Assembly Jenne: State Budget Funds Initiatives That Will Benefit the North Country

April 10, 2017
Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne said the 2017-18 state budget passed Saturday by the New York State Assembly will benefit North Country schools and college students, provide necessary funding for clean drinking water projects.

The assemblywoman said the spending plan also opens the door for ride-sharing services in the region, adds dollars for a multi-faceted approach to fight the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic and makes additional dollars available to raise wages for direct care workers taking care of our states most vulnerable residents.

She said the budget also includes the monies necessary to implement a middle class tax cut that was part of last year's budget and extends a millionaire's tax that was set to expire this year.

"It was clear early on this was going to be a challenging budget year. There were a number of areas - from school funding and college affordability to criminal justice reforms - where there were dramatic philosophical differences among the members of the two houses and the governor," she said.

"This budget reflects the compromises that were reached by the governor, the state Assembly and the state Senate. That is what governing is all about," according to the assembly member.

The assemblywoman said the 2017-18 budget also includes funding for programs targeted specifically to the North Country including $300,000 for the second year of the North Country Farm to School Program; $250,000 to the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries at Clarkson University; and $30,000 to the city of Ogdensburg for its police department and $200,000 for the North Country Farm Academy in Canton.

Assemblywoman Jenne said 16 schools from St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties participated in the first year of the farm to school program bringing fresh, locally grown foods to cafeterias in an effort that benefited both schools and local growers.

She said the funding for Clarkson will be used for the operation of the River and Estuary Observatory Network (REON) and the Sensor Development Laboratory located on the Clarkson University Downtown Campus. These funds will help support a specialized research infrastructure that is a real-time Environmental Observatory consisting of 30 monitoring stations distributed throughout the Hudson River watershed including the Mohawk River watershed.

The sensor development laboratory will continue to develop sensors, sensor deployment strategies, and robotic systems used to conduct automated data collection and field maintenance processes to meet the primary objective of improving environmental observatory cost performance. This developed technology will be evaluated for general applicability and efficacy through other water sheds as well.

"They are working on cutting edge technology and these funds will allow them to do more in the region and help us understand how best to protect our local waterways," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

She noted the $30,000 allocation to the City of Ogdensburg will allow the police department to purchase equipment that supplements funding for the agency in the city budget.

"This funding will be utilized to purchase a new vehicle. We know the city is under financial stress, and we want to make sure they have the resources they need as they battle with a drug use epidemic in the city. It is part of our partnership with the city to help keep the city's streets safe," according to the state assembly member.

She said the funding for the farm academy operated by St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES at the Cooperative Extension Learning Farm in Canton is an important program aimed at growing the next generation of farmers in the North Country.

"Our farmers in this region and state are aging, and succession plans for many of our farms in this state pose serious concerns. The ag academy provides a great opportunity for high school students with a serious interest in careers in the agriculture sector," Assemblywoman Jenne noted.

Public Libraries

She said North Country communities will also benefit from the restoration of $9 million for local libraries to bring funding up to $95.6 million and increased capital funding for libraries by $10 million to hike the allocation to $24 million.

"I have been a long-time advocate for our local libraries. While their role is changing as they respond and adapt to changes in technology, our local libraries remain jewels in our communities. They offer everything from books and educational materials to technology and job search tools to community programs," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

"It is important we continue to provide the financial resources these libraries need to remain vital community institutions. We also know many of our libraries in this region date back to the early 20th and late 19th centuries, and those capital project dollars are critical for the future of those buildings," she noted.

Middle Class Tax Cuts

The budget implements previously approved middle-class income tax cuts. It also enhances the Child and Dependent Care Credit for taxpayers earning between $50,000 and $150,000.

The credit is based on a sliding income scale for working parents who pay for child care or those who live with a spouse or dependent who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care.

Heroin Epidemic

Despite increased media attention and legislative action, the heroin and opioid epidemic continues to rage in communities across New York State. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of heroin- and opioid-related deaths increased by 47 percent.

"Unfortunately, the North Country is seeing this epidemic in our neighborhoods on a nearly daily basis, and too many lives in St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties and around the country have already been lost or destroyed as a result of this epidemic. It is not a battle that can be won overnight, but we know we need to have resources available to assist those seeking to turn their lives around. We want to make sure to set the stage for more success stories and less obituaries," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

The 2017-18 state budget increases funding by $43 million over last year – for a total of $213 million – to fight the heroin epidemic and increase access to treatment for New Yorkers struggling with a substance abuse disorder.

This funding supports a variety of treatment and prevention programs, including family support navigators, peer supports, recovery clubhouses and community coalitions and $10 million in additional capital support to increase the number of beds in in-patient treatment facilities.

Protecting Affordable Care

The final budget restores funding for Medicaid and other public health programs and addresses rising drug and health insurance costs so that more New Yorkers have access to the health care they need. “We know when we make an investment in public health it makes New York stronger. I want to make sure local families have access to affordable health care. I will also continue to advocate for universal health care in this state," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

The budget restores $78.8 million in proposed reductions to Medicaid and restores $37.6 million to public health programs.

The measures:

  • Restore $20.2 million to existing prescriber prevails provisions, which ensure patients and their doctors have the final say in choosing medication in managed care and fee-for-service plans;
  • Allocate $14.6 million to restore the Essential Plan and reject proposed co-payment and premium increases;
  • Provide $6.3 million to reject the executive proposal to limit coverage for over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and increase OTC co-payments; and
  • Provide Medicaid coverage for donor breast milk for hospitalized, high-risk preterm infants who can’t receive breast milk from their mothers.

Further, the budget restores $10 million in cuts to emergency rooms across New York State. It also provides $10 million to support safety-net hospitals, which care for low-income and uninsured patients, $10 million for critical access hospitals, which provide services in rural communities, and $20 million for mental health facilities.

“I meet with hospital officials from around the region on a regular basis. I know many of our hospitals in the North Country have a high percentage of Medicaid patients and the challenges that puts on their efforts to remain financially viable," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

"I joined my colleagues in the state Assembly to fight to ensure the hospitals that provide care to the most at-risk residents of our state can continue serving their communities,” she stressed.

The state budget also provides funding for a variety of public health priorities, including:

  • $1 million for Community Health Advocates, which helps New Yorkers understand their health insurance and access the health care services they need;
  • Over $1 million for HIV/AIDS Community Service Programs (CSPs) and Multi Service Agencies (MSA);
  • $750,000 for Family Planning Services; and
  • $500,000 for New Alternatives for Children.

Additionally, the final budget provides $150 million for a life sciences laboratory public health initiative to help construct new laboratory facilities or update existing ones to support life science research and innovation. It earmarks $20 million for bioscience and neuroscience programs.

Supporting Seniors

The 2017-18 state budget provides $13.5 million to support long-term care, including restoring $10 million to preserve spousal refusal, ensuring couples do not lose their life savings in the event a spouse becomes ill and needs nursing home care.

“A spouse who has to face the already devastating experience of moving a loved one out of their home and into a long-term care facility shouldn’t also have to give up their financial security,” Assemblywoman Jenne said. “This program helps them keep their hard-earned savings to live on.”

Additionally, the budget includes:

  • $2.7 million to prevent limiting Managed Long Term Care eligibility to only those eligible for nursing homes; and
  • $750,000 to restore nursing home bed hold payments for therapeutic leave.
  • To protect seniors’ hard-earned and well-deserved property tax relief, the budget rejects the executive proposal to change the Enhanced STAR program by requiring all seniors eligible for the Enhanced STAR program to register with the state and participate in the Income Verification Program. Currently, though, seniors are able to register with their local assessor or register when they file their income tax returns – a process that is far easier and causes fewer headaches.

Further, the budget extends consumer protections, including access to a pre-foreclosure settlement conference, to homeowners with reverse mortgages to help more New Yorkers stay in their homes and protect their investments.

Affordable Housing

The state budget releases the long-awaited and hard-fought $2.5 billion to combat homelessness across the state and fund programs for the creation and preservation of affordable housing.

The budget provides $2.5 billion for affordable housing and anti-homelessness initiatives, much of which was appropriated last year but could only be released once a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was agreed to. The budget releases this money and provides:

  • $1 billion for supportive housing to construct 6,000 or more units statewide, including $50 million in operating aid;
  • $150 million for the Middle-Income Housing Program;
  • $125 million for public housing authorities outside New York City;
  • $125 million for senior housing;
  • $45 million for the Rural and Urban Community Investment Fund Program;
  • $41 million for home ownership programs;
  • $13 million for the Manufactured Homes Program; and
  • $10 million for the Main Street Program, which helps fund preservation efforts in historic neighborhoods.

Being Fair to Direct Care

Low wages have left direct care workers struggling to get by and care for their own families, forcing them to leave the field, creating a staffing crisis.

After the executive budget was released without any funding for a direct care worker wage increase, the Assembly fought to ensure that the final state budget dedicated $14 million in 2017-18 and $146 million in 2018-19 to fund a two-year, living wage initiative for direct care workers with the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, the Office of Mental Health and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

Direct care workers and direct support staff will receive a 3.25 percent raise on Jan. 1, 2018. Additionally, direct care workers, direct support staff and clinical staff will receive a 3.25 percent increase on April 1, 2018.

“This has been a fight I have supported from day one. Our direct care workers due important work and deserve a fair wage for the work they do to help our most vulnerable succeed and allow them to lead better lives every day,” Assemblywoman Jenne said.

"I know the relationships formed between direct care workers, their clients and the clients' families are a benefit to all. It simply was not right that our direct care workers who give so much of themselves every day were being forced to work second and third jobs simply to survive," she added.

Human Service Programs

In addition, the budget funds several mental health programs, including:

  • 10 million in capital support for children’s behavioral health;
  • $1.3 million to reject jail-based competency restoration, which would allow a defendant to be restored to mental competence in a jail facility rather than a hospital; and
  • $1 million restoration for crisis intervention teams.

The budget also provides $20 million for nonprofit infrastructure improvements to help human services organizations make capital repairs to facilities and update technology.

Raising The Age

The budget includes a measure to ensure young people who encounter New York’s criminal justice system are treated fairly and given a better chance to turn their lives around. Raise the Age raises the age of criminal responsibility in New York from 16 to 18 years old.

Assemblywoman Jenne said raising the age for teenagers is not about letting them off the hook for the crimes they commit, but acknowledging that many teens make mistakes, not because they are bad people but because they are teenagers and they often can’t fully appreciate the consequences of their actions.

The new law means New York will no longer be one of only two states in the country to prosecute 16- and 17-year-old defendants in nonviolent cases as adults in Criminal Court.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2018, the new law prohibits imprisoning young people under the age of 17 in county jails.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2019, this applies to young people under the age of 18. When pretrial detention is necessary, they will be held in local youth detention facilities certified by the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS).

Young people age 16 or 17 charged and convicted as adults for serious crimes and sentenced to incarceration will be held in a youth-only facility operated by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) with special programming and services provided by OCFS. The new state budget provides $4.6 million in funding for local detention centers statewide to fund necessary upgrades.