People's Budget Hearing to Urge Leaders to Get Some CLASS (Close Loopholes Aid Social Services)

Urge Lawmakers to Include Minimum Wage Hike in State Budget

ALBANY, NY (02/27/2013)(readMedia)-- Hundreds of low-income New Yorkers, community activists, union members and faith leaders gathered at the State Capitol today for a People's Hearing on the State Budget. The hearing is part of the annual legislative action day by Hunger Action Network of NYS, Empire State Economic Security Campaign, New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, and many others. The People's Hearing was designed to highlight the need to restore millions in lost funding to programs and services for struggling New Yorkers that have been left out of the budget.

Speakers addressed the need to raise the state minimum wage as part of the state budget deliberations despite Governor Cuomo's suggestion that it should be done later in the session. Low-income workers have seen their pay raise delayed for more than a year despite the support of 80% of New York voters and many business leaders.

Those that testified also addressed the need for increased funding for jobs programs and human service programs, as well as the proposal by Governor Cuomo to eliminate direct funding in the state budget for anti-hunger programs such as HPNAP (for emergency food programs). The groups believe that in light of the lack of job creation three years into a so-called recovery from the Great Recession, lawmakers should reject the Governor's effort to enact yet another austerity budget.

Speakers at the hearing also discussed the need to increase state revenues by closing various corporate tax loopholes that allow many large and profitable companies to avoid paying taxes in NYS. The satirical "Billionaires for Loopholes" trio was on hand to discuss why they feel they need more corporate tax loopholes to survive and were holding up signs reading, "We Paid Politicians Good Money for These Loopholes" and "Don't pass a minimum wage hike – Pass the Grey Poupon."

"Every day New Yorkers suffer the consequences of an elected leadership that does not answer to the people. Fully 80% of us, regardless of party affiliation, support a raise in the minimum wage, yet we see the Governor and key leadership backpedaling. Even as the economy rebounds and the corporate sector posts new record profits, our budget conversation is focused on cutting before building. There is not a single reason why the children of New York ought to endure hunger, poverty and inadequate if not downright dangerous educational environments. And yet, that is our reality. The time has come to answer to the people. A fair, moral, and faithful budget builds vibrant communities, provides good jobs, access to housing and healthcare, and gives children the chance to fulfill their destinies. The people of New York deserve that. The State of New York, one of the richest places on the planet, can afford that," said Sara Niccoli, Executive Director, Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State.

"The present state budget ignores many of the problems facing low-income New Yorkers. As demand for emergency food continues to soar statewide, the Governor not only fails to support his own agency's request for more funding but he wants to eliminate line item allocation for emergency food. He continues his austerity approach to the state's dire economic situation, with his budget failing to provide funding for jobs programs targeting low-income residents. And now he suggests removing the minimum wage from his budget," said Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of the Hunger Action Network of NYS.

Demand for emergency food has increased by more than 60% since the Great Recession started. The Bureau of Nutrition at the Department of Health has recommended a $10 million increase in the allocation for the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program. The Governor instead wants to combine HPNAP into a block grant with two-dozen other programs that would face a cumulative cut of $13 million.

Dunlea noted that while "Governor Cuomo had cited increasing the state minimum wage as part of his so-called litmus test for the effectiveness of the Independent Democratic Caucus, it has been Senator Klein that has been most insistent on raising the wage, with indexing, while the Governor has repeatedly made recommendations to make it easier for Senator Skelos to avoid the issue. Cuomo has also failed to advance any proposals on campaign finance reform, another part of his litmus test."

Ron Deutsch, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness noted, " While hunger, homelessness and poverty are at record levels throughout our state, it is unconscionable that we continue to provide billions in tax subsidies and corporate loopholes to highly profitable multinational companies that cut jobs or send them overseas. We have made billions in cuts over the last four years to social services, education and vital state/local services while over the same time period tax subsidies to businesses have increased a whopping 23 percent. New York may be 'Open for Business' but we don't need to give the store away."

"As a resident of public housing and a recipient of public assistance, I had internalized the stereotype society imposes upon the people of my community. Well, I am here today to shatter that perception and provide a true resolution that can address poverty: higher education," says Christina Chaise, a student leader at the Welfare Rights Initiative at Hunter College, CUNY. "Almost 90% of families receiving welfare who obtain a bachelor's degree move permanently from welfare and out of poverty. Yet many who want to continue their education at a 4-year college must choose between losing their benefits and sacrificing their academic potential because current New York State does not count 4-year college as meeting federal welfare participation rates even though the federal law does count 4 year college. Passing bill S-1419 will change this. The Assembly has already passed A3473 the companion bill. Not only would this bill save administrative costs for the state, it will also expand opportunities for a better quality job and a better quality life for members of our communities."

"It is critical that lawmakers in New York prioritize an agenda of economic equality and justice. Closing corporate tax loopholes, passing a living wage and supporting hungry families are matters of basic fairness that Occupy Albany is happy join with our allies to support," said Colin J. Donnaruma of Occupy Albany and NY Students Rising.

Don Friedman of the Empire Justice Center stated, "It is claimed that New York's public assistance programs strive to put recipients on a path to employment and self-sufficiency. But too often these programs – particularly the work requirements – are administered in so rigid and punitive a manner that few people benefit or improve their chances for living-wage employment. For example, in New York City, at any given point in time, close to one in four recipients are either being punished for alleged failures to follow the rules or are being threatened with punishment. Thus, being punished or threatened with punishment are two of the primary "activities" in the welfare work system.

"The situation is exacerbated by the fact that many of those who are sanctioned have significant disabilities that the local Department of Social Services has failed to recognize, and therefore has failed to accommodate, making the alleged failure to comply almost inevitable. We support legislation that will provide protection guard against unwarranted punishments and ensure that accommodations are made for people with disabilities."

"We are very alarmed by the first rollback in health coverage for low income New Yorkers that is proposed in the Executive Budget," said Heidi Siegfried of New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage (NYFAHC).

Over the past twelve years parents with incomes up to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level have been covered by Family Health Plus (a comprehensive benefits with no premium or deductible and minimal co-pays). While the Governor proposes a "Medicaid wrap'' so that current Family Health Plus parents can continue their coverage; after January 1, 2014 adults with incomes between 138% and 150% of the Federal poverty Level will not get this assistance. They will be expected to pay a premium that could be $117 per month for a family of four earning only $35,000 a year. Co-pays could range from $10 to $75.

"People at these income levels do not have the money to buy this coverage after paying all their other bills and they will go without it," Siegfried added. "There is no reason why families who lose a job or income after January 1 should be treated differently from families in these circumstances before December 31. We are calling on the Governor to negotiate with the federal government for funds to help provide a Medicaid wrap for ALL adults up to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level."