I am pleased to provide you with this news report on state and local issues currently before the Legislature. This year marked the 227th Legislative Session which officially convened on January 7, 2004. Each year as a member of the Legislature I vote on thousands of bills before the Assembly that may become New York State Law. I am a member of several committees. That is why I take each issue seriously and take your concerns into consideration when I am voting on legislation. Please know your letters, telephone calls, and having the opportunity to meet with you helps to keep me informed on your opinions and concerns.
We are working on legislative proposals to reform the New York State Budget process. The revised process would provide the Legislature with more accurate revenue forecasts and give us more time to review the details of the governor’s budget proposal, thus allowing us to make better decisions. Currently we are addressing the state’s highest courts’ ruling in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. The Legislature must meet this obligation by rejecting an approach that supports some school districts by taking away resources from others. The Assembly recently released a plan to help ensure that every school district in the state receives the resources it needs to provide a quality education.
In addition, we are continuously looking at a state and federal approach to ensuring that New York State’s first responders, fighters and emergency medical technicians, are properly prepared for a potential terrorism threat or natural disaster. The Assembly is also working on the New York State Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). Essentially HAVA is a federal law that gives New York the opportunity to modernize the election law process by providing funding for the needed changes. Congress gave each state the freedom to create a plan that will prepare them for the overhaul as long as certain guidelines are met. The Assembly developed a comprehensive plan to increase voter turnout and empower New Yorkers with a voting process that is more convenient and reliable. The Assembly and Senate must work out their differences regarding this issue in a bi-partisan conference committee.
In addition, we are working on a package of bills that would make driving on New York’s roads safer, as well as other important pieces of legislation. I will provide additional information and the status of these proposals in my next report. Please take a minute to read this newsletter as it will provide you with information on the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) and the new Federal Medicare Drug Discount Cards, housing issues, and The Help America Vote Act (HAVA). If you are in need of any further information or assistance, please free to contact my office at (718) 322-3975.
In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Class of 2004. I wish all of our new graduates the best in all your future endeavors. Have a safe and enjoyable summer.
|Assemblymember Cook met in Albany with representatives of the Transport Workers Union to discuss the proposed Regional Bus Authority.|
|Assemblymember Vivian E. Cook Shares|
REMARKS FROM THE 4TH ANNUAL QUEENS FAIR HOUSING PROJECT
April 24, 2004
I am pleased to have addressed the participants at the 4th Annual Queens Fair Housing Project sponsored by the Queens Legal Services Corporation. I have been a member of the NYS Assembly serving on the housing committee for over 14 years. We examine and vote on all the bills that have to do with housing and related issues in New York State. We also work with the Committee Chairman, Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Brooklyn, to prioritize the funding for certain projects and programs in the State Budget. Last year in the Housing Committee we considered 250 bills. Over 50 of those bills were voted out of the Committee to be voted on by the entire Assembly. Once the bills pass the Assembly they must also be voted on favorably by the Senate and then signed into law by the Governor. Last year in the Assembly we passed many bills that unfortunately either were not passed by the Senate or were vetoed by the Governor. Still, we continue to fight for the legislation and budget funding that we believe will help all New Yorkers to have safe, adequate housing, protection from fraud and scams, and to encourage home ownership and neighborhood stability.
In addition to the Housing Committee’s work, legislation that affects your housing and rights also passes through other channels in the Assembly. For instance, the predatory lending legislation that passed the Assembly during our last Session went through the Banking Committee, but it has a direct effect on housing issues in New York. I strongly supported this legislation because I believe it is necessary to do all that we can to protect our citizens from dishonest lending practices and scams, and to punish those who perpetrate these crimes. Citizens of our state and city who have fallen victim to these fraudulent practices have lost lots of money, and in some cases have lost their homes. I cannot stress enough that every homeowner in New York State must make themselves aware of these predatory lending practices. By being educated, you can protect yourself when someone comes to you with a solicitation that sounds too good to be true.
There has also been much in the news lately about illegal apartment conversions. In the end, illegal apartment conversions can do great damage to both the landlord and tenant involved, both personally and financially. In this situation, no one comes out a winner. In addition to there being serious personal safety hazards to those living in overcrowded and uninspected housing, the negative effects on the surrounding infrastructure and public systems are also substantial. If you are a tenant in an illegal conversion there are steps that you can take to protect your rights, and if you are a landlord in this situation there are actions that you can take immediately to attempt to rectify the situation.
As many of you know, much of the advocacy work that I do through my position as Assemblymember has to do with protecting our seniors and their rights. When I talk to seniors every day, one of the issues of greatest concern that I hear from them is their housing. There are elderly who are concerned with losing their homes due to financial strains, who worry that they are or will become unable to stay in their homes because they cannot maintain them or care for themselves, or who have been taken advantage of by unscrupulous lenders or home improvement contractors. Again, it is important that you seek out help if you face any of these or similar situations, and that you seek out all the information available before making any assumptions or rash decisions. Although we face financial hard times in the city and the state, there are still programs available to help you and your loved ones, and to advocate on your behalf. It is important that you seek them out before circumstances get out of control.
Last year in the Assembly Housing Committee we were pleased to be able to hold two important public hearings, both of which helped us to better understand first hand the concerns of our citizens regarding housing issues. In New York City on February 13, 2003, we held a hearing on Affordable Housing. Topics discussed included the role of local non-profits in producing new units of housing, the use of mixed-use financing to encourage the development of affordable housing units, the impact of the unavailability of land, and other obstacles to the construction of affordable housing. We also discussed brownfields, or contaminated properties, which have been left undevelopable in many areas of the City and State and which pose a public health risk if not properly cleaned up. One of the important legislative developments to come out of this public hearing was the development and passage of the Brownfield Clean-up Program Legislation, which I supported, that was signed into law last year. This legislation will go a long way to clean up properties and make them development-ready. We also discussed the importance of the continuation of current rent laws as one way to help alleviate the major housing shortage in our City.
In November of last year we held a second public hearing to discuss the impediments to building affordable housing units in New York City. It is clear to us in the Assembly that one of the main reasons for out-of-control housing costs in the City is the shortage of affordable housing and the difficulty faced by developers who try to build new affordable units. We also examined ways to preserve and exploit current housing stock so that part of the urgency of new development could be eased.
Last year we were also able to secure funding in the State Budget for several significant housing programs, and we will continue to fight for these programs throughout negotiations this year. In the 2003 State Budget we secured $7 million for the Homes for Working Families Program, which uses a combination of tax-exempt bonds, low-interest loans from the state, and federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits to finance the development of housing for households earning between 50% and 60% of the median income. By providing developers a vehicle to access otherwise unused Federal Housing Tax Credits, Homes for Working Families offers an opportunity to produce high quality, affordable housing at a lower cost for New York State’s taxpayers. We also funded the Affordable Housing Corporation for $25 million. This program provides grants and loans of up to $20,000 per unit for rehabilitation and new construction of one to four family dwellings for middle income New Yorkers. In addition to these programs, we funded $12.8 million for the modernization and rehab of public housing units in the City, and $440,000 for the Urban Home Ownership Assistance Program, which provided eligible neighborhood preservation companies with grants to establish Urban Homeownership Counseling Centers. These centers promote the purchase and rehabilitation of one to five family, owner-occupied buildings by providing credit counseling and other technical assistance. This year we will continue to fight for funding for programs such as these that help to develop and secure affordable housing for low and middle income New Yorkers.
There is no doubt that the challenge of providing safe and affordable housing throughout New York State and most especially in our City is more tremendous than ever given continued budget shortfalls. We in the Assembly will continue to seek to achieve this goal by developing policies and programs that leverage private resources, encourage individual home ownership, lead to the creation of new housing opportunities, and lower the cost of affordable housing development. Despite the ever- increasing demands on state resources, our commitment to you and your housing remains strong.
In addition, we are working to establish a revolving loan fund to help working families purchase and rehabilitate homes. Many families can currently afford monthly mortgage payments, but are unable to buy a home due to high downpayment and closing costs. By assisting families with these one time costs, as well as the costs of necessary repairs, this initiative could make the dream of owning a home a reality for thousands of New Yorkers while rehabilitating current housing stock that may have fallen into disrepair.
We will continue to work this year to support and maintain these programs and services that are vital to protect, improve and develop housing stock that is suitable and comfortable for all members of our communities. We are currently working to negotiate the State Budget, and you can be certain that the housing concerns of our citizens remain a top priority for me and my fellow Assemblymembers. Safe, affordable, adequate housing is the right of all New Yorkers, and we will continue to fight for you and your interests.
|The Kindergarten Art Club at P.S. 223 was selected by a judging panel to display students’ work at the 2004 Disabilities Awareness Art Contest. The Disability Awareness Contest was sponsored by the New York State Commission on Quality of Care. Thousands of entries were submitted by students across New York State. The artwork was prominently displayed at the New York State Empire State Plaza where thousands of people were able to visit the exhibit. Congratulations to P.S. 223 for a job well done.|
Thousands more senior citizens in New York State are eligible for big savings on their prescription drugs thanks to expansions in EPIC eligibility which took effect January 1, 2001. The Assembly succeeded in increasing income eligibility, decreasing co-pays and enrollment fees, and simplifying the program to enhance New York State’s Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage Program (EPIC). EPIC takes some of the financial burdens of the high costs of prescription drugs off seniors with fixed incomes.
GOOD NEWS—Starting June 1, once you enroll with the new federal Medicare drug discount card and EPIC, seniors will be able to save money on certain prescription medications. Lower-income seniors may also be eligible for a $600 prescription drug credit as well, along with a waiver of EPIC enrollment fees. Apart from drug discounts, eligible low-income seniors – single people with annual incomes up to $12,569, or married couples with annual incomes up to $16,862 – can also receive a $600 annual credit to help defray prescription drug costs. That’s available even if seniors are enrolled in EPIC as well. EPIC will waive its enrollment fees for seniors who are eligible for the $600 low-income credit. That alone could save more than $50 per person for singles and more than $100 for couples. EPIC enrollees not eligible for the $600 credit may want to consider the new discount cards as an alternative to EPIC for certain drug costs, although in most cases, the EPIC program is likely to offer greater savings.
If you qualify for the $600 credit and are already enrolled in EPIC, you do not have to do anything to get these great savings. Your discount card should have come by the beginning of June. Remember, with the new card:
For more information or questions about EPIC or if you would like to apply for EPIC, please contact my office at (718) 322-3975 or one of the toll-free numbers at the Senior Hotline 1-800-342-9871 or EPIC Hotline 1-800-332-EPIC.
Here is how the enhanced EPIC works: Who is eligible and how does EPIC work?
New York State residents 65 and older with an income of $35,000 or less if you are single, or $50,000 or less if you are married. Persons receiving Medicaid benefits are not eligible.
When you go to the pharmacy show your EPIC card and for each prescription costing:
|The Help America Vote Act of New York State|
Florida’s dysfunctional voting system took center stage during the November 2000 presidential elections and ultimately led to a new federal law to overhaul the nation’s voting standards. Voting is the very essence of our democracy and like other states, New York is in the process of improving the way we perform this fundamental right. Our democracy relies too heavily on antiquated procedures and equipment. In fact, the two companies that manufactured the polling machines that New York has used for the last 60 years have stopped making them and now even replacement parts are scarce.
Ongoing confusion at the polls has left voters disheartened and led to a steady decline in voter participation. Voters have shown frustration with how and where to register, what identification is needed, how to operate aging lever machines, and ultimately whether their vote will be recorded and counted correctly. We must streamline the voting process and restore voters’ confidence in the system.
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) is a federal law that gives New York that opportunity by providing aid to modernize the election process. Congress gave each state the freedom to create a plan that will prepare them for the overhaul as long as certain guidelines were met. Unfortunately, the 19 member state Task Force created to guide this reform was virtually hand-picked by the Governor’s administration. In fact, the head of the state Board of Elections was passed over as chairman in favor of the Governor’s personal choice.
The Governor’s appointed chairman promised a draft to Task Force members by May 1, 2003, but did not send it until a month later. After careful review, many members of the Task Force deemed the plan shortsighted, leaving our state unprepared for this important restructuring. Furthermore, some members believed that the plan inappropriately implied that all members materially participated in the preparation and content of the plan.
Task Force’s plan lacks specific detail on how to bring 21st century technology to voters
HAVA is supposed to help states create a uniform, computerized voter registration list and assist states with establishing standardized, electronic voting machines. In order to receive federal funds, each state must design a plan, pass enabling legislation, and appropriate state funds. The process must also include citizen participation and public review.
Unfortunately, the Task Force’s plan does not provide an adequate level of detail on several key issues. Those missing portions of the plan mean that no one even has the opportunity to make meaningful suggestions about how to strengthen this vital piece of our democracy.
Plan to modernize voting machines and provide poll training remains unclear
The Task Force’s plan vaguely states that New York will undertake a statewide effort to replace lever voting machines currently used in all counties. But the plan offers no further detail of the machine selection process, how they will be phased in by January 1, 2006, or whether the new machines will be uniform statewide. The plan alludes to accommodating the needs of the disabled community, but falls short of ensuring statewide compliance and accessibility.
The plan also needs to address how poll workers and voters will be educated on using the new machines. After all, the first time many voters will see them will be during the next presidential election and that could be disastrous if voters do not know what to expect.
Once a machine is decided on, the Task Force’s plan also needs to provide further information about how the voter outreach and education campaign will be implemented. There is no detail on how it will be developed, what the costs will be, or how the information will be distributed to the public. This campaign should be developed with the help of community organizations, state associations, election officials and literacy experts.
Questions raised about implementing a statewide voter registration list
The plan fails to describe how the centralized registered voter list will become available to county election officials. Other than the Department of Motor Vehicles, the plan does not list any databases that will be used to lessen the need for voter identification at the polls. This plan misses the opportunity to include detail on how these databases will be selected and how agreements for access can be reached.
Assembly’s plan fills gaps in Task Force’s draft
The Assembly addressed some of these problems by approving a package of legislation that ensures New York’s compliance with the Help America Vote Act. The package would:
We want a system that works for the voters. It’s time we end the confusion at polling places, increase voter turnout, and empower all New Yorkers to participate in the process.
Elections are the lifeblood of our democracy, but they are meaningless without public trust. HAVA offers New York State the opportunity to increase voter participation and modernize the voting process. It’s the Task Force’s responsibility to provide the specific detail needed to bring 21st century technology to the public and ensure the integrity of our elections.
|ASSEMBLYMEMBER COOK’S OFFICE INFORMATION|