A Make the Road rally (Photo: Make the Road NY)
Make the Road New York, the state’s largest affiliate for immigrant advocates, will release its state policy platform 2023-24 on Wednesday and launch a series of city halls to push for legislation that would expand unemployment protections, better access to health care and the Institutions include evictions for “good reason”, ending racially biased school discipline, decriminalizing sex work, raising taxes on the wealthy and more.
With 25,000 members statewide, Make the Road New York (MRNY) represents a major progressive group in the state that has consistently championed pro-immigrant and labor-friendly laws. The group is ready to start theirs Political platform “Respect and Dignity”. at his Jackson Heights office in Queens on Wednesday afternoon, followed by a town hall in the evening. The group has also planned town halls in Brooklyn and Westchester and is aiming to hold one on Long Island as well.
Albany’s new agenda includes a series of legislative and budgetary demands that the faction and its allies hope will see Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul serve her first full term after her narrow victory in the general election, which the progressives helped her win reach, will find attention in the office. Heading into the new year working with a Democrat-dominated state legislature, Hochul will also present her second state of the state address and the executive budget, set out her own priorities and set the table for the state’s six-month legislative session.
“It was people of color, especially black voters, and people of color throughout New York City that really got Kathy Hochul up for re-election,” Jose Lopez, co-executive director of MRNY, said in a phone interview. “And I think what our communities will be looking for, given the outcome of this election and the fact that we’ve protected their seat, is movement on essential issues that really impact working-class and immigrant communities of color.”
Modeled on the $2.1 billion state fund for excluded workers, it would create a permanent unemployment insurance program for “excluded” workers. At a cost of $800 million a year, the bill would create the first-ever excluded-worker unemployment program, providing up to $1,200 a month to support up to 50,000 workers who are unable to become unemployed, including freelancers and workers gig economy.
A new fund would be crucial for people like Gerardo Vital, father of two and a member of Make the Road New York. “Immigrants like me, we contribute and we help the economy … we contribute like everyone else, but at the end of the day we don’t get any help if we lose our jobs to some kind of unemployment,” he said in a phone interview via an interpreter .
Vital is currently unemployed and fears rent and car insurance arrears. “But there’s no program that I can apply to to get any kind of help,” he said. “People think we don’t count, but we do because we contribute to the state, we pay our taxes.”
MRNY is also lobbying for the passage of a Health Care Bill sponsored by State Senator Gustavo Rivera and outgoing Rep. Richard Gottfried to create a federally funded basic plan that provides health care to all low-income New Yorkers regardless of immigration status. The group estimates that around 154,000 state residents are currently ineligible for state health insurance programs such as Medicaid and the Essential Plan because of their immigrant status, and that the program would cost approximately $345 million annually and involve at least 46,000 people enrolling. (Since Gottfried is leaving the Assembly, the bill must be re-introduced by another member in the next legislature.)
As Hochul enters her first term of office, one of the main items on her agenda is affordability and access to housing, a priority shared by MRNY supporters. The group’s agenda is pushing for the passage of a “good cause” eviction sponsored by State Senator Julia Salazar and Rep. Pamela Hunter, which would offer tenants crucial eviction protections, including against significant annual rent increases. The law has gained momentum in the legislature in recent years but has yet to be passed, and Hochul has not said if she supports it.
MRNY is also urging the state to establish a $200 million housing access voucher program, half of which will go to households at risk of homelessness and half to homeless people and families. This program, championed by State Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, had attracted much attention in the legislature over the past year, but the Hochul government disputed the cost estimate and declined to support it.
“These are things that New Yorkers care about, these are things that New Yorkers want to see,” Lopez said. “And those will be the battles we fight with allies across the state to ensure this administration gets results.”
Another proposal on the agenda includes the Solutions Not Suspensions Act, sponsored by State Senator Robert Jackson and Rep. Cathy Nolan, who is retiring. As with Gottfried’s bill, next year’s legislation must be borne by another member. It aims to put an end to harsh school disciplinary practices that disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities. It would limit the use of suspensions and instead focus on restorative practices.
Make the Road also supports the Salazar-sponsored Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, which would decriminalize sex work for consenting adults and erase records of arrests, convictions and detention for sex work that are no longer criminal.
Although some of these proposed legislation will require significant funding from the state, Lopez said they “are not significantly hard work” and could easily be offset by the state Invest in our New York Legislative package aimed at raising up to $50 billion in revenue by closing tax loopholes and raising taxes on the super-rich, corporations and Wall Street. That argument is likely to face resistance, particularly from Gov. Hochul, who has repeatedly said she has no plans to raise taxes.
“We’ll be prepared for those clashes when they come,” Lopez said. “But I think the reality is that we look at budgets as moral documents and especially after the election there will be questions about what we spend them on.”
“That is our hope [Governor Hochul] is taking some lessons from this election and that she understands that in order to do better she needs to secure some progressive bonafide, especially next year,” he added.
Make the Road has several other priorities for the state government to pursue, including appropriate budget allocations for the state’s new public campaign funding program, with a $70 million request for the next budget, due by April 1; expanding subsidies and removing bureaucratic hurdles for childcare for low-income families, regardless of employment or immigration status; ensure that Hochul meets its commitment to fully fund Foundation Aid for public schools; Invested $18.6 million in adult literacy; Restored $5.2 million in funding for the Community Health Advocates Program; increased funding for the Navigators program, which helps people sign up for health insurance; New York Hospital Financial Assistance Law Update; and passage of the Access to Representation Act to provide universal legal representation to New Yorkers facing deportation.