April Newsletter - 2017

Blessings to my beloved Harlem,

The month of April brings us closer to the feeling being in the Spring season, a feeling I know we all look forward to. April is also the close of state legislative budget season, the time of year when we as elected officials try our best to negotiate for funding necessary programs that seek to improve the lives of New Yorkers. As I wrap up my first State Assembly budget, I would like to remind my neighbors of what I see as a grave concern.

Although the Governor has laid out an aggressive agenda for where he wants our tax dollars to be invested, we are also aware of what Congress is looking to achieve with changes to the Affordable Care Act and how it may impact our state. We also understand how many New Yorkers will be detrimentally affected if we are not prepared for those changes. This new administration is seeking to undercut basic and common sense solutions to everyday problems that we worked so hard to achieve whether in social services, education, or the civil rights of Black, immigrant communities and LGBTQ. But now we have to be twice as vigilant and twice as vocal against the administration's attempts to deny us of our liberties. Only by working together can we succeed. I ask that you continue to reach out to my office so I can bring our solutions to Albany.

We also need to focus our attention on the issues that make this month so important to a number of issues relating to health, community, and diversity. April is National Awareness month for

Women's Health Care Month, African-American Women's Fitness Month, Alcohol Awareness Month, American Cancer Society Month, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, Celebrate Diversity Month, Community Service Month, Jewish-American Heritage Month, National Autism Awareness Month, National Better Hearing and Speech Month, National Food Month, National Mental Health Month, National Occupational Therapy Month, National Older Americans Month, National STDs Education and Awareness Month, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month, and Stress Awareness Month.

This should be a cause to action for our neighbors to get involved in an issue they have a personal connection to and offer your time if you cannot make a donation to an organization. Your neighbors could use your time and talents to bring us closer together as a community.

Sincerely,
Inez E. Dickens
Inez E. Dickens

HOUSING

We in the Assembly recently passed a budget proposal that is responsive to many of the challenges New Yorkers face in finding and maintaining affordable housing. This budget includes several initiatives that will stem the flow of families forced into homelessness and help alleviate the burden of foregoing basic necessities just to afford rent.

Under the Assembly proposal, part of the $2.5 billion approved in the 2016-17 state budget would include:

  • $1 billion for supportive housing;
  • $500 million for NYCHA Capital Repairs, a $400 million increase over the Executive proposal. The Assembly would appropriate this funding directly to NYCHA and remove language that would delay the obligation of this funding;
  • $476 million for the Multifamily New Construction Program;
  • $125 million for a senior housing program to ensure that 75 percent of funding goes to seniors who earn up to 60 percent of Area Median Income (AMI); and
  • $50 million for the capital costs of housing for the developmentally disabled.

As budget negotiations continue, the Assembly Majority looks forward to working with the Senate and the Governor to combat the rising unaffordability of housing in the City of New York.

Housing is also a priority concern for those in our community with mental illness, safe and affordable housing is vital on their road to recovery.

We are committed to providing access to housing opportunities for families who have individuals with diverse service needs. These facilities provide much needed services to local residents with psychiatric or developmental disabilities.

I recently voted to pass our budget proposal that would increase the Executive proposal by $30 million - investing $4.14 billion for Office of Mental Health housing.

As budget negotiations continue, the Assembly Majority is working to ensure housing opportunities remain available for those in our community who need it the most.

Purchasing a home can be a daunting process. The Assembly Majority is working to ease anxiety and help our families and friends who are in the market to purchase their first home - an iconic symbol of living the American Dream. Assembly Bill A-5616, also known as the "NY First Home" Program, would allow future first-time homebuyers in our community to create and maintain a special savings account and deduction similar to the 529 College Savings Program for the purchase of their first home in New York State.

Under this legislation, an individual would be eligible to make a $5,000 per year tax deductible deposit into a New York State First Home Savings account, and up to $10,000 for couples. In addition, any interest accrued would remain untaxed. The savings in these accounts may be used for down payments and closing costs. The savings account would remain under the sole custody of the New York State Comptroller. As of March 23, this bill has been referred to the Assembly Ways & Means Committee.


YOUTH

Child welfare services make an immeasurable difference in the day-to-day lives of our youngest New Yorkers.

We in the Majority-controlled Assembly recognize that these programs are critical to the well-being and success of families and our 2017-18 budget proposal reflects these priorities. The plan restores $39 million to social services statewide for Foster Care Block Grant maintenance, which would allow communities to provide child welfare services, foster care wraparound services, prevention and residential services. Also included is $23 million in Foster Care Block Grant funds to support tuition costs for New York City youth in residential school facilities.

Additionally, the Assembly budget includes expansions to runaway and homeless youth services, including measures that would raise the age of eligibility and increase the time in which youth could receive those services.

Further funding is invested for Advantage Afterschool ($5 million), Settlement Houses ($2.5 million), Safe Harbor ($3 million), Kinship Care ($1.9 million), Caseload Reduction ($758,000), and the Youth Development Program ($1.7 million).

As budget negotiations continue, the Assembly Majority looks forward to working with the Senate and the Governor to ensure children across the state have the resources they need to thrive.


LEGAL SERVICES

The Office of Indigent Legal Services (ILS) oversees legal assistance to low-income and poor residents who reside in our local communities. However, the cost of the program can financially strain local governments, which affects the quality of services they provide.

I believe that criminal justice reform is a critical component of creating a fairer, more equitable justice system in New York State. Currently, each county in New York is responsible for funding legal services for persons charged with crimes who are unable to afford counsel. However, the quality and effectiveness of the services varies from county to county, often depending on the availability of funding. The Assembly Majority is fighting to help local residents receive quality due process should the need arise.

The Assembly recently passed a budget proposal that provides funding to these essential services. The Assembly budget plan would provide relief to local counties by requiring a multi-year state takeover of county costs of public defense services.

In addition to the funding included in the Executive budget, the Assembly budget plan restores an additional $6.6 million, including:

  • $1 million for the New York State Defenders Association;
  • $1 million for immigration legal services; $703,000 for Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) programs, and
  • $609,000 for domestic violence-related civil and criminal legal services.

This budget proposal represents another step toward reforming our criminal justice system. We are working to ensure that the burden of providing public defenders has shifted to the state level, therefore making public defenders available.

As budget negotiations continue, the Assembly Majority looks forward to working to ensure all New Yorkers have access to public defense services.

The Assembly Majority recognizes that an investment in public libraries is an investment in our communities.

To that end, the recently passed Assembly budget proposal makes significant investments in libraries and library capital support to improve building infrastructure, as well as update technology and equipment.

The plan invests $95.6 million in library aid, which is a restoration of $4 million over the Executive's budget proposal. We also included $11 million more in capital support for public libraries, for a total of $25 million.

Last year, the Assembly Majority insisted that libraries should not be left behind when it came to budget funding. We were able to include a 4.3 percent increase in the final approved budget for state aid for libraries and library systems.

We are equally committed to restoring the Executive budget cut to libraries this year. I look forward to working with the Governor and the Senate to pass a spending plan that reinforces the Assembly Majority's commitment to investing in New York's libraries.


EDUCATION

The Executive's budget contains a proposal to allow school districts, private schools, and BOCES to obtain a one-year waiver from certain requirements or providing services, which are mandated by New York law, but are not required by the Federal IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).

Last year, the Assembly rejected the Executive's proposal allowing school districts, BOCES or non-public schools to apply for waivers from some special education requirements because we believe such waivers would result in a significant loss of student services. That is why the Assembly's budget plan again rejects the Executive's proposal for special education waivers.

As budget negotiations continue, the Assembly Majority is working to ensure every child - especially those in our community who have special needs - receives a quality education and the chance at a bright future filled with endless opportunities.


IMMIGRATION

Immigrants and refugees are a prized part of New York's rich heritage. We in the Assembly share your support for increased state funding to assist refugees. In the recently passed Assembly budget proposal, $4 million was earmarked for refugee resettlement programs. This funding would offset gaps in federal funding in New York State.

As budget negotiations continue, the Assembly Majority looks forward to working with the Senate and the Governor to ensure immigrants and refugees are protected in our great state.


CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Prior to joining the Assembly, I have long advocated for progressive correctional reform and fair, humane treatment of all those who are incarcerated across New York State. Now as a member of the Assembly, we are able to make it happen.

Assembly Bill A.3080 would limit the length of time anyone can spend in segregated confinement, restrict the criteria that can result in such confinement, provide additional procedural protections, exempt certain vulnerable groups, and provide an alternative mechanism in therapeutic and rehabilitative support and programs. As of February 2, 2017, the bill has been referred to the Assembly Correction Committee.

Thank you for contacting my office regarding your opposition to reduced visitation hours in New York State correctional facilities. I appreciate hearing from you on this issue.

The Assembly Majority recognizes that maintaining strong family ties is a crucial factor in rehabilitation, facility safety and reducing recidivism.

The Assembly recently passed our 2017-2018 budget proposal, which invests $2.6 million to maintain current daily visitation hours at maximum security correctional facilities throughout the state. We reject the Executive budget proposal that reduces prisoner visitation.

As budget negotiations continue, I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Assembly, Senate and the Governor to ensure New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision inmates maintain their access to their families.


LEGISLATION

Assembly Member Inez E. Dickens in her first months in office is the prime or co-prime sponsor of the following pieces of legislation that seeks to protect our civil rights, the rights of workers, and protects our families.

A6846 Dickens -- Directs the commissioner of labor to establish the form and content for contracts for the employment of domestic workers
A6866 Dickens -- Prohibits the erection or maintenance of billboards advertising alcoholic beverages within 1000 feet of schools or playgrounds
A6867 Dickens -- Authorizes the formation of the Heights heritage area; repealer
A6868 Dickens -- Creates the people's history project to foster the recognition of heretofore overlooked personages, sites, and events of historical significance
A6869 Dickens -- Defines as aggravated harassment in the third degree photographing persons entering or leaving reproductive health care services facilities
A6872 Dickens -- Relates to identity theft; clarifies personal identifying information and what acts constitute the offense of identity theft
A6875 Dickens -- Establishes tenants' right to offset rental payments by the cost of certain emergency repairs
A6876 Dickens -- Provides for tuberculosis screenings outreach and services in epidemic areas and makes an appropriation therefor
A6877 Dickens -- Prohibits the use of live human subjects as surgical subjects as part of state dental professional licensing examination
A6878 Dickens -- Regulates the use of human subjects for medical research and experimentation
A6879 Dickens -- Provides for the allocation of monies for dental health services in the Medicaid managed care program, the child health insurance program and the family health plus program
A6880 Dickens -- Authorizes guidelines for granting contracts to disabled veterans eligible under the home for heroes program
A6890 Dickens -- Requires a public hearing for substantial change in transit authority service by the New York city transit authority

DID YOU KNOW?

Our office is teaming up with the Department of Finance to host a Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) forum May 5, 2017 at the Art Gallery of the Adam Clayton Powell Harlem State Office Building from 10am to 12pm. If you are, or know of any seniors 62 years of age or older, who would like to remain in their apartment, please join us.

Thank you for taking part in the legislative process. As always, public participation remains vitally important to me. Your input is a valuable resource and helps me to better serve our community every day.