplus from the federal welfare (TANF) block grant.
The Empire State Economic Security campaign is also calling upon the Governor and lawmakers to create jobs. "We need a public jobs program to be employer of last resort. And while we support essential investments in infrastructure, we need to set strong hiring goals for low-income individuals, women, and people of color," added Dunlea.
Charlotte Alvarez a student with Welfare Rights Initiative said, "They say we live in the land of opportunity, yet they're cutting funds to the Tuition Assistance Program and federal Pell Grants. Without these grants, I would not have even had the opportunity to come to school...where's the opportunity in that? "
"Since I was young, my mother always encouraged me to do very well in school because she believed that education was the key. I want to be able to achieve goals that my parents were denied because they didn't have the same opportunities that I do and had the responsibility of a family to support. I am now in a four-year college and I also receive food stamp benefits. S2323 would give me the chance to complete a higher education and fulfill my goals," said Audrey Zapata a student with Welfare Rights Initiative
"Many women in my country (Pakistan) are denied access to education. I am here today to support the bill S2323 in order for everyone in this country to have equal access to education," said Sophia Huda, a student with Welfare Rights Initiative