NEW YORK, NY (05/11/2012)(readMedia)-- Early this afternoon, a team of welfare recipients, unemployed New Yorkers looking for work, public housing residents, and people living with HIV/ AIDS – members of the grassroots organizing groups Community Voices Heard (CVH) and Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-NY) – led other New York residents in a series of actions in Lower Manhattan to highlight the inequality prevalent in our City today, and lift up the need to restore critical programs currently proposed to be cut in Mayor Bloomberg's Fiscal Year 2013 budget.
CVH and VOCAL-NY have long been active voices in NYC against service and program cuts that affect the lowest income New Yorkers. Bolstered by the Occupy Movement today, they came together to reject Bloomberg's New York, and demand another city.
The group met up at South Street Seaport at 12 Noon, and headed off first to the offices of Commissioner Robert Doar at the Human Resources Administration (HRA), NYC's public assistance agency. HRA was called out for both proposing $25 million in cuts to the paid Transitional Jobs Program for welfare recipients and $10 million in cuts to housing and nutrition programs in the HIV/ AIDS Services Administration (HASA), a division of HRA that serves 45,000 homeless and formerly homeless people living with HIV/AIDS and their children.
People entered the lobby of HRA and simulated the Work Experience Program (WEP) – the mandated unpaid work program for welfare recipients that HRA is proposing to increase - wearing shackles to dramatize problems with workfare and conducted a skit about the crisis. They called on Bloomberg to clawback subsidies to Merrill Lynch and Bank of America that failed to create jobs.
"WEP is modern day slavery!" said CVH member-leader Andres Villegas, a WEP worker. "It's amazing that in 2012, in one of the richest cities of the world, we still think it's okay to make people work for no paycheck. These big corporations need to pay their fair share so we can create a much-needed public works program to provide jobs and the dignity of a paycheck."
They group specifically called for a reinvestment in the Parks Opportunity Program (POP) – a paid Transitional Jobs Program for welfare recipients transitioning back into the workforce – which will be decimated by current budget proposals.
"Mayor Bloomberg doesn't seem to understand his own programs," said Barry Blackstone, a VOCAL-NY member living with HIV/AIDS and supportive housing client. "His administration has enacted a 'get tough' drug policy that punishes low-income people with HIV/AIDS struggling with addiction and while he continues an all-out assault on supportive housing that helps people better manage their addiction. Bloomberg must realize these cuts will push more people like me into shelters, emergency rooms and hospital beds."
The group put forth a request for a meeting with Commissioner Doar to talk about the proposed cuts to HASA services.
The next stop on the homes, jobs and services march was 250 Broadway, the main offices of the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA).
The group called on NYCHA to stop paying the New York Police Department (NYPD) for "extra policing". NYCHA cannot afford the $90 million bill that no other NYC landlord has to pay, and public housing residents do not need extra harassment by the cops. Instead, the group called on NYCHA to dedicate these resources to fund urgently needed repairs and maintenance in public housing, critical services that are often backlogged for more than two years.
"Why should low income people be treated unfairly because of their status or income? The residents are living with rats, holes in the wall as well as mold," said CVH member-leader Madelyn Innocent, resident of Douglass Houses. "They need plastering and paint jobs and NYCHA doesn't seem to care because they ignored their pleas for years."
The group posted photos of much-needed repairs in and around 250 Broadway to make their point.
In addition to visiting the offices of HRA and NYCHA, the group also went to the offices of Merrill Lynch and Bank of America. They wanted to highlight the fact that money exists in the city that could prevent the services from being cut. Merrill Lynch received $12.3 million in city tax breaks to retain 9,000 jobs and create an additional 2,000 jobs at their World Financial Center location by June 2012. Right now, they report employing 6,235 people. That's 4,765 jobs short of their agreement.
"Merrill Lynch's $12.3 million should have been spent to create the jobs they claimed it would," said CVH member Keith Gamble. "There are a lot of people here in NYC right now that could use those jobs. Instead, our city budget is proposing slashing good, union positions and the corporations are getting away with our money once again."
Bank of America was also a target. Some CVH and VOCAL-NY members had just returned from Bank of America's shareholder meeting in Charlotte, NC, where they protested outside and some, as shareholders themselves, went inside to demand Bank of America's corporate leaders ensure their company pay its fair share. Despite reporting a net tax benefit of $5 billion since 2009, Bank of America has owed $0 in federal taxes for the past three years. Their mortgage practices have exacerbated the affordable housing crisis by which so many New Yorkers were already feeling pinched.
The actions took place on the second day of a week of actions against budget cuts and austerity in New York City – "Another City is Possible: Another World is Possible" - and connected to a broader global economic justice movement. Beginning on May 10th and culminating on May 15th, NYC organizations and individuals from all across the city are joining together in action around the many issues we face: from cuts in social services, to an austerity agenda that redistributes your tax revenue into private hands, to the financial institutions (that we bailed out) that continue to make record profits at our expense.
Community Voices Heard (CVH) is a membership organization of low-income people, predominantly women with experience on welfare (receiving public assistance), working to build power in New York City and State to improve the lives of low-income families and communities. Follow on Twitter and Facebook.
Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-NY) is a is a statewide grassroots membership organization building power among low-income people affected by HIV/AIDS, the drug war and mass incarceration, along with the organizations that serve us, to create healthy and just communities. Follow on Twitter and Facebook.