These are tough times, with the recession having a serious impact on our City and State. Fortunately the Federal stimulus package included funds to help protect State and City budgets. In addition, we adopted the State budget and the MTA bailout prior to the power grab which is currently paralyzing the Senate. The Assembly is continuing our work as usual and the session came to a close on time.
As usual, you are welcome to call, come in, or contact me over the Internet if you have problems or concerns.
416 Seventh Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Room 842 LOB
Albany, NY 12248
1414 Cortelyou Road
Brooklyn, NY 11226
The recession created a $17.5 billion deficit in the State budget. Adopted in early April, we addressed the deficit with about $6 billion in tax increases (two-thirds of the money in modest income tax increases starting at $300,000 a year), $5 billion in spending cuts, $5 billion in Federal stimulus aid, and about one billion dollars in non-recurring State resources.
Before we knew what the Federal stimulus package would provide, Governor Paterson had proposed $460 million in cuts in State education aid to City schools, including $100 million in cuts to pre-school special education. The City had its own preliminary plans for massive cuts. Together, State and City cutbacks would have forced 14,000 teacher layoffs. Fortunately, the Federal stimulus funds averted the State cut and most of the City cuts and the State has passed through nearly one billion dollars of Federal funds to the City schools. The deficits at the City level are so staggering the Department of Education is still implementing a cut, but catastrophe has been avoided thanks to the actions of Congress and the President.
SUPPORTING NEW YORK CITY’S FAMILIES IN DIFFICULT TIMES
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.
EXTENDING A HELPING HAND
The budget will also raise the non-shelter portion of the public assistance grant ten percent each year for the next three years beginning in July, providing much-needed help to New York’s most vulnerable families. The basic grant of $291 per month for a family of three, which has not been raised since 1990, would increase by $97 per month when the grant increase is fully implemented. The final budget will pick up the local share for this initiative for the next three years, which will save the city taxpayers over $95.2 million.
New York has been hit especially hard by the economic downturn, a fact reflected in the growing number of unemployment claims. The budget directs federal stimulus funds to aid unemployed workers by:
Increasing benefits by $25 per week;
Continuing through December 31, 2009 the extended unemployment benefits program, which grants eligible applicants a total of 59 weeks of benefits; and
Paying 65% of COBRA premiums for nine months for eligible workers. COBRA allows workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to continue the benefits provided by their group health plan for a limited period of time.
The final budget restores $24 million in funding for Youth Development and Delinquency Prevention (YDDP), the Special Delinquency Prevention Program (SDPP), the Runaway Homeless and Youth Act (RHYA), as well as alternatives to detention and alternatives to residential placement programs. The budget also fully restores funding for county operated detention services.
The past few years have seen homeowner water and sewer bills rise nearly 60%. The Water Board approved a 9.4% increase in 2007, an 11.5% increase in 2008, a 14.5% increase last year, and a new 12.9% increase this past May. After the May 2008 approval of the water rates, the Chair of the Water Board protested water rate increases to the Mayor, whereupon the Mayor removed him (James Tripp) as Chair of the Board.
These increases are too harsh for the average citizen to afford and I have introduced two measures to assist in curbing these sharply escalating rates. First, I have introduced in the Assembly a proposal by Comptroller Thompson to change the appointment process of Water Board members from all of those members being appointed by the Mayor to three non-Mayoral appointees along with four appointed by the Mayor to create a more independent board [A.8943].
I have also introduced legislation to limit increases in the water system’s debts to 6% a year without City Council approval [A.8747]. Finally, I am re-introducing legislation to allow senior citizen and disabled homeowners who qualify for the Senior Citizen or Disabled Homeowner Exemptions to have their water bills frozen [A.6802a].
Right now the City is claiming it plans another 12% water rate hike next year. This is particularly outrageous since the State just passed through $227 million in Federal stimulus funds to the City for water infrastructure projects, which could have been used to reduce rate increases.
Saved the Subway and Bus Fares
The MTA proposed sky-high fare hikes at a time when riders are already financially strapped. We prevented the 32 percent increase in fares - instead, the fare was increased 10 percent.
We funded two years of capital projects, including vital transit and commuter rail maintenance and modernization projects, and did not add new tolls on bridges that are currently not tolled.
Shared the Burden
The budget crisis facing the MTA is a regional problem - we needed to ensure that the burden to make our transit system whole was shared by everyone, not just riders. The compromise we achieved protects services and limits fare increases by instituting:
An employer-paid payroll tax in the 12 counties served by the MTA;
A 50-cent surcharge on taxi rides;
A $25 annual increase in vehicle-registration fees in the MTA region;
A 5% increase in the auto-rental tax in the MTA region;
A $16 increase in 8-year driver license fees in the MTA region - which is a $2 increase per year; and
Delayed future increases - fares and tolls will rise again by 7.5% in both 2011 and 2013.
Stopped the Service Cuts
The package had major benefits for our community. The B16, B23, and B75 bus lines were saved from elimination. Reduced services on the B67 and B77 bus lines were blocked.
Reformed the MTA
I am also pleased to report several significant reforms on how the agency is managed. First, the agency will have to develop performance standards (i.e. how long a trip should take) and post information to the public on how they are meeting these standards as well as how they are measured. The Legislature will commission an outside audit on the agency’s finances and operation. The MTA will be required to submit a complete report to the Legislature and the public 30 days after its annual audit of how it is maintaining internal control over its finances. Members of the board of trustees can be removed for breach of their duty to exercise prudent oversight over the agency’s finances and operations. Finally, the MTA is directed to establish a public complaint and input office.
The Budget expanded the Film Tax Credit for television programs and movies produced in New York City by $350 million, which will help our local economy. Bolstering aid for New York City programs such as this creates a stronger, healthier New York.
Social Security on the Web
Thanks to new online services at the Social Security Administration, you can now accomplish a variety of tasks online. Prospective beneficiaries can apply for Social Security retirement benefits or disability benefits, apply for additional Medicare prescription benefits and check and status of their application. If you aren’t sure if you qualify for benefits or would like to estimate your future benefits, you also may use the new online service.
For recipients of either Social Security or Medicare, you can update your contact information, order a replacement Medicare card, request a proof of income card, obtain a Social Security Benefit Statement or get a new password using the new online service. And finally, if you have a password to use the online services, you can check your information and benefits, change an address or phone number and start or change direct deposit service. All these services are now available at www.socialsecurity.gov.
New York Prescription Saver Card - NYP$
NYP$ is a pharmacy discount card that can lower the cost of your prescriptions by as much as 60 percent on generics and 30 percent on brand name drugs. Just show your card at a participating pharmacy to receive your discount right at the counter. NYP$ is sponsored by New York State and supported by pharmacies and pharmaceutical manufacturers who are generously providing these discounts to you.
New York State residents are eligible if they are not already receiving Medicaid and are either age 50 to 65, or have a disability and have been determined disabled by the Social Security Administration AND have an annual household income of less than $35,000 as a single or $50,000 as a couple.
To apply, you fill out an application available on the Web site listed above (in either English or Spanish or call them at 1-800-788-6917 (TTY users call 1-800-290-9138). My office can also help you if you don’t have access to the Internet.
Need help paying for Medicare?
Ask your Medicaid office about
Medicare Savings Programs
Medicare Savings Programs can help you pay some of the costs of Medicare. These programs, also known as “Medicare Buy-In Programs” are administered by Medicaid but you don’t need to receive Medicaid to apply. There are several different programs - each one has different income and assets or savings requirements. If you are having trouble paying your share of Medicare, you may call the Medicare Rights Center at 212-869-3850 or visit one of my offices. We can help you determine whether you qualify.
SCRIE - Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption
If you are at least 62, live in a rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartment, and pay more than one-third of your income for rent, you may be eligible for a rent increase exemption, depending on your income. Beginning July 1, your income may not exceed $29,000. My office has applications for this program, or you can find them at any senior center.
DRIE - Disabled Rent Increase Exemption
Disabled tenants may also be eligible for a rent increase exemption. This exemption is not determined by age. If you live in a rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartment, receive SSI, SSDI, a Veterans Disability pension or disability related Medicaid and your income is under $19,284 (single) or $27,780 (household) and you spend more than one-third of your household income on rent, you are eligible for DRIE. Call my office for an application for this program.
STAR – The New York State School TaxRelief Program
There are two types of STAR benefit: Basic STAR and Enhanced STAR. Basic STAR is available to all resident owners of 1-, 2-, and 3-family houses, condominiums, and cooperative apartments and has no income or age limit. Seniors (age 65 or over as of December 31st of the exemption benefit year) with an annual adjusted gross income of $73,000 or less may be entitled to Enhanced STAR, which offers a higher tax reduction.
Most homeowners who have basic STAR save about $201 a year on their property taxes. Enhanced STAR generally offers an additional tax savings of approximately $180 per year to eligible recipients.
SCHE – Partial Property Tax Exemption
For seniors 65 and older who own their own home (1, 2 or 3 family house, condominium or cooperative), SCHE is a program to provide a partial property tax exemption of up to 50% depending upon your adjusted gross income. Those whose income is no greater than $29,000 can get the full 50%; eligible households of up to $37,400 may qualify for a lesser tax break. Homeowners who receive SCHE automatically receive Enhanced STAR, which provides an additional exemption above that of SCHE. My office has the necessary forms to apply for these programs.
DHE – Disabled Homeowners Exemption
Low-income homeowners with disabilities may also be eligible to a 5% - 50% tax reduction similar to that described above for SCHE. The income eligibility levels are the same for both programs.
Applicant must have a disability, defined as a physical or mental impairment not due to current use of alcohol or illegal drugs. The property must serve as the owner’s primary residence; that is, the house, condominium, or cooperative apartment where you live for the majority of the year and the address where you are registered to vote.
The Department of City Planning’s Flatbush rezoning is moving forward, with applause from Community Board 14 and neighborhood groups. We all welcome its protection of the character and density of Victorian Flatbush, along with provision for affordable housing on the major corridors. Designed to match the zoning to the character of the neighborhoods with detached homes, the plan encompasses 180 blocks from the Parade Grounds to Brooklyn College and from Coney Island Ave. on the west to Bedford Ave. and the CB 14 boundary on the east.
The proposal is well on its way through the ULURP process; the City Planning Commission now has 60 days for final review before the plan goes before City Council for hearing, review and a vote. Congratulations to Community Board 14, South Midwood Residents Association, Beverly Square West, Ditmas Park West Association, and other homeowner organizations!
A bill I have sponsored to require the Department of Buildings to reinspect all hazardous violations at construction sites and follow up on stop work orders to see that violations are being corrected before work is resumed has passed both houses of the Legislature and is on its way to the Governor.
The long history of contractors and developers threatening public safety in construction projects is an outrage. The Department of Buildings has tools they can use to prevent such violations - by issuing stop work orders and requiring work to be done properly, with safety measures used to protect people and property in the vicinity. However, they do not monitor the sites that have received violations to see that they are corrected, and the construction companies are aware that they can get away with ignoring these violations. By requiring a regular re-inspection, with stop work orders and fines for failing to correct the condition, the businesses that are proceeding with construction will have reason to follow the rules and make corrections when violations occur.
In 2007, then-Governor Spitzer vetoed a similar bill at the request of the Mayor. Since then, my office has worked with the City to craft this bill which the Mayor supports.