The Governor has proposed a comprehensive “Right Priorities” initiative to continue New York’s legacy as a leader on criminal justice and re-entry reform. Including the aforementioned $100 million investment in community schools, the Governor’s proposal calls for (a) a $55 million investment in the Urban Youth Jobs Program and related workforce training, (b) expanding and modernizing the use of alternatives to incarceration, (c) reducing criminal behavior through educational programming in prisons, (d) improving the use of transitional supports during the first six months after an individual’s release, (e) re-introducing legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility, and (f) restricting access to criminal records for pardoned individuals.
Governor Cuomo has proposed making New York the first state in the nation to enact a $15 minimum wage for all workers. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all industries directly benefits 2.3 million workers in New York State, about a quarter of the total workforce.
Previously, as a result of the Governor’s efforts, New York has begun moving toward a $15 minimum wage for fast food employees, public sector workers, and SUNY employees – in total amounting to roughly a quarter of a million workers in New York State.
Allocate More Than $20 Billion for Massive Expansion of Housing and Homelessness Plan
Despite significant achievements in affordable housing preservation and construction over the past five years – with achievements that include the state’s largest ever commitment to affordable housing through the $1 billion House NY initiative and the creation of the Tenant Protection Unit, which has returned more than 50,000 housing units to rent regulation – New York has not been immune to rising housing costs across the state and must take steps to deliver more affordable housing to those who need it.
To meet this challenge, the Governor is proposing to invest $20 billion over five years for two historic proposals – a $10 billion House NY 2020 Plan for affordable housing, and a $10 billion Homelessness Action Plan.
Governor Cuomo is proposing to create and preserve 100,000 affordable housing units across the state through the House NY 2020. This proposal – which boosts state spending on housing programs by nearly $5 billion – will build and preserve affordable units and individual homes; make homeownership affordable for first-time buyers; increase investments in the revitalization of our communities; promote housing choice opportunities for all New Yorkers; revamp services in ways that better serve clients including New Yorkers seeking affordable housing; and directly support permanent housing programs for those struggling with homelessness.
Additionally, Governor Cuomo is proposing an historic, $10.4 billion commitment to combat homelessness. This funding will support the creation of 6,000 new supportive housing beds, 1,000 emergency beds, and a variety of expanded homelessness services over the next five years. Over 15 years, the State will add 20,000 new units that will build upon 44,000 existing supportive housing units that the state already funds. This investment marks the largest commitment to addressing homelessness in New York State history.
The Governor is also proposing dramatic measures to improve the conditions of homeless shelters and restore the public’s trust in the homeless shelter system. Since April 1, 2015, state inspectors have identified 2,508 health and safety violations at shelters across the state. As part of the Governor’s proposal, the state will partner with Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to audit shelters statewide, as well as New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder to review and inspect shelters in New York City and Buffalo, respectively.
Shelters determined to be unsafe or dangerous will either immediately add local police protection or be closed. If a shelter is determined to be unsanitary or otherwise unfit it will be subject to contract cancellation, operator replacement or closure because there are many qualified nonprofits that are capable of running a good shelter operation. If an operator’s management problem is systemic, a receiver will be appointed to run the system. In addition, the state will require all social service districts to comply with the laws and regulations of New York State or be subject to sanctions.
This $25 million program will bring together state and local government, non-profit and business groups to design and implement coordinated solutions to increase economic mobility in ten communities across upstate New York. Under the program, New York will provide $500,000 in planning and implementation grants to each community, along with access to a $20 million grant pool to match private sector and foundation funding. The cities selected for the program were chosen based on concentration of poverty within the municipality. They include Syracuse, Binghamton, Oneonta, Buffalo, Utica, Elmira, Jamestown, Oswego, Troy and Albany.
In 2014, Governor Cuomo established a goal of 30 percent for New York’s MWBE state contract utilization – the highest goal of any state in the nation. However, under state law, that goal only applies to contracts issued by state agencies and authorities; it does not apply to state funding given to localities such as cities, counties, towns, villages and school districts, which amounts to approximately $65 billion annually. This year, the Governor will advance legislation addressing this disconnect by expanding the MWBE goal setting to localities and entities that subcontract with those localities. Doing so will leverage the largest pool of state funding in history to combat systemic discrimination and create new opportunities for MWBE participation.
In 2015 the Governor signed Executive Order 147 which appointed the Attorney General as a special prosecutor in matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement officers. This Executive Order was an important step in restoring public confidence in the existence of an objective and transparent review of these tragic occurrences. However, this is a temporary solution and more needs to be done.
The Governor will propose the creation of an Office of an Independent Special Counsel. This Office will be independent of any existing relationship with law enforcement, thereby avoiding any appearance of favoritism or partiality. With an Independent Special Counsel appointed, these tragic occurrences will continue to receive a fair and independent review that they deserve, while also increasing the public's understanding and faith in the process.
Undocumented persons are at higher risk of exploitation at work and are often reluctant to report violations or otherwise cooperate with law enforcement out of fear of deportation. Currently, there are approximately 900,000 undocumented individuals living in New York State, including 522,000 undocumented workers. New York State laws protect all workers, regardless of immigration status, against workplace discrimination, wage theft, misclassification, retaliation, human trafficking, and other labor standards violations.
In 2002, Congress created the U Nonimmigrant Visa (U Visa) to protect workers who assist with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of a crime by providing them with temporary lawful status. The U Visa is an important tool both for protecting immigrant crime victims and for strengthening the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute crimes. U Visa holders are eligible for lawful status for up to four years and can receive an automatic grant of work authorization. Holders are also eligible to adjust status to lawful permanent resident after three years. Additionally, immediate qualifying family members may receive derivative visas.
Governor Cuomo recognizes that a U Visa is a particularly powerful tool for agencies tasked with enforcing laws that protect vulnerable undocumented New Yorkers. In the spring of 2011, he directed the New York State Department of Labor to certify U Visas in agency investigations for claimants and witnesses who met certain criteria and demonstrated that they had been victims of qualifying crimes.217 To help detect and prosecute crimes, the Governor will direct the New York State Police and the Division of Human Rights to establish official protocols and begin receiving and processing U Visa certifications for claimants, victims, and witnesses. Additionally, the Governor will direct the Office of Children and Family Services, through its oversight of local departments of social services, to advise districts of their responsibility as the investigating entities, to certify U Visas, as provided for in law.