Members of Make the Road in Albany (photo: @MaketheRoadNY)
Make the Road New York, the state’s largest member organization of immigrant advocates, will release its 2023-24 state policy platform on Wednesday and launch a series of town halls to push for legislation that includes protections expanded against unemployment, better access to health care, instituting expulsion for “good cause”, ending racially-based school discipline, decriminalizing sex work, raising taxes on the wealthy, etc
With 23,000 members statewide, Make the Road New York (MRNY) represents a major progressive group in the state that has consistently lobbied for immigrant and worker-friendly legislation. The group is set to launch its “Respect and Dignity” policy platform at its office in Jackson Heights, Queens on Wednesday afternoon, followed by a town hall in the evening. The group also has town halls planned in Brooklyn and Westchester, and aims to hold one on Long Island as well.
Albany’s new agenda includes a series of legislative and budget demands that the group and its allies hope Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul will heed, hot off the heels of her narrow victory in the general election where progressives take credit for the helping to fulfill her first full term. in the office. As she heads into the new year working with a Democratic-dominated state legislature, Hochul will also deliver her second state of the state address and executive budget, outlining her own priorities and setting the table. for the six-month state legislative session.
“It was people of color, especially black voters, and people of color in New York City who really got Kathy Hochul re-elected,” MRNY co-executive director Jose Lopez said in a phone interview. “And I think what our communities will be looking for given the outcome of this election and the fact that we protected his seat is a movement on substantive issues that really impacts working class and working class communities. ‘colored immigrants.’
Like the state’s $2.1 billion Disqualified Workers Fund, which provided assistance to those who were unable to receive federal unemployment benefits during the pandemic, MRNY is pushing for the passage of a bill, sponsored by State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Karines Reyes that would create a permanent unemployment insurance program for “excluded” workers. At a cost of $800 million per year, the bill would establish the first-ever excluded worker unemployment program to give up to $1,200 per month in support to up to 50,000 ineligible unemployed workers, including freelancers and gig economy workers.
A new fund would be crucial for people like Gerado Vital, father of two and member of Make the Road New York. “Immigrants like me, we contribute and help the economy…we contribute like everyone else, but at the end of the day we don’t get any help when we lose our jobs with any type of unemployment,” said he said in a telephone interview, through an interpreter. .
Vital is currently unemployed and fears falling behind on rent and car insurance payments. “But there’s no program I can apply for that I can get any help,” he said. “People think we don’t matter but we do because we contribute to the state, we pay our taxes.”
The MRNY is also advocating for the passage of a health care coverage bill sponsored by State Senator Gustavo Rivera and outgoing Assemblyman Richard Gottfried to create a critical plan funded by the state to provide health care to all low-income New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status. The group estimates that about 154,000 state residents are currently ineligible for federal health insurance programs such as Medicaid and Essential Plan due to their immigration status, and that the program would cost about $345 million. per year and would involve the participation of at least 46,000 people. (With Gottfried’s departure from the Assembly, the Bill will have to be reintroduced by another MP in the next legislative session.)
As Hochul enters his first term, high on his agenda is housing affordability and access, a priority MRNY advocates also share. The group’s agenda pushes for passage of ‘good cause’ deportation, sponsored by State Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter, which would provide crucial protections against deportation tenants, including against significant annual rent increases. The bill has gained momentum in the Legislative Assembly in recent years, but has yet to pass and Hochul did not say whether she supports it.
The MRNY is also urging the state to create a $200 million housing voucher program, half of which is earmarked for households at risk of homelessness and the other half for homeless individuals and families. The program, championed by State Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, got a lot of momentum in the Legislature last year, but the Hochul administration disputed the cost estimate. and refused to support her.
“These are things that New Yorkers care about, these are things that New Yorkers want to see happen,” Lopez said. “And those will be the fights we help fight with allies across the state to make sure this administration delivers on its promises.”
Another proposal on the agenda includes the Solutions Not Suspensions Act, sponsored by State Senator Robert Jackson and retiring Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan. As with Gottfried’s bill, the legislation will need to be passed by another member next year. It aims to end harsh school disciplinary practices that disproportionately affect students of color and people with disabilities. This would limit the use of suspensions and instead focus on restorative practices.
Make the Road also supports the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, sponsored by Salazar, which would decriminalize sex work for consenting adults and expunge records of arrests, convictions and incarcerations for sex work that do not is more criminal.
Although some of these legislative proposals will require significant state funding, Lopez said they “are not very onerous” and could easily be offset by the Invest in our New York package of bills, which aims to generate up to $50 billion in revenue by closing tax loopholes and raising taxes on the wealthy, corporations and Wall Street. This argument is likely to meet resistance, especially from Governor Hochul, who has repeatedly said she has no plans to raise taxes.
“We’re going to be prepared for those arguments when they come,” Lopez said. “But I think the reality is that we view budgets as moral documents and there will be a question, particularly after the election, about where we spend.”
“Our hope is that [Governor Hochul] learns some lessons from this election and that it understands that to perform better, it is going to have to ensure progressive good faith, especially next year,” he added.
Make the Road has several other priorities for the state government to pursue, including adequate budget allocations for the state’s new public campaign finance program, with a request for $70 million for the next budget, due by April 1; increase subsidies and eliminate bureaucratic barriers to child care for low-income families, regardless of employment or immigration status; ensuring that Hochul honors its commitment to fully fund the Foundation’s aid to public schools; investing $18.6 million in adult literacy; restoring $5.2 million in funding for the Community Health Advocates Program; increase funding for the Navigators program that helps people enroll in health insurance; updating the New York Hospital Financial Assistance Act; and passing the Access to Representation Act to provide universal legal representation to New Yorkers facing deportation.
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