2021 LEGISLATIVE AGENDAOUR 2021 PRIORITIES
Updates to the 2021 Legislative Agenda – Published on May 14, 2021
This is a supplement to the 2021 State Legislative & Policy Agenda of Citizen Action of New York, which is available below. For each issue area in the Agenda, we have discussed the highlights and “lowlights” of the session so far, mostly through the state budget, adopted in early April. We’ve also included Citizen Action’s priorities for each issue area for the rest of the legislative session. (The Agenda has more complete explanations of most of these issues.)
FAIR, SOUND BUDGET & TAX POLICIES
What’s happened so far
Together with our allies in Invest in Our New York, Citizen Action is gratified that the Legislature included in the enacted budget $4.3 billion in new revenue measures, including:
- increased income taxes for New Yorkers earning more than $1 million;
- creation of new tax brackets for individuals making between $5 million and $25 million and for individuals who make more than $25 million; and
- an increase in corporate tax rates from 6.5% to 7.25%.
While we are disappointed that the full Invest in Our New York Act, which proposed $50 billion in new, progressive revenue measures, was not enacted, we celebrate this move in the right direction for a New York that works for everyone, not just the wealthy.
What’s happened so far
As anticipated, significant climate legislation was not passed as part of the 2021 budget.
End of Session Priorities
- Strong Implementation of the CLCPA: Many of the most important mandates of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), New York’s landmark 2019 climate justice law, will be filled in by the Climate Action Council (CAC), a multi-agency state task force with public representation. For the rest of 2021, Citizen Action and its allies will be monitoring the CAC’s work, to make sure that the twin goals of the law, addressing climate change and providing a just transition to a renewable energy economy, are met. (This is a non-legislative campaign.)
- Fund the Transition to a Clean Energy Economy Through a Polluter Fee: We will continue to advocate for passage of the Climate and Community Investment Act (CCIA), which will build on the CLCPA by generating over $15 billion annually to fund a just transition to a renewable energy economy (A6967/S4264).
What’s happened so far
After a massive multi-year campaign, Citizen Action and its allies at the Alliance for Quality Education won a historic increase in Foundation Aid each year for three years. This full funding of the school aid formula adopted in 2007 in response to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity litigation represents a crucial victory for the children of New York State, and a major step towards racial and economic equity in public education funding in our state.
End of Session Priorities
- Solutions Not Suspensions Act: Encourage the use of positive and age-appropriate disciplinary strategies, and eliminate the use of out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions, among other provisions (A5197).
ENDING MASS INCARCERATION & TRANSFORMING THE JUSTICE SYSTEM
What’s happened so far
- Marijuana Reform: Landmark legislation legalized the possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana. The law will also center racial justice and equity for communities most harmed by our nation’s drug war. Among the provisions are: 1) odor can no longer be used as probable cause for arrest and criminalization; 2) public consumption is allowed anywhere smoking cigarettes is currently permitted, with a few exceptions; 3) up to 6 plants can be grown at home; and 4) the bill contains significant community reinvestment and social equity provisions and provides for automatic expungement.
- Solitary Confinement: The HALT Solitary Confinement Act, which limits the use of solitary confinement to no more than 15 days (20 days in a 60 period) and eliminates the use of solitary for vulnerable populations was signed into law.
- Voting Rights for New Yorkers on Parole: Legislation was passed to codify and expand voting rights for New Yorkers on parole.
End of Session Priorities
- Reducing the Impact of the Criminal Legal System on Cisgender Women and Transgender Non-Conforming (TGNC) Communities: We support legislation to vacate records for offenses resulting from human trafficking (A6983/S4981).
- Parole Justice: Citizen Action, in partnership with the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice, supports legislation to: end repeated parole denials based on the severity of the original charge and create a presumption of release that requires that the Parole Board parole all individuals at their first hearing, unless evidence is presented of a clear, current and unreasonable risk to public safety (A4346/S497); and require the granting of parole consideration to all people aged 55 or older who have served 15 years or more in prison regardless of their original sentence (A9040/S2144).
Miscellaneous Bills We Support:
- Automatic Expungement for Certain Convictions (A6399/S1553)
- End Predatory Court Fees Act (A2348/S3979)
- End Qualified Immunity for Law Enforcement (A4331/S1991)
- Prohibition on Drug or Alcohol Testing of Pregnant Persons Without Informed Consent (A4285/S4821)
- Increase Due Process Protections and Reduce Juvenile Interrogations (A5891/S2800)
- End Rogue DNA Databanks (A6124/S1347)
FAIR ELECTIONS & VOTING RIGHTS
What’s happened so far
We secured $7.3 million in the budget for the Public Campaign Finance Board, to help the Board prepare technology and personnel to effectively implement small donor public financing in statewide elections beginning in fall 2022.
What’s happened so far
Rent Relief: New York passed rent relief legislation which is arguably the most progressive in the nation. This legislation earmarked approximately $2.4 billion in federal and state funding to address the rental crisis in New York. The parameters of this program include the following:
- Funding is to be distributed through the Office of Temporary Disabilities Assistance (OTDA).
- An application for relief signifies a presumption of qualification, and prohibits a landlord from pursuing a non-payment eviction until the application is fully processed.
- Per federal restrictions, relief is limited to those who can prove financial impact from COVID in New York (anyone who is or was on unemployment is automatically eligible) and are at 80% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI).
- Undocumented New Yorkers are explicitly included in eligibility for relief.
- Any landlord who accepts rent relief money is obligated to provide the tenant with a year of Good Cause eviction protections and a rent freeze.
Homelessness: Unfortunately, our priorities concerning homelessness were largely left out of the state budget. While $100 million was earmarked in assistance for our unhoused community members, the policy which defines how this will be implemented is more of the same short term, exclusionary programs which have led to homelessness to increase by nearly 40% since 2010. Specifically, the money will be distributed on a voluntary basis through county Department of Social Service (DSS) agencies and excludes undocumented New Yorkers. The program will sunset after 5 years.
End of Session Priorities
- Good Cause Eviction: Ensure that tenants no longer are evicted in retaliation for opposing unsafe and inhumane living conditions, or in order to displace current tenants to gentrify neighborhoods and limit unreasonable rent hikes (A5573/S3082).
- Address the Lead Crisis Upstate: Establish uniform statewide mechanisms governing property inspections by municipalities and to ensure compliance with violations and enhance tenant protections for municipalities that accept state funding.
- Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act (HONDA): In the state budget, $100 million was earmarked specifically for hotel conversions. If legislation is not passed before June which determines how this money is allocated, Governor Cuomo will have full discretion on how it is spent. This bill creates a program which ensures that all housing units created through hotel conversions are fully affordable, with 50% being reserved for currently unhoused New Yorkers (A6593/S5257).
QUALITY, AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE FOR ALL
What’s happened so far
The 2021 state budget was in general a major disappointment for expansion of health coverage and protection of the health care safety net. Here are the specific concerns:
- No significant action was taken to expand health insurance coverage to New Yorkers or to increase health insurance affordability.
- Public health insurance (Essential Plan) coverage was not expanded to low-income immigrants with COVID who are ineligible for coverage under federal law due to their immigration status.
- The arbitrary Medicaid global spending cap was extended for another year.
We did win one important victory: elimination of premiums for the state’s Essential Plan.
End of Session Priorities
- Medical Billing and Collections Protections:
- Address the most egregious billing and collections practices by hospitals and other health providers (A3470/S2521).
- Lower the interest rate on medical debt from 9% to the U.S. Treasury bill rate (A1538/S3057).
- Prohibit wage garnishment and the taking of property liens against a person’s primary residence for medical debt (A7363/S6522).
- New York Health: Establish a new public “single-payer” system of health coverage through a new public plan called New York Health (A6058/S5474).
- Health Coverage for Immigrants: Cover people who are excluded from coverage due to their immigration status (A880/S1572).
- Hospital Funding Based on Need: Change state hospital funding formula to redirect funds to safety net hospitals that serve larger numbers of low income people, immigrants, communities of color and rural communities (A6883/S5954).
- Hospital Closures & Disproportionate Impact on People of Color:
- Mandate a health equity assessment when proposing a hospital merger or closure that will result in a reduction of services (A191/S1451).
- Require all hospitals to have community advisory boards and community service plans (A176/S444).
WORKER & GENDER JUSTICE
What’s happened so far
- Child Care Funding: The 2021 state budget allocated nearly $2.5 billion to childcare, which will benefit families and childcare providers in several ways:
- $1.26 billion was provided in upfront stabilization grants to providers can be used to increase wages and benefits for childcare workers.
- Childcare subsidy eligibility will be increased and additional childcare slots will be added.
- Providers will be reimbursed for 24 absences per child per year.
- $50 million will fund existing childcare providers in 6 regions over next 3 years and $100 million will go toward building new childcare capacity in “childcare deserts”.
- More childcare scholarships will be provided for essential workers, and grants will be available to providers for supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Workplace Health and Safety: The NY HERO Act was signed into law. This legislation, the first of its kind in the nation, will ensure that State agencies create clear and enforceable workplace health and safety standards to protect workers, a need that had only become more urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
End of Session Priorities
- Proper Oversight for Federal Childcare Funds: Through the American Rescue Plan, New York now has $1.8 billion in federal funds to address ongoing childcare issues in the state. We will continue pushing during the remainder of the session for strong language to ensure that this funding will be distributed efficiently and with accountability measures in place.
- One Fair Wage: This bill will apply the general state minimum wage to tipped workers (including restaurant workers), and codify in statute administratively-ordered wage increases for other categories of workers who presently make less the general state minimum wage (A2244/S808).
FAIR, SOUND BUDGET & TAX POLICIES
The COVID pandemic exacerbated significant unmet needs in areas like education, health care, housing and social services, which have been neglected in our state for years. New York’s unjust and inequitable tax system has made us unable to provide sufficient funding to address these needs. The state now faces a $60 billion budget shortfall over the next four years. Even if New York receives another round of federal stimulus, it is unlikely to cover the shortfall from the pandemic, much less remedy the budget problems that existed before the pandemic without significant additional revenue in the form of tax increases on the wealthiest New Yorkers and on large corporations. The 2021-22 state budget must fully address the pain directly caused by COVID, while avoiding cuts to programs like health care, education, and social services that will be disastrous to state residents. And the budget must revive the state economy by addressing long term systemic problems in areas like climate, mass transportation, and public housing.
Enact the Invest In Our New York Agenda: Citizen Action, along with its allies in Invest In Our New York, supports the “Invest In Our New York Act,’ a series of bills that will raise $50 billion in new revenue while radically changing a state tax structure that has for decades favored millionaires and billionaires and the largest corporations in our state. Here are the six bills we support:
- Progressive Income Tax (raising $12-18 billion): Right now, individuals with incomes between $20,000 and $1 million all pay roughly the same income tax rate of 6.5%. A4604/S2622 would raise income taxes on the top 5% of New Yorkers (i.e. single taxpayers making more than $300,000 a year and married taxpayers filing jointly that earn more than $450,000 a year), making the state tax system more fair by imposing a higher tax on those who can most afford it.
- Capital Gains Tax (raising $7 billion): For decades, the federal and state government have taxed investment income at a much lower rate than the rate applicable to wages and other “ordinary income.” A3352/S2522 would offset the lower federal tax rate on capital gains by imposing a state surtax equal to the federal rate preference for capital gains over ordinary income. The surtax would increase the state tax on capital gains by 13.2% for the highest earners. This would provide comparable tax treatment between investment income generally received by the wealthy, and the income taxes imposed on the main source of income of the rest of us: our wages.
- Heir’s Tax (raising $8 billion): A4643/S3462 would establish an inheritance tax in New York State. As a matter of policy, a system based on an inheritance tax is preferable than the present system, which only imposes an estate tax, as an inheritance tax incentivizes distribution of wealth amongst a wider pool of beneficiaries. The proposed inheritance tax would have little or no effect on average, working class families that work hard to pass their life savings down to their children. For example, the bill would exempt from the new inheritance tax family homes up to $1.75 million in value, inheritances paid from pensions or retirement funds, and bona fide family farms with a value of up to $5 million that are passed down from generation to generation.
- Billionaires’ Tax (raising $23 billion the first year; $1.2 billion a year thereafter): A5092/4482 would establish a “billionaire mark to market tax,” in which the assets of residents of New York with assets worth a billion dollars or more would be taxed as “income” as if each asset were sold for its fair market value each year. At present, much of the wealth held by New York’s 120 billionaires is held as “intangible” property, such as stocks and bonds, enabling the wealthiest New Yorkers to avoid taxation on these holdings. On the other hand, the main form of wealth owned by low and moderate income people: our homes, condos, and apartments, is presently taxed each year through property taxes. This bill would raise significant funds and also increase the fairness of our state’s current tax system.
- Wall Street Tax (raising $12 – 19 billion): A5215/S3980 would place a small tax on trades of stocks, bonds, and derivatives, as New York had until 1981. Other major financial centers like London and Hong Kong have such a tax. The financial industry is our state’s largest industry and sales of its products should be taxed, just like other products like those sold in retail stores.
- Corporate Tax to Offset Trump Tax Cuts (raising $9 billion): A4595/S2823 would add surtaxes to the New York corporate income tax and to business “pass-through” income, offsetting the negative effects to the state treasury of the 2017 federal “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” popularly known as the Trump tax cuts.
Other Revenue Raisers: See the other sections of this legislative and policy agenda for other important initiatives we support that raise revenue for specific purposes:
- a “Polluter Fee” to fund a just transition to renewables (see the “Climate Justice” section);
- an individual health insurance mandate to fund health programs (see the “Quality, Affordable Health Care for All” section);
- taxation of marijuana sales (see the “Ending Mass Incarceration & Transforming the Justice System” section);
- funding for communities to do lead remediation and enforcement (see the “Housing Justice” section);
- funding for public housing and other affordable housing programs (see the “Housing Justice” section); and
- giving workers and their representatives the right to bring enforcement actions for violations of worker protections, generating revenue for the state in the form of penalties to fund further public enforcement activities (see the “Worker & Gender Justice” section).
Serious weather events worldwide, including Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene, highlight that climate change is a global emergency, requiring immediate action by government, corporations, and individuals. Further, the ongoing health impacts of pollution in low-income and communities of color across the state who have been targeted by environmental racism is evidence enough that the state must move on a just transition agenda as it acts on climate. While the passage of the landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) in 2019 was a major step forward, a lot more needs to be done to make sure that the CLCPA meets its promise of drastically lowering greenhouse gas emissions, transitioning New York to a renewable energy economy, and reversing the effects of environmental racism in frontline communities. This includes strong implementation of the law by state agencies and the Governor, and adequate funding.
Strong Implementation of the CLCPA: Through the CLCPA, New York is leading the nation in addressing the climate crisis. It provides for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change to “net zero” by 2050, by mandating emissions reductions arising from all sectors of the economy, including transportation, buildings and power plants. The law also has important provisions to help low income communities and communities of color that have been disproportionately harmed by fossil fuels and other sources of pollution, as well as by decades of economic disinvestment. First, at least 35% (with a target of 40%) of certain state energy and other funds must be used to benefit these communities. Second, the law requires state agencies to consider the impact on these communities of practices like the placement of power plants, providing a vehicle for residents and advocates to force changes to undesirable projects or even to stop them entirely.
The CCLPA is already having a positive impact on state policy making, but we must do more. Many of the mandates of the CLCPA will be filled in by the Climate Action Council (CAC), a multi-agency task force with public representation. Citizen Action, as part of the NY Renews coalition, is campaigning to pressure the Governor, the CAC and other state entities to ensure that the final rules and other related state policies developed in response to the law achieve the twin goals of comprehensively addressing climate change, and providing for a just transition to a renewable energy economy, thus creating quality jobs.
Fund the Transition to a Clean Energy Economy through a Polluter Fee: The promise of the CLCPA to transition the state to a renewable energy economy cannot happen without significant governmental investments to jumpstart the transition. We therefore support the Climate and Community Investment Act, which would generate billions in revenue through a polluter fee that puts a price on greenhouse gases and other pollutants. The money raised would be invested in large-scale and multi-region projects that reduce emissions and target areas of economic need; target assistance to low-income communities and communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution and climate change; protect displaced fossil fuel workers and impacted communities through retraining, extended unemployment benefits and other means; and provide assistance to New Yorkers to reduce energy burdens. The CCIA will create well over 100,000 jobs each year.
Citizen Action believes that a just education system must consider our children’s needs from cradle to careers. We are fighting for a fully funded and equitable system of education, where every school’s mission is to provide an excellent education in an environment that is conducive to teaching and learning. We are fighting for expanded family and community engagement and decision making power. Finally, we are fighting to ensure that entire school communities respect cultural differences and are reflective of the communities they serve. Due to the Governor’s refusal to support legislation to tax the wealthy, our educational institutions are facing fiscal dilemmas, just as they are trying to figure out what school re-openings will look like due to the pandemic.
Education Funding: To ensure we fund the cost of educating and caring for the whole child, we request a $5.8 billion education funding increase in the budget, which includes:
- $4 billion to fully fund Foundation Aid owed to school districts;
- $1.1 billion to repay the 2020 “pandemic adjustment” cut;
- $400 million to reimburse expense based aids (including pandemic-related transportation costs);
- $225 million for COVID-19 expenses;
- sufficient funding to fully fund universal pre-kindergarten for an additional
- $770 million, plus $5 million for Technical Assistance Centers; and
- restoration of the $1.5 million enhancement in Fiscal Year 2020 to Adult Literacy Education (ALE) and investment of an additional $17.2 million to ALE for a total of $25 million in FY 2021.
Solutions Not Suspensions: All children deserve safe schools where they will have supportive and respectful relationships with teachers and staff. To achieve this goal, Citizen Action supports passage of the Solutions not Suspensions Act, which will, among other things, help encourage the use of positive and age-appropriate disciplinary strategies, eliminate the use of out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions, significantly limit suspensions in grades K-3, ensure that students receive instruction when removed from school, and limit unnecessary contact between law enforcement and students (A5197). (Stemming from the work on Solutions Not Suspensions, some localities are focused on ending school districts’ relationship with police departments, by eliminating school resource officers or safety officers and instead redirecting funding toward support personnel like social workers, school counselors and psychologists.)
Mass incarceration affects every corner of New York State. The injustice of the system necessitates bold, statewide solutions that address its root causes and state violence. We know that the criminal legal system was constructed to punish and oppress Black, Brown, Latinx, low income and working-class people. We must address a broad array of system failures: the injustice of the current pre-trial and parole-release systems, the conditions and collateral consequences of imprisonment, key drivers of mass incarceration like over policing, police brutality and marijuana arrests, sentencing practices, and the loss of civil rights of those who have been convicted of felony charges. Citizen Action supports expanded funding of mental health services, substance use programming, affordable housing, public education and supportive community based services to address the root causes of poverty and crime.
Legalize Marijuana Possession, Use, & Purchase: Citizen Action, in partnership with the Start SMART NY campaign, supports the inclusion of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) in the state budget (A1248/S854). MRTA would legalize the possession, use and purchase of up to two pounds of marijuana by those at least 21 years of age, and establish a comprehensively regulated marijuana industry in the state, generating millions of dollars in revenue through the taxation of sales. The discriminatory enforcement of the state’s marijuana prohibition has devastated Black and Brown communities for decades.
Eliminate Fines & Fees: We applaud the Legislature passing a version of the Drivers License Suspension Act, but we need to continue the efforts to remove predatory fines and fees from the system. This session, we call on the Legislature to continue reducing and ultimately eliminating the onerous court-mandated fines and fees imposed on communities, predominantly Black and Brown communities (including parole and probation fees) and passing these measures: the 1) Ending Predatory Court Fees Act, which eliminates court fines and prohibits commissary garnishment for fines and fees; and 2) the “Connecting Families” legislation that grants New Yorkers the ability to communicate with their incarcerated loved ones at no cost and codifies increased access to phones and email kiosks across all state prisons and county jails.
Reducing the Impact of Criminal Legal System on Cisgender Women & Transgender Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) Communities: Ending mass incarceration requires that we sharpen our gender analysis and increase the ways the criminal legal system impacts women and TGNC communities. We therefore support passage of A459/S674, which would vacate records for offenses resulting from human trafficking.
Ending Long-Term Solitary Confinement: New York utilizes isolated confinement at rates well above the national average — far too broadly and routinely, frequently in response to non-violent conduct, and for far too long a period of time: often months and years. Citizen Action, in partnership with the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, supports sweeping reform of the use of isolated confinement through passage of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALTsolitary Act), which will bring New York into line with international law principles (A2277/S2836).
Parole Justice: Across New York State, individuals are repeatedly denied parole — adding decades to the time they spend in prison based on one, unchangeable factor — the severity of the original crime. Many could be released from prison with little or no threat to public safety, yet needlessly remain imprisoned into old age. Citizen Action, in partnership with the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice, supports legislation to:
- end repeated parole denials based on the severity of the original charge and create a presumption of release that requires the Parole Board to parole all individuals at their first hearing, unless evidence is presented of a clear, current and unreasonable risk to public safety (A4231/S1415); and
- require the granting of parole consideration to all people aged 55 or older who have served 15 years or more in prison, regardless of their original sentence (A3475/S15).
Further, we and our allies advocate that the Parole Board be fully staffed by 19 commissioners who are social workers, psychologists, nurses, and other professionals that embrace notions of mercy, redemption and rehabilitation.
Restore Voting Rights for New Yorkers on Parole: Citizen Action, in partnership with the RestoreTheVoteNY Campaign, supports legislation to ensure that the right to vote for the 41,000 New Yorkers on parole is codified and expanded (A4448/S830). Voting is a fundamental civic duty and should be an essential part of the re-entry process.
Prohibit Unfair Surveillance Practices: We support A84/S296, which would prohibit searches (with or without a warrant) for geolocation data for groups of people who are under no suspicion of committing a crime. Law enforcement agencies today obtain warrants ordering technology companies to turn over data as to all people who happened to be in a certain geographic area at a certain time, enabling police to get access to personal details of hundreds or thousands of people who are not suspected of any crime.
Citizen Action of New York and its allies in Fair Elections for New York have campaigned for public financing of elections for years. We believe that the state government will never be adequately responsive to voters, especially low income voters and communities of color, as long as election campaigns and policymaking are strongly shaped or outright controlled by wealthy donors and corporate interests. As part of the 2019 budget agreement, the Campaign Finance Reform Commission was established to set up a system of public financing in New York State. Citizen Action is closely monitoring the implementation of the new law.
Support the Fair & Timely Implementation of Landmark Fair Elections Legislation:
The 2019 budget agreement created a matching funds program for all Assembly, Senate and statewide races. The matching funds program will go into effect after the November 2022 general election. Until then, Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature will need to hit certain benchmarks in order for the system to be ready for its launch date. This includes the Governor appointing a commissioner to run the system (other appointments have been made). Further, the state budget must include the $7.3 million in seed money necessary to create the technology and infrastructure for the program at the State Board of Elections.
Extend the Rights to Vote & Make Voting Easier: More needs to be done to build on the historic voting rights reforms passed in 2019. This includes the passage of constitutional amendments to establish Same Day Voter Registration and No Excuse Absentee Voting and fully funding the State Board of Elections to allow the agency to improve on early voting and other 2019 reforms. We also support legislation to ensure the right to vote for people on parole (as to parolee voting, see the section entitled “Ending Mass Incarceration & Transforming the Justice System”). Finally, we support a series of structural reforms concerning party ballot qualification and thresholds and improvements to the fusion voting system in New York.
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the inequity and precariousness of housing policies in New York State. Due to the lack of access to safe and affordable housing for New Yorkers across the state before the pandemic, tenants who owe billions of dollars in back rent are facing displacement and homelessness. We need solutions to this crisis that provide relief to those with the least resources, not those with the most. In addition, we must pass legislation during the 2021 legislative session to begin to address the structural issues which allow for Black, Brown, and low-income New Yorkers to experience widespread housing insecurity.
Pass “Good Cause” Eviction Legislation to Address Retaliatory Evictions & Predatory Rent Hikes: Citizen Action, along with our allies at the Housing Justice for All campaign, supports budget legislation to end no fault evictions, as outlined in A5573/S3082. This proposal, the good cause eviction bill, would ensure that tenants are no longer evicted in retaliation for opposing unsafe and inhumane living conditions, or in order to displace current tenants to gentrify neighborhoods. In addition, the bill would ensure that unreasonable rent hikes are prohibited in recognition for what they actually are: a mechanism to displace low and moderate income tenants.
Address the Lead Crisis Upstate: Outside of New York City, there are no uniform statewide mechanisms governing property inspections by municipalities, and no requirements to ensure compliance. As a result, too many tenants live in conditions that are unsafe and hazardous. This gap in oversight is one of the reasons New York has more children with elevated lead blood levels than any other state. Legislation we support will ensure that all properties are inspected for lead at all points of exposure and that the results of these inspections are made available in a public database. In addition, the bill will create a funding source that municipalities can utilize to address the lead crisis; the funding would be dedicated for staffing municipal codes departments to ensure regular and timely inspections, as well as to provide assistance to small property owners who might experience financial hardship due to the cost of remediation. Finally, the legislation would create mandatory penalty systems to ensure compliance when violations are found, as well as to enhance tenant protections within municipalities that accept state funding.
Eliminate 421-a & 485-a Tax Subsidies: We support budget legislation to eliminate the 421-a and 485-a programs, which provide a decade of tax free assessments for properties under development by the wealthiest corporate developers — without any requirement that affordable housing be constructed. At the end of this 10-year period, the taxes levied on these properties would be based on the value of the property prior to development. We need New York to stop subsidizing the bank accounts of the wealthiest few while ignoring the needs of the majority in crisis. The funds raised by repealing these provisions should be used to fund public housing and other affordable housing programs.
Despite the progress made under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), 1.1 million New Yorkers still remain without health insurance coverage and health care is still unaffordable for many with coverage. The COVID-19 pandemic makes the lack of access to health coverage and care an even more critical problem for consumers. New York must continue to address coverage gaps and provide sufficient funding to ensure that New Yorkers, particularly in “hard to reach” communities, know about the availability of health insurance and how to use their coverage. Citizen Action supports both a total overall of our state health insurance system through a “single-payer” program known as New York Health, and the coverage expansions outlined below, as New York Health is implemented on a multi-year basis. We also support several measures to alleviate the disproportionate harm of hospital closures on people of color communities, to make prescription drugs more affordable and to ensure that all consumers have access to comprehensive networks and benefits.
Health Coverage for Immigrants: Immigrant communities are among those hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and immigrants make up the largest share of New Yorkers without health coverage. New York State should therefore allocate $13 million through the budget to cover people who have had COVID-19, and are excluded from coverage because of their immigration status, as outlined in A1585/S2549. The budget should also create a state-funded low cost Essential Plan to cover thousands of New Yorkers who presently lack access to coverage because of their immigration status, as outlined in A880/S1572. The existing Essential Plan provides comprehensive coverage for no more than $20 a month with no deductibles to people who earn up to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.
Making Health Insurance More Affordable: At present, consumers earning just above the income eligibility levels for the Essential Plan must instead purchase coverage through the NY State of Health Marketplace, which can cost $150 a month or more, with high deductibles. New York should ease this burden on health insurance affordability by providing funding through the budget to enable people to either buy into the low cost Essential Plan or purchase private coverage at a lower rate through the NY State of Health Marketplace. In addition, we support the Governor’s budget proposal to eliminate the existing $20 monthly fee charged to some Essential Plan enrollees, but also recommend that the state eliminate the existing $30 premium for vision and dental coverage, funding this reform by reducing the rate increases allocated in the Executive Budget for providers.
State Individual Mandate: The Legislature should pass a state level mandate to maintain health coverage to incentivize New Yorkers to get covered; it is estimated that such a mandate would raise $270 million for health programs. The Congress and former President Trump undermined the ACA by removing federal penalties for not maintaining coverage.
New York Health: Citizen Action supports legislation to establish a “single-payer” system of health coverage through a new public plan called New York Health. Consumers would not be charged any premiums, deductibles or co-pays. Instead, New York Health would be funded through a progressively graduated tax on payroll and non-payroll income as well as federal aid.
Funding for Outreach & Consumer Assistance: Citizen Action supports adequate funding in the budget for several programs to assist consumers with health insurance enrollment and using their coverage:
- $32 million should be provided for “navigators”: local in-person assisters that help consumers and small businesses shop for and enroll in health insurance through the NY State of Health Marketplace; this funding level is needed to keep pace with inflation.
- The state should maintain funding for the Community Health Advocates (CHA) at $3.9 million. CHA has helped over 350,000 New Yorkers since 2010 with problems with insurers like bill disputes, through a central toll-free helpline and a statewide network of not-for-profits.
- $500,000 should be provided for a grant program to conduct outreach to groups with low coverage rates.
Adequate Medicaid Funding: Especially as the COVID pandemic continues, we oppose any cuts to Medicaid and any changes that reduce eligibility or benefits, or that increase financial barriers to care. New York must not decimate the Medicaid benefits that low income people and people with disabilities depend on for their survival and quality of life. Medicaid cuts also undermine the funding of hospitals and other health care providers that serve New Yorkers across the income spectrum, resulting in health care job losses. We also support eliminating the existing Medicaid global spending cap: the state should adopt a Medicaid budget that reflects the health care services New Yorkers need, rather than placing an arbitrary cap on spending.
Medical Bill Protections: All too many consumers, in New York and elsewhere, have been victimized by confusing, unclear or inaccurate hospital bills. The Legislature should pass the Patient Medical Debt Protection Act (A3470/S2521), which would address several of the most egregious industry practices, including multiple bills arising from a single hospital stay, added facility fees not tied to services performed and large out-of-network bills when consumers are misinformed that a provider was in network.
Mandating Adequate Nursing Staff: We support the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, legislation to establish direct-care nurse to patient ratios in New York hospitals, nursing homes, and other acute care facilities (A108/S1168). The research is clear that “safe staffing” ratios saves lives and improves patient outcomes.
Hospital Closures & Disproportionate Impact on People of Color: Poor state policy decisions, including unfair practices involving the allocations of funds, have contributed to significant racial disparities in the healthcare system. One of the outcomes of this has been the closure of 41 hospitals statewide since 2003, disproportionately in low-income neighborhoods inhabited by people of color and immigrants. Citizen Action supports the following bills to address health care disparities and give local residents input on policy decisions regarding healthcare services in their communities:
- A191/S1451, which would require hospitals to undertake a health equity assessment when proposing a hospital merger or closure that will result in reduction of services; and
- A176/S444, which would require all hospitals, not just public hospitals as at present, to have community advisory boards and community service plans.
Comprehensive Networks & Benefits: We support requiring health plans to maintain provider contracts for an entire plan year, except for cause, protecting consumers who enroll in a plan because of its network of doctors and other providers. Second, consumers should have the right to go out of network if they cannot get appointments with accessible in-network providers. Finally, all insurance carriers selling private plans through the NY State of Health Marketplace should be required to offer out-of-network coverage at the silver and platinum levels of coverage.
Affordable Prescription Drugs: Citizen Action, along with its coalition partners, supports a number of measures aimed at making critical and often life-saving prescription drugs more affordable and accessible, including the following measures:
- allowing prices for prescription drugs to be controlled through a Drug Utilization Review Board for commercial health plans, as New York presently does for public health programs;
- authorizing the Commissioner of Health to create a program allowing wholesalers to import drugs from other countries where pharmaceuticals are cheaper (A133/S5682); and
- expanding the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program to cover seniors making higher incomes than at present, assuring that more elderly patients are protected from high drug costs.
New York State has made important strides in recent years in addressing the decades-long assault by corporate America on the standard of living of working families, and in finally beginning to seriously protect women and LGBTQ people from workplace harassment, domestic violence and discrimination. Thanks to strong statewide campaigns led by workers and their families, we have won increases in the minimum wage and a state paid family leave program, passed GENDA (the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act), and increased protections and access to services for victims of sexual harassment and violence. But there is a long history of prejudice and pain to undo. We must keep moving forward to ensure justice, safety and economic security for all. Among the most important steps we must take are improving the Paid Family Leave Act, strengthening the state child care system, strengthening the enforcement of worker protections, and establishing permanent workplace safety requirements to protect workers from exposure to infectious diseases like COVID-19.
Paid Family Leave: We are now in the fourth year of the phase-in of New York’s Paid Family Leave Insurance Act. When fully implemented this year, most workers in our state will be able to take up to 12 weeks of job protected, paid family leave to welcome a new child, care for a seriously ill family member, or prepare for the deployment of a family member in the military. Still, there are important gaps and improvements that need to be addressed. We need a more inclusive definition of family, greater portability for those in areas of work requiring frequent employer changes, a more progressive wage benefit for low wage workers, the inclusion of all domestic workers, easier access for the self-employed, and funding for outreach to marginalized populations.
Child Care: Citizen Action supports investing $485 million in child care in this year’s budget, so that New York State can extend child care subsidies to an estimated 30,000 additional children each month, lower the cost of care among families receiving support, and boost child care worker wages to a level more commensurate with their importance to New York’s children, families, and communities. The early months and years of a child’s life form the basis for emotional, physical and intellectual development. For too many children of working families, the lack of equitable access to quality, affordable child care means the perpetuation of economic, racial and geographic inequities. We also support the Governor’s Task Force on Access to Child Care in calling for a plan to achieve universal and equitable access to quality, affordable child care for all New York children by 2025.
Enforcement of Worker Protections: We support the Empire Worker Protection Act, which will allow workers and groups representing them to bring enforcement actions against employers that violate wage, hour and other labor laws, despite “forced arbitration” clauses used by many well-known companies that require that all disputes be arbitrated rather resolved through lawsuits (S12). Lawsuits under the Empire Act will generate millions in penalties to fund further education and enforcement activities of the New York State Department of Labor. The right of workers to have access to private enforcement through the courts is critical, as the state does not have the resources to help the majority of those victimized by illegal practices, and arbitration is typically expensive and biased against workers.
NY Hero Act: Citizen Action supports the NY Hero Act, which would put in place permanent workplace safety requirements to protect workers from exposure to infectious diseases like COVID-19. Almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we still lack enforceable safety standards to safeguard frontline workers from exposure to infectious disease in the workplace. The NY Hero Act would put protections in place to address the current pandemic and beyond, including the right to form worker committees, and prohibitions against retaliation. The Act would cover all workers, including domestic workers, contractors and gig workers.