Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright
Assemblyman
Keith L.T.
WRIGHT
Reports to
the People
Summer 2009

LEGISLATURE REFORMS THE
DRACONIAN ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAWS
“The reforms to the Rockefeller Drug Laws are obviously much-needed and long overdue. More people will receive the drug treatment and other services they need to get their lives back on track.”
Assemblyman
Keith Wright

In a battle which has lasted over thirty-five years, New York State residents finally triumphed over the arcane and ineffective Rockefeller Drug Laws. The laws, which created severe mandatory minimum sentences for first time drug sale offenders and removed judicial discretion from the equation, were signed into law under Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1976. Since then, communities have suffered immensely due to the ignorance of these laws to the true nature of the drug problem in our society. African-Americans and Latinos make up 90% of the state prison population under sentences for drug offenses, while studies show that the rate of illicit drug use for African-Americans is just 8.7% and for Latinos just 7.2%.

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Assemblyman Wright debating in favor of Rockefeller Drug Law Reform in the State Assembly Chamber.

The reform legislation will: restore sentencing discretion to judges, make probation a sentencing option, expand substance abuse treatment options and provide a framework for the successful reentry of drug offenders into society after completing their sentences. All first time drug offenders convicted of class E through B felonies would be probation eligible. Additionally, this reform will save the State of New York hundreds of millions of dollars due to the immense sums of money needed to incarcerate offenders. “This reform ends the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the drug war, which has plagued Harlem and other communities of color at exponential costs. No longer will these indiscretions and lapses in judgment cost our neighborhoods the ultimate price, the loss of a family member to a harsh penal code. Under the new programs, the drug war will not be waged by our police force, but by our health community, as drug use is truly an illness and should be treated as such,” said Assemblyman Keith Wright.

“The reforms to the Rockefeller Drug Laws are obviously much-needed and long overdue. More people will receive the drug treatment and other services they need to get their lives back on track, fewer communities will be impacted by mass incarceration, and our justice system will work a bit better. Thanks to Assemblyman Wright and his colleagues in the Assembly and Senate, New York is taking a new direction by advancing a public health and safety approach to drug policy,” said Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Organizing and Policy Project Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

For more information on the Rockefeller Drug Law Reform,
please visit http://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20090327a/

ASSEMBLY SOCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE
SPEARHEADS EFFORT TO RAISE PUBLIC ASSISTANCE GRANT AND PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR GRANT RECIPIENTS

As Chairman of the State Assembly Standing Committee on Social Services, Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright successfully engineered the first increase of the public assistance grant in over eighteen years. The increase, 30% over the next three years, will help families receiving public assistance make ends meet and put food on the table. Working alongside Governor Paterson, Assemblyman Wright ensured that this proposal made it into the budget, bringing almost $175 million to our suffering families just next year, despite fiscal belt-tightening and cuts across the board. “For the first time in almost two decades, our families in desperate want of assistance are getting a little more help from our state. While this increase does not solve the problem of poverty in our state and in my opinion does not go far enough to help our struggling families, it is a good start. I have successfully championed the issue of increasing the public assistance grant since I became Chairman of the Social Services Committee in 2007 and I will ensure that the State Assembly keeps fighting for critical increases,” said Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright.

In addition to increasing the public assistance grant, Assemblyman Wright is working hard to ensure that public assistance recipients have the opportunity to transition to well paying careers. The Welfare to Careers Consortium program is just one such opportunity that Assemblyman Wright was able to insert into the budget. This program, which will directly aid New York City residents, is a joint venture on behalf of Metropolitan College, Medgar Evers College, Pace University and the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. The goal of the project is to develop and implement a welfare-to-work project that links educational opportunities to internships and job placements. The Consortium affords participants the opportunity to earn their two-year degree or a baccalaureate degree, thereby greatly increasing their chances of gaining permanent, full-time employment at a sustainable salary level.

To make certain that public assistance recipients have the opportunity to gain much needed higher education, without negative implications to their public assistance eligibility, Assemblyman Wright has introduced legislation (Assembly Bill 1827) to allow individuals receiving public assistance to use their attendance of college to substitute as some of their work requirement. This solves a problem which has confronted public assistance recipients for far too long, wherein they are forced to choose between dead-end work and upward mobility through education. “It is simply not fair that our families have to forego education to receive public assistance. The biggest public assistance that exists is higher education, and once we educate our residents, we will truly be able to raise our neighborhoods out of poverty and into financial success,” said Assemblyman Wright.


THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION IS
EDUCATED THROUGH COMMUNITY INPUT

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Assemblyman Wright speaking at the dedication of the Terence D. Tolbert Educational Complex in Harlem. Terence Tolbert was the former Chief of Staff to Assemblyman Wright for many years, he passed away while serving as State Director of President Obama’s victorious presidential campaign in Nevada.

As many people in Northern Manhattan will tell you, our public schools are the backbone of our community. Our parents, teachers, administrators, and students work tirelessly, striving to achieve an equal part of the American dream. When the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) announced recently that it was scaling back plans to phase out P.S. 194 and P.S. 241, it was a major step forward in the relationship between those dedicated to the success of these schools and the New York City Department of Education.

Since the State Legislature authorized Mayoral Control of New York City Schools in 2002, parents have complained time and time again that their needs and requests were ignored by a Department more concerned with test scores than overall scholastic success. Public schools have been reconstituted with little notification to parents, some charter schools promising parents results have failed, and the DOE kept parental input to the bare minimum. Despite this history, when the DOE announced in late 2008 that they had a plan to reconstitute these neighborhood schools, the parents, teachers, administrators, and wider community joined together in opposition to what they believed to be a negligent strategy emanating from the DOE.

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Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright with Susan Taylor of Essence Magazine.

In the case of P.S. 194, the students and teachers had been forced to go through three unsatisfactory principals in four years, then after the test scores dropped, they were informed that their school would be closed. The strategy of the DOE was akin to starving a plant of water and sunlight, then blaming poor soil for the death of the plant. Fortunately for the students of P.S. 194, the new Principal is committed to the ultimate success of the school and now she will have a chance to bring the promised success home to Harlem, as the DOE is allowing P.S. 194 to accept new students.

Over at P.S. 241, there is a different story in the making. While the DOE is allowing the school to accept new students this year, their intentions for next year and commitment to supporting the school remain unclear. Its commitment to accommodating a charter at this location is indisputable. While P.S. 194 is able to accommodate the charter school due to Department’s claim of excess space, P.S. 241’s future is in question in order to accomplish this transfer, another questionable strategy.

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Assemblyman Keith Wright being taught a few things at the grand opening of the ATTAIN Computer Lab at Grant Houses.

Whether schools are conventional or charter, parents want excellent educational opportunities for their children. That being said, DOE must nurture and support our local neighborhood schools just as it encourages the success of charters. One must not occur at the cost of the other. Only a robust public education system that allows equal access to all students can act as society’s equalizer and offer all children a road to the American Dream. We must raise the standards of all our public schools instead of moving in a different direction that ultimately widens the gap in educational equity.

The cases of P.S. 241 and P.S. 194 are ultimately promising. They show that the Department of Education is willing to listen to parents, teachers, and students and is also committed to ensuring that children have access to community zoned schools, which allows for higher rates of parental involvement and provides a true base for community. This ability to listen and learn will reap great dividends for our city, if it is continued. This is why, prior to the reauthorization of Mayoral Control, we must ensure that our parents have an equal and vociferous place at the bargaining table. Parents are the strongest advocates our children have and we must ensure that their input is taken seriously by the Department of Education, now and in the future.


ASSEMBLYMAN WRIGHT QUADRUPLES FUNDING OF
CAREER PATHWAYS PROGRAM AND ESTABLISHES GREEN PATHWAYS OUT OF POVERTY PROGRAM

In response to over 50% of black males being unemployed in New York City and countless other Harlem residents being severely underemployed, Assemblyman Wright has made workforce development a major goal of the State Assembly Social Services Committee. The Career Pathways program, the first of its kind and funded in 2008, is a collaboration between the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and the Department of Labor, and is designed to improve the economic prospects of low-income workers throughout the State.

Career Pathways links basic education to occupational training and, when combined with integrated support services, enables participants to advance over time to higher level education and training in pursuit of ‘living wage’ employment. Targeted audiences for this initiative are: public assistance recipients, young adults, low wage workers and households with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. “These programs are organized as a series of steps that lead participants towards employment with industry recognized credentials, certificates and licenses. These accreditations will allow for a more mobile and adaptable workforce, something that is especially important during these tough fiscal times. I am happy to have been able to find $10 million in funding to bolster these important programs,” said Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright.

Taking a cue from President Obama, Assemblyman Wright also funded with $5 million a program to facilitate the development of a ‘green workforce’. Green Pathways Out of Poverty, funded through the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, is a program designed to get low-income and at-risk populations into the job market within a burgeoning field.

Working much like the Career Pathways program, this will guide New York residents out of poverty and into a growing and sustainable workforce. “Currently, the New York City metropolitan area ranks first in the nation in green jobs, with a predicted 10% job market growth in thirty years. It is an absolute necessity for Harlem residents to become involved in this emerging market, especially with the high levels of unemployment in our community and the stable and high paying jobs that this market offers. President Obama has made Green Jobs a priority of his administration and we should make it a priority of our neighborhoods,” said Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright

“After 24 years of hitting new milestones and getting the hard-to-employ connected to the workforce, STRIVE has now jumped firmly into ‘green’ with a unique ‘Green Jobs’ training program. The fact that our program was used as the model for New York State’s new Green Job Corps program (a $7 million initiative) is a clear sign of STRIVE’s success as an innovator in serving communities of color – not only in program design, but also in laying the groundwork for major policy changes. The thing we’ve grappled with over the past few years, but have now resolved, is this issue of getting at-risk and disconnected folks reconnected and motivated to gain the skills needed to compete for good jobs. To the extent that they can now acquire complex skill sets for jobs in high-demand sectors, like green construction and environmental remediation is, in my experience, a real paradigm shift in workforce development,” said Rob Carmona, President of STRIVE, Inc.


STATE BUDGET INCREASES
ANTI-HOMELESSNESS PROGRAM FUNDING

While many States across the Nation are cutting services to the most needy, New York State has taken an active and vigorous approach to fighting the effects of the looming recession. As Chairman of the State Assembly Standing Committee on Social Services, Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright has made homelessness prevention a priority. In the 2009-2010 State budget, he more than doubled the funding of emergency homeless services from last year’s rate. The funds provide capital and operational support for shelters, and other services for the homeless.

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Assemblyman Keith Wright with Governor David A. Paterson and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, announcing the expansion of food stamp availability in New York State.

Additionally, the State legislature raised the Supplemental Homeless Intervention program funding by 20%. This program keeps those individuals threatened with eviction and subsequent homelessness in their apartments as they try to figure out their finances. “With more than 100,000 residents of New York City experiencing homelessness every year, now is the time to ensure that we as a State take the steps necessary to protect our most vulnerable individuals. While the current funding is not nearly enough to solve the homelessness problem in our City and State, we must do what we can to help. I will diligently work to ensure that funding is increased to combat the rising tide of homelessness in our City,” said Assemblyman Wright.

Approximately 90% of homeless New Yorkers are African-American or Latino and families make up 78% of the homeless shelter population. To change these disparities, Assemblyman Wright restored the funding to the Supportive Housing to Families program in this year’s budget. Supportive Housing funding helps homeless families in our community find permanent and safe residence within our City and helps keep our children in school and our parents at work. “We must invest on the prevention side of the homelessness equation, as every penny we invest to ensure that our families do not become homeless, ultimately saves our State large amounts of money in other social services and programs that we are constitutionally mandated to provide,” said Assemblyman Wright.

ALBANY OFFICE: Room 844, Legislative Office Building • Albany, NY 12248 • 518-455-4793
DISTRICT OFFICE: Harlem State Office Building, 163 West 125th Street, Suite 911, New York, NY 10027 • 212-866-5809
E-mail: wrightk@assembly.state.ny.us
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