I am pleased to share with you information about the 232nd Legislative Session which officially began on January 7, 2009. I have been appointed by Speaker Sheldon Silver to hold the position of Deputy Majority Leader, while also serving as a member of various Assembly committees. I remain a member of the Codes, Corporations, Housing, Insurance, Majority Steering, Rules, and Ways and Means Committees. My service on these committees gives me an opportunity to review and analyze important legislation before it may reach the Assembly Floor for a full vote.
As a longtime resident and a representative of Southeast Queens, I am passionate about the community and neighborhood in which we live. Maintaining the infrastructure and keeping our neighborhoods safe, clean and drug free is important to the economic stability of Queens County. In order to continue in this regard I would like to encourage each resident to do their part to help promote “Community Pride” by keeping our sidewalks clean and maintaining their homes; this helps to make our community beautiful and a desirable place to live. Let’s work together to reach this goal so that we can all be proud of our unique and wonderful neighborhoods.
In closing, I would ask that you read this newsletter as it contains articles on the New York State Budget, expanding unemployment benefits, senior news, and much more. As always if you are in need of any further information or assistance please feel free to stop by my office or call (718) 322-3975.
Best wishes for a safe and enjoyable summer.
Vivian E. Cook
The 2009-2010 state budget fully restores New York City’s Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) funding, for a total of $328 million. The funding will help support local projects and programs essential to the well-being of New York City residents and will help offset cutbacks in city services, such as police and fire protection, garbage pickup and sanitation. The budget also restores $15.7 million in Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs) funding for maintenance of the city’s streets.
The crisis on Wall Street has not only battered the city’s economy, but the state’s as well, leaving New York with a massive budget gap. It’s clear that we needed to make some changes. Still, the Assembly remained steadfastly dedicated to providing meaningful aid to New York City and fought to restore its funding in the final budget so that working families would not be impacted.
The budget provides nearly $8.5 billion in state funding for New York City schools, restoring the executive’s $362 million cut and rejecting the proposal to shift the cost of preschool special education to the New York City School District – saving taxpayers $97 million. The final budget delivers nearly $1 billion in additional funding to New York City schools above the executive’s proposal.
The budget also creates new reporting requirements for New York City regarding its Five Year Class Size Reduction Plan. It will now include detailed information by school on the number of classrooms and teachers that existed prior to receiving Contract for Excellence funds and the number of new classrooms and new teachers created with funds; actual average class sizes for each year funding was received; and those that received Contract for Excellence funds and did not reach class-size reduction goals and the actions to be taken in those schools to reduce class sizes.
The Assembly recognizes that CUNY is an economic development tool for New York City. That’s why the budget invests $144.4 million more to CUNY than last year, providing it with $1.9 billion overall.
The budget makes critical investments in housing, including $25 million for foreclosure prevention statewide. Based on a competitive grant process, over half of the foreclosure prevention funding went to New York City last year. In addition, $3 million will go to the New York City Housing Authority for operating costs and $74 million was appropriated for the Homeless Prevention Program to help provide eviction-prevention services to families in the city. The federal stimulus provides $502 million to the state for the Public Housing Capital Fund to help address housing needs, neighborhood stabilization and homeless prevention.
At a time when we are seeing mounting job losses and rising homelessness, programs that help keep people in their homes are essential.
Many New Yorkers are struggling in this economic downturn, and nobody is suffering more than the needy. Recognizing this, I helped pass a state budget this year providing the first increase to New York’s public assistance grant in nearly two decades. I’m happy to report that the increase is now in effect.
Our neediest, most vulnerable population is in desperate need of a sense of security in this unstable economy. Over 800,000 New York residents are currently out of work. This 10 percent per year increase in assistance will provide necessary support to those families attempting to make ends meet.
The three-year increase – the first since 1990 – will benefit approximately 200,000 households, including nearly 290,000 children. Beginning now, the average public assistance grant for a family of three increases from $291 a month to $321 a month. It will rise to $353 a month in July 2010 and to $388 a month from July 2011 forward.
While this assistance extends essential short-term relief to families, it’s imperative that we provide our most vulnerable population with avenues and opportunities to better their long-term economic prospects. That’s why the Assembly Majority has also invested considerable resources in job training and education programs to build skills and work experience so that needy individuals are better prepared for today’s workforce. This additional knowledge is a vital tool in helping families eventually leave public assistance.
The state budget also restored $921,000 to the Nutrition Education and Outreach Program, which enrolls people in Food Stamps, Summer Food and School Breakfast programs. In addition, New York received an added $407 million in federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) contingency funds this year because of increased Food Stamps enrollments.
It’s a moral imperative and bedrock American value to help those in need. With the public assistance grant increase now in effect, we’re able to better lend a hand to the most economically vulnerable New Yorkers.
The enacted budget continues the Assembly’s effort to reduce the Medicaid burden on New York City taxpayers and will see a savings of $137.6 million. The budget will also continue the Assembly’s longstanding commitment to cover the total cost of the state’s Family Health Plus program. As a result, New York City will realize an additional $315 million in savings.
The final budget accepts the executive’s appropriation of $170 million to help retire New York City’s debt by paying for the prior refinancing of the Municipal Assistance Corporation (MAC) bonds. These funds are paid through the Local Governments Assistance Corporation.
The budget also expands the Film Tax Credit for television programs and movies produced in New York City by $350 million, which will help the local economy. Bolstering aid for New York City programs creates a stronger, healthier New York. I’ll do everything I can to ensure agencies and organizations in the city are able to continue operating the many programs and services that are invaluable to helping working families.
Assemblymember Cook fought to ensure that $3.5 billion for the School Tax Relief (STAR) program was included in the enacted budget. If you have not applied for Basic STAR – or may be eligible for Enhanced STAR – please contact your local assessor’s office at (212) 504-4080.
Assemblymember Cook continues to fight to lower property taxes in a real and meaningful way, seeking to implement a property tax cap that’s tied to homeowners’ incomes, so the less you earn, the less you pay. This program would give much-needed relief to working families and seniors struggling under New York’s antiquated property tax system.
Assemblymember Cook worked hard to pass a responsible, on-time budget that protects New Yorkers during this fiscal crisis and will put New York on the road to recovery. This budget cuts state spending by over $6 billion, protects important programs like EPIC and Enhanced STAR, and blocks over $2 billion in nuisance taxes. Assemblymember Cook fought for a budget that preserves critical aspects of the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program, helping to keep prescription medications affordable for thousands of New York seniors – and thereby helping keep seniors healthy. The enacted budget preserves more than $50 million in “wrap-around” coverage, which pays for EPIC enrollees’ prescription drugs when the drugs aren’t covered by a Medicare Part D plan. Not only does the coverage help keep seniors healthy by giving them access to the medications they need, it ultimately saves taxpayers millions of dollars a year by decreasing the number of emergency room visits and nursing home admissions.
If you are a New York State resident age 65 or older with an income of $35,000 or less per year if single or $50,000 per year or less if married you are eligible.
For more information, call the
EPIC hotline at 1-800-332-3742.
“We need to make sure everyone has access to the health care they need, and making prescription drugs more affordable is a critical part of the plan.”
“We need to make sure everyone has access to the health care they need, and making prescription drugs more affordable is a critical part of the plan,” Assemblymember Cook said. “Drug prices can be outrageous, and if you need a certain medication but you can’t afford it, you’re put in a terrible and potentially life-threatening spot. We need to make sure people can afford their meds so they can manage their health and live long, healthy, productive lives.”
The Prescription $aver Card program, which the Assembly helped pass last year (Ch. 58 of 2008), will serve low-income New Yorkers who are disabled or are between the ages of 50 and 64. To be eligible for this benefit, the annual income must be $35,000 or less for single individuals or $50,000 or less for married individuals. Medicaid recipients or those enrolled in the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program are not eligible for the Prescription $aver Card.
“The Prescription $aver Card program is a significant step forward in helping people afford their health care. More than 2,500 pharmacies throughout the state will be participating in the program, including small, independent pharmacies and large chains, as well as many drug manufacturers,” Assemblymember Cook said. “As participation grows, savings will grow, and spare people thousands of dollars a year in prescription costs. The savings will be truly meaningful to those who need it most.”
Assemblymember Cook added that the Assembly was the first to pass legislation – back in 1986 – to create the EPIC program.
“This is part of the Assembly Majority’s longstanding commitment to lowering prescription drug costs for New Yorkers,” Assemblymember Cook said. “I’ll continue looking for new and better ways to make lifesaving medications more affordable.”
To learn more about the Prescription $aver Card program or to apply, visit http://nyprescriptionsaver.fhsc.com or call 1-800-788-6917. TTY users should call 1-800-290-9138. Applications are also available at pharmacies.
Assemblymember Cook announced the passage of legislation that will allow the state to receive a one-time federal grant of $645 million for unemployment compensation. The legislation (A.8273) would allow unemployment compensation recipients to receive a 13-week extension on their benefits.
“New York has been hit especially hard by job loss. Workers from Wall Street to Main Street are losing their jobs at an unprecedented rate,” Assemblymember Cook said. “This federal stimulus money will help the state cover current benefit claims – vitally important because there are many New Yorkers filing claims for the first time.”
Unemployment insurance benefits are currently provided for 26 weeks to employees who are ready, willing and able to work but who have lost their employment through no fault of their own, Assemblymember Cook said. In 2008 and February 2009, the federal government provided an additional 33 weeks of benefits, for which they paid 100 percent of the cost, for a total of 59 weeks of benefits for New York State claimants. There are 56,000 jobless New Yorkers whose unemployment benefits would have run out by the end of the week without this legislation, with at least 5,000 more a week after that.
The Assembly’s legislation uses federal stimulus funds to further help unemployed New Yorkers and:
ensures that workers who must leave work for certain family reasons, including domestic abuse and the sickness or disability of a family member, may collect unemployment insurance benefits;
provides that part-time workers can seek part-time work to qualify for benefits;
extends benefits for an additional 13 weeks, for a total of 72 weeks of benefits; and
extends benefits an additional 7 weeks when the state has a total unemployment rate of 8 percent or greater – for a maximum of 79 weeks.
As of April 2009, the New York State unemployment rate was 7.8 percent.
“Unemployed individuals who have exhausted all regular and emergency unemployment benefits will be able to receive retroactive payment for weeks covered by this legislation,” Assemblymember Cook said. “There are still many New Yorkers struggling to find jobs in this staggering economy – we must do all we can to help support them.”
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