It’s a pleasure to be able to once again update you on my work here in the community. As you may be aware, the district lines are being redrawn and I will be traveling over the next few months throughout our community to meet with current and new district residents to discuss community issues and suggestions on how we can improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
To date, we have been experiencing an increase in police brutality and shootings in our community. I have taken the necessary steps to introduce legislation to address bad conduct of police officers who use excessive force on our young and our residents. I will be coordinating with other elected officials of the Bronx to call for a youth summit to address the solutions in getting the young into job training and placement and away from gangs and drugs.
My commitment to you is to continue being the voice of justice of our community. We have to work together regardless of our race, color, religion or creed, to make our community a better place to live and for the future of the children. We owe it to them and as an elected official and your Assemblyman, I’m obligated to work on these issues for you. In the next few pages you can read the work I have accomplished this year so far.
Feel free to contact my district office at 3215 Third Avenue, in the Bronx, for your concerns.
Remember, IN UNITY THERE IS STRENGTH!
While Black History Month is often a time to reflect on past accomplishments, it is also a time to look at the impact African-Americans are making today. The commander in chief of our country, President Barack Obama, has provided hope and inspiration to people by proving that the color of your skin does not determine the impact you have on the world.
While the President and First Lady provide modern-day examples of the inspiration African-American men and women can provide, it is also important to use Black History Month as an opportunity to look back at those who overcame daunting racial barriers. Forward-thinking leaders such as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., all helped ensure that African-Americans today have the opportunity to make an impact on today’s world.
New York State has consistently paved the way for racial equality. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League made their headquarters in New York State for years, and the United Negro Improvement Association was founded in our great state. New York State was also significant in the formation of the Underground Railroad. Many safe houses were located across the state allowing for the safe refuge of the thousands of escaped slaves who were looking to flee the harsh conditions of the south.
New York was also the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance, which took place in the 1920s and was the celebration of a new African-American identity. Black Harlem families celebrated their culture and started using art, literature, and music to fight against the pervading racism found across the country. This cultural renaissance was vital to the development of the African-American identity we see today throughout the country.
As we reflect on the great African-American men and women who helped make this country what it is, it is not enough to merely appreciate their accomplishments and contributions. Rather, we should learn from these admirable people, follow their lead and continue working for full equality.
As Dr. King once said, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” Paying people a fair wage to work, eliminating or lowering taxes for those too poor to afford them and increasing college opportunities for those who want to get ahead are ideas our society should embrace.
While we keep pushing forward, it’s important to note what we’ve already accomplished. Creating jobs is one of my top priorities in the Assembly, and we made progress in December by approving $61 million to fund various jobs programs, including the Summer Youth Employment Program ($25 million), the Youth Employment Readiness Training Program ($12 million) and the Displaced Homemaker Program ($2.5 million).
These programs are essential in preparing Bronx residents to enter or reenter the workforce. Additionally, this historic legislation will help New York’s hardworking middle-class families by cutting taxes, creating jobs, and eliminating a tax cut for millionaires (Ch. 55 and 56 of 2011).
Throughout this year’s legislative session, I will keep in mind the basic principles that Dr. King fought tirelessly for and ultimately gave his life trying to achieve – fairness and equality for all. We can properly honor Dr. King’s memory by building a ladder to financial stability for the many New Yorkers who have been left behind during our state’s economic struggles.
Many families living on the state’s current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, or roughly $15,000 a year for a 40-hour workweek, have an incredibly tough time balancing a household budget. In 2010, the top three occupations in industries that saw job growth nationwide were retail sales employees, cashiers, and food preparation workers – all of which are predominantly minimum-wage jobs. By increasing the minimum wage in New York, more than 1 million New Yorkers, or 14 percent of our workforce, would benefit.
One commonsense way to get our economic engine up and running is to increase consumer demand, which can be done by putting more money into the pockets of the people who are most likely to spend it – lower-income families. The federal increase in the minimum wage in July 2009 was estimated to have generated $5.5 billion in consumer spending across the country. By increasing New York’s minimum wage for over a million families, we can help grow our economy right here.
Since minimum wage increases have not kept up with inflation, many minimum-wage workers have been forced to live paycheck to paycheck. If the federal minimum wage had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years, it would currently stand at $10.39 an hour. New York’s $7.25 minimum wage is insufficient for any family to achieve a modest standard of living, forcing them to choose between rent, heat, gas, food, and medications. But the Assembly’s plan would call for the minimum wage to be indexed to inflation starting in 2014, finally providing a wage that better meets the needs of Bronx working families.
While there is unwarranted speculation that increasing the minimum wage leads to extensive job loss, research on the topic proves otherwise. Over two decades, studies that measured employment levels before and after minimum wage increases found that these hikes did not lead to job loss, even during times of high unemployment.
Currently, New York’s neighboring states of Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts – as well as 15 other states across the country – all have higher minimum wages than New York. With a proud history as one of the most progressive states in the nation, we should be leading the way, not lagging behind. In the past five years, our state increased the minimum wage rate by just 10 cents per hour, which is simply not enough.
Additionally, the topic of increasing the minimum wage has overwhelming support from New Yorkers, with 88 percent of those polled in a recent opinion survey favoring raising it from $7.25 to $10 an hour, while adjusting rates to the cost of living each year.
During a time when many New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet, a minimum wage increase is extremely important to Bronx families trying to keep up with the rising cost of living. No one who works full time should be poor and without hope. It’s crucial that we value the role of work in our communities and reward employees with a fair wage they can live on. To join the fight to increase the minimum wage for New York’s working families, please sign the online petition at raisethewageNY.com.
“In our current economic climate, it is very important that our young people have opportunities to gain valuable work experience to prepare for the future and, in many cases, provide for their families,” Assemblymember Stevenson said. “This new program will provide incentives to businesses to hire and train young people, which in the end will create a more experienced and better-skilled workforce.”
The law grants a tax break to companies that hire at-risk or disadvantaged youths between the ages of 16 and 24 during the first six months of 2012. The credit will be available to those companies who work in the clean energy, health care, advanced manufacturing, and conservation fields. The companies will be eligible to receive up to $3,000 during the six-month training period for the new hires and could earn an extra $1,000 if they retain these new employees for an additional six months after the training has ended. The tax credit program will be administered by the Department of Labor, with employment beginning before July 1, 2012.
Additionally, the state will provide $12 million in grants for critical jobs programs for inner-city youths. These grants will aid in youth-employment readiness training, occupational training, workplace mentoring, and job placement. Participating youths will receive a $300 stipend per month to help with the costs faced when trying to enter the job market.
“These new programs will help ensure that young people are prepared for the future,” Assemblymember Stevenson said. “Not only will these new initiatives provide immediate employment, but they will also make sure New York youths will be highly marketable in the future.”
The legislation will provide the Summer Youth Employment Program with a restoration of $25 million. The program provides summer employment and educational experiences that enable youth to acquire skills, earn an income and work toward meeting their occupational goals.
“It is vitally important that we take steps now to make sure that the future of our state is in good hands,” Eric Stevenson said. “This new legislation will provide our young people with the proper job training to make sure that the future is bright.”
In addition, the Assembly Majority fought for and won various measures to help workforce development and to meet the needs of economically disadvantaged communities, including funding for higher education opportunity programs, Career Pathways, ATTAIN, Displaced Homemakers and child care programs.