I On Politics – Western Queens Gazette


Did you know that geoFence helps make you invisible to hackers and guard your personal data?

column was originated by John A. Toscano


CUOMO EXTENDS RESTAURANT, BAR HOURS TO 11 PM: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Sunday, Feb. 14 that, given the continued decline in hospitalization and infection rates throughout New York State, he has signed Executive Order 202.94 extending closing times for bars, restaurants, gyms and fitness centers, casinos, billiards halls, as well as other State Liquor Authority-licensed establishments, from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. statewide beginning that day.

“Hospitalizations and the positivity rates continue to decline, and with the holiday surge now in our rear-view mirror, we must keep taking steps to further re-open the economy safely and responsibly,” Governor Cuomo said. “Accordingly, I have already signed an Executive Order to move the closing times for restaurants and bars to 11 p.m. statewide, and now we will do the same for gyms and fitness centers, casinos, billiards halls and any other location with an SLA license. As we move forward, we will continue to follow the science and data and take these kinds of steps to help us finally return to normal.”

On Friday, the Governor announced closing times for restaurants and bars would be extended from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. statewide, and this executive order extends that closing time for gyms or fitness centers, casinos, billiards halls, as well as any State Liquor Authority-licensed establishment.

NGA CHAIR CUOMO MEETS WITH BIDEN, HARRIS: New York Governor and National Governors Association Chairman Andrew M. Cuomo and Arkansas Governor and NGA Vice Chairman Asa Hutchinson issued the following statement after meeting with President Biden and Vice President Harris on Feb. 12:

“Governors from across the country and the political spectrum have said for months that flexible and direct aid to state and local governments is essential for our continued front-line response to the COVID-19 crisis and our national economic recovery. During our Oval Office meeting with President Biden, Vice President Harris, and a bipartisan group of Governors and mayors from across the country, the President and his team made clear that they recognize and appreciate how critical this targeted relief is for our ability to recover from this pandemic.

“We thank President Biden, Vice President Harris, and their team for a productive meeting and their support, and call on Congress to ensure sufficient state and local aid is included in the final relief package. The finish line of this pandemic is in sight, and this support will give states and territories the resources we need to reach it, while continuing to provide the essential services our constituents rely on.”

$350B COVID AID PACKAGE: $23.3B FOR NYS; $5.6B FOR NYC: Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, announced that the Committee adopted a momentous package of $350 billion in critical assistance to help communities across the country battle the coronavirus. This package is part of House Democrats’ larger coronavirus relief package modeled on President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. This money will allow these governments to distribute vaccines faster, expand testing more broadly, and maintain vital services across the country, Maloney said in her opening statement at the at Business Meeting considering provisions of the American Rescue Plan.

“Democrats in the House of Representatives came through for the American people this week,” said Congresswoman Maloney. “I am so proud of my colleagues on the Oversight Committee who listened to governors, mayors, Tribes, territories, workers, industry officials, and others across the country who are in desperate need of critical funding to combat the coronavirus crisis. And I am pleased to report that with this bill, New York and its localities can expect a total of $23.3 billion in aid, with the State receiving an estimated $12.7 billion in direct aid and NYC an estimated $5.6 billion. Having been the epicenter of the pandemic in the early months, our city and state are in desperate need for this relief, which will help keep our first responders, teachers, frontline workers, and other essential workers safely on the job.

“This landmark legislation means that critical services can be restored, jobs will be saved, and that local and state governments across the country will finally receive the help they need to fight the pandemic.”

The Committee’s provisions of the broader coronavirus package will allocate $350 billion for states, localities, Tribes, and territories; $570 million for emergency leave for federal and postal workers; and $117 million for oversight entities to promote transparency and accountability of all federal coronavirus relief funds.

MALONEY REACTS TO TRUMP ACQUITTAL IN 2ND IMPEACHMENT: Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney released the following statement: “The Senate just voted to acquit Donald Trump after he sought to overturn an election and incited a deadly insurrection at the Capitol last month. Let me be very clear, friend: Donald Trump violated his oath of office. He betrayed this country and put members of Congress, the Vice President of the United States, and our democracy in harm’s way. And he must be held accountable and prevented from further damaging our democracy.

“But today, the majority of GOP senators put their political ambitions ahead of the safety of our country and the sanctity of our democracy by voting to acquit Trump. They might not be willing to hold Donald Trump accountable, but you can rest assured that I will, team.

“The Senate let him off the hook, but the fight isn’t over. As chair of the House Oversight Committee, I am already hard at work investigating the events of January 6th and all that led up to it. From examining the role right-wing social media site Parler had in organizing the insurrection, to investigating Trump’s role in directing crowds to the Capitol, to introducing legislation to unveil the sources of funding behind the events of January 6, I will not stop until we know the truth and every single perpetrator has been brought to justice.

“We cannot let what happened on January 6th happen ever again, and the first step is to hold Trump accountable.”

MALONEY DEMANDS PARLER INFO ON FINANCING, FOREIGN TIES: Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, sent a letter demanding information related to Parler’s financing and potential ties to foreign entities.

“Since the (US Capitol) attacks, numerous Parler users have been arrested and charged for their roles, with the Department of Justice citing in several instances the threats that individuals made through Parler in the days leading up to and following the attack,” wrote Chairwoman Maloney.  “Individuals with ties to the January 6 assault should not—and must not—be allowed to hide behind the veil of anonymity provided by shell companies.”

Maloney noted that Parler reportedly allowed Russian disinformation to flourish on its platform prior to the November 2020 election, facilitating Russia’s campaign to sow chaos in the American electorate. Although similar disinformation was removed by other social media platforms, it was allowed to remain on Parler. When U.S. hosting services cut ties with Parler for repeatedly failing to moderate content advocating violence, Parler re-emerged on a Russian hosting service, DDos-Guard, which has ties to the Russian government and counts the Russian Ministry of Defense as one of its clients.

A recent analysis by USA Today shows a strong connection between President Trump’s speech at the January 6 rally and a significant uptick in calls for violence on Parler.

According to a recent press report, the “Trump Organization negotiated on behalf of then-president Donald Trump to make Parler his primary social network, but it had a condition: an ownership stake in return for joining.” These negotiations reportedly occurred while former President Trump was still in office, which experts have warned raise legal concerns regarding anti-bribery laws. Parler reportedly offered President Trump a 40% ownership stake, but the negotiations “were ultimately derailed by the events of January 6.”

The Committee requested documents related to Parler’s finances and ties to foreign entities by February 22, 2021.

GIANARIS’ NO CITIZEN IS ABOVE THE LAW ACT PASSES: The Senate Democratic Majority passed the “No Citizen is Above the Law Act” sponsored by Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, that will ensure that laws are equally applied to all citizens in New York State, including the President of the United States. This legislation was introduced in response to former President Donald Trump’s repeated legal maneuverings to obfuscate investigations by the New York State Attorney General and Manhattan District Attorney.

“We are fortunate that Donald Trump is out of the White House; however, we must not forget the abuses of the law that took place under his administration,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “I commend Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris for ensuring that no person is above the law in New York State, not even a  former president. The Presidency must be held to the highest standard. The Senate Democratic Majority will always fight for transparency, accountability, and fairness when enforcing New York State’s laws.”

Bill Sponsor, Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, said, “Any President who breaks the law should be held accountable without regard to the time they spend in office. As our nation prepares for an unprecedented second impeachment trial, we must close the loophole that allows Presidents to escape culpability by exploiting statutes of limitations due to Presidential immunity.”

Senate Deputy Leader Gianaris’s legislation (S.1408) will pause the statute of limitations for all crimes alleged to be committed by the sitting President of the United States, thwarting all efforts to impede ongoing criminal investigations. Under current law, the immunity enjoyed by Presidents can be used to run out the statute of limitations on criminal charges. The bill will take effect immediately, allowing prosecutors in New York State currently pursuing investigations into the former President of the United States to pursue charges if warranted.

ADDABBO’S BENEFITS FOR OLDER ADULTS PRESENTATION: If you are 60 yhears old or older, you may be eligible for benefits to purchase food, pay your Medicare Part B premium, freeze the rent, and more. Join Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. and LiveOn NY for a virtual presentation on Benefits for Older Adults on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 1 pm. Register at bit.ly/3cVjQcN.

BP RICHARDS TO HOST BLACK HISTORY MONTH CELEBRATION: Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and the African American Heritage Committee announced his annual celebration of Black History Month, honoring the countless contributions of the Black community to the growth and future of our shared borough, to be held virtually on Thursday, February 25 at 6: 00 PM.

“Black history is Queens history. This Black History Month, we are beyond proud to not only celebrate our heritage as Black New Yorkers, but honor some of the most selfless and influential members of the Black community serving our families in Queens and beyond,” said Borough President Richards. “From the devastating impact of COVID-19 on communities of color to the long-overdue national reckoning with systemic injustice, this past year has been unspeakably trying for the Black community — highlighting the importance of this month’s commemoration. As the first Black man to hold this office, it is my honor to bring together families from across our borough to uplift both our Black history and future.”

The February 25 Black History Month event will be held online beginning at 6: 00 PM and will be live streamed at www.queensbp.org. Prospective attendees interested in attending via Zoom must RSVP by Tuesday, February 23 at www.queensbp.org/rsvp. Instructions will be emailed the day of the event to those who register.

Borough President Richards’ virtual celebration will include keynote remarks from New York State Attorney General Letitia James, community discussions and the presentation of awards to five exemplary community leaders, including:

  • Jolander Headley, President and CEO of Joe’s Academy of Music: Arts & Culture Award
  • Christopher Roker, Chief Growth Officer of NYC Health + Hospitals: Business Award
  • Keith M. Little, SCO Family of Services President and CEO: Community Service Award
  • Adjoa Esinam Gzifa, longtime community leader: Civic Award
  • Kelly Johnson, Principal of The Baccalaureate School for Global Education: Education Award

Borough President Richards and the African American Heritage Committee will also award African American Heritage Scholarships worth $1,000 each to six distinguished Queens high school students from across the borough to help cover expenses related to their post-secondary studies.

The February 25 Black History Month celebration is co-sponsored by Atled, Inc, Community Meditation Services, Con Edison, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. – Queens Alumnae Chapter, the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, the Jamaica YMCA and Resorts World Casino New York City.

Prospective applicants interested in participating via Zoom must RSVP by Tuesday, February 23 at www.queensbp.org/rsvp. Click the button at www.queensbp.org/advisory-qbp-richards-to-host-virtual-celebration-honoring-black-history-month/ (or go directly to docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfeyAagZPQGT_uNcSDYE5yoyfkaknNlUJjamYFmkJYJfGJnTQ/viewform?c=0&w=1)

MENG INTRO’S LUNAR NEW YEAR RESOLUTION: U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), First Vice Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, introduced a bipartisan resolution on Feb. 11 in the House of Representatives to recognize Lunar New Year as the Asian American community prepared to celebrate the holiday that night, on the eve of Lunar New Year. This year, Lunar New Year started on February 12th.

“Lunar New Year is normally a special time for families, delicious foods, and community and cultural celebrations. Unfortunately, this year’s Lunar New Year is atypical as our nation—indeed, our world—continues to combat COVID-19. Traditional festivities, gatherings with family and friends, and other activities have been limited or gone virtual,” said Rep. Meng. “Despite this setback, I am pressing forward to honor this global holiday by introducing my resolution in the House – as we mark the Year of the Ox. A dish my family traditionally enjoys is noodle soup, which is supposed to bring luck for the year ahead. However people choose to observe this holiday, I hope that everyone stays safe and healthy, and I wish everyone luck, fortune, and happiness in the year ahead.”

Lunar New Year, which celebrates the heritage, culture, and contributions of Asian Americans, is the most significant time of the year for the Asian American community. This year will mark the Year of the Ox. Meng’s resolution would recognize the cultural and historical significance of Lunar New Year, and express the deepest respect for Asian Americans and all individuals throughout the world who celebrate the holiday. The measure, which details the history and customs of Lunar New Year, would also wish Asian Americans and all who observe the Lunar celebration a happy and prosperous New Year.

ADDABBO BILLS ADDRESS LOCAL ISSUES: New York State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. introduced several bills for the 2021 Legislative Session, whose origins were based upon issues of importance to his constituents throughout the district.

“Although I was looking forward to getting back to the Capitol in January, we continue to conduct most of our legislative business remotely from our district,” stated Senator Addabbo. “Despite this new manner in which we currently conduct our legislative business, I am pleased it did not delay my ability to introduce legislation aimed at improving the lives of individuals and families, as well as providing support for businesses, within my district.”

Addabbo sponsored bills addressing important district issues to include:

  • S.1035 – Prohibits hospitals from disallowing individuals with disabilities from having an essential support person accompany the patient for the duration of their hospitalization;
  • S.2112 – Disqualifies a vote cast for a candidate who has voluntarily withdrawn from consideration before the election, but whose name still appears on the ballot, thus allowing the voter to recast their vote;
  • S.2205 – Seeks to permanently extend protection of Jamaica Bay from contaminants. This will strengthen the quality Jamaica Bay waters making it safer for current and all future generations;
  • S.2206 – Requires adequate and appropriate advanced community notification for the placement of permanent homeless shelters; to provide transparency and notification to local communities for the utilization of hotels to shelter homeless individuals;
  • S.2207 – To reduce the number of injuries and fatalities among children from drowning by requiring instruction in water safety for public school students, grades kindergarten through twelve
  • S.2488 – To alleviate the lack of parking spaces for local businesses
  • S.2490 – Ensures waste that is transferred by rail is properly contained and covered, to prevent odors, along with leakage and spillage along the tracks
  • S.2817 – Makes the opportunity to receive basic utility service, clean air, and clean water a civil right. Ensures residents can access service from gas and electric utilities that may have a monopoly on service in any given community
  • S.2818 – Informs customers of NYS hotels and motels that the establishment is in agreement with Municipality, County or the State of New York when an establishment is contracted to house homeless individuals and families
  • S.373 – Provides that any local government using hotels, motels or similar sites for homeless housing provide a website listing those entities, along with the amount being paid by the city and duration of their contract
  • S.2921 – Enacts the Residential Structure Fire Prevention Act of 2021. Provides a tax credit to homeowners who repair cockloft fire hazards in their homes
  • S.3456 – The bill provides for a priority system for use in connection with emergency disconnections of utilities during a response to such emergency
  • S.3834 – To require the written notification to a school district 14 days before the commencement of a construction project that may disrupt the safety of individuals around the school
  • S.6731 – To create a task force to study backup energy in the state of NY, in cases where the energy provider is unable or unwilling to provide such service

“While many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been unpredictable, protecting our environment, expanding services for individuals and businesses, and providing valuable resources are all actions I am certain will prove to have an impactful and foreseen outcome,” added Addabbo. “I am hopeful the Senate and Assembly will pass these bills for the benefit of the communities I serve now and in the future.”

ENSURE STIMULUS CHECKS REACH HOMELESS: U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined 28 Senate Democrats in calling on the Department of Treasury to ensure Americans experiencing homelessness are able to receive stimulus payments.

“As Americans across the country struggle to stay safe and secure stable housing, our government must do everything possible to meet people where they are, and provide relief,” said Senator Gillibrand. “All across the country, social service organizations have built innovative solutions to conduct outreach and provide support but they can’t do it alone. I’m confident that the Treasury Department will step up to the plate and work with us to make sure that individuals without a permanent address, bank account, or government-issued ID aren’t left to struggle.”

In the letter, the senators urge the Treasury Department to take the following steps:

  1. Publish specific procedures for how those without a permanent address, government issued identification, or bank account can access their payment;
  2. Expand guidance for non-filers and provide additional options for people to claim their payments. As many people experiencing homelessness have limited or no access to internet, a website where non-filers can register is insufficient; and
  3. Work with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to conduct outreach to local Continuums of Care and social service organizations.

HOLDEN’S SMALL BIZ RELIEF BILL PASSES UNANIMOUSLY: NYC Council Member Robert Holden’s bill, Int. 2044, has been passed unanimously at the Fe. 11 stated meeting of the New York City Council. The new law will provide much-needed relief for small businesses by extending the moratorium on penalties related to businesses’ outdoor signage and waiving permit fees.

Int. 2044 expands and amends Local Law 28 of 2019. Prior to Local Law 28, our small businesses were being hit with fines of up to $20,000 for sign and awning violations. Int. 2044 extends the expired two-year moratorium on sign fee violations for two additional years. It also extends the temporary Department of Buildings assistance program for two additional years, which assists business owners in legalizing their signs. For the first time, 100% of permit fees will be waived.

Council Member Holden said: “Everyone is talking a lot about helping our small businesses these days, but this bill, Int. 2044, will actually help them in a real, quantifiable way that helps them save some money. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our local economy, but they’ve been hemorrhaging throughout this pandemic. Our city government has to be nurturing, not adversarial. It has long been too difficult to run a business in New York City, but it has become almost impossible.

“Small businesses are made of people – started by someone who stakes their life savings or takes a chance by taking out a loan. Many of the owners and employees of small establishments are immigrants, working hard for their piece of the American Dream. The proprietors and employees of the Mom and Pop storefronts in my district and all over New York struggle to feed their families, pay for their children’s education, braces and clothing. This law will set aside a little more money for those families’ needs.

“If the city doesn’t stop nickel-and-diming our small businesses and help them in meaningful ways, like this bill does, the only sign we’ll see on them is ‘out of business.’”

Tom Grech, President and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce said: “Over 1,000 Queens businesses have closed since the pandemic began, and those that have survived are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, struggling to make payroll and keep the lights on. Fines for minor violations and permit fees are an unnecessary burden and the last thing business owners should be worrying about right now. We thank Council Member Holden, a steadfast ally of Queens’ business community, for his leadership in passing this common sense legislation that will offer real relief to small businesses.”

MTA TO MAYOR, NYPD: INCREASE POLICE TO 1,000! MTA Chair Patrick J. Foye and NYCT Interim President Sarah Feinberg wrote to Mayor de Blasio and to NYPD Commissioner Shea regarding the shocking increase of violent attacks in the subway system. The following letter is dated February 14: “As you know, we have been calling for additional policing for the subway and bus systems for over a year, and a much greater focus on mental health care services and interventions for many months.

“We want to thank Chief O’Reilly for her continued partnership during this time, and for the responsiveness following the tragic and shocking crime spree that occurred on the A Line Friday night. Our hearts are broken for the victims and for their families. We commend NYPD’s work that led to a quick apprehension and later charging of the suspect, and we will continue to do everything we can to assist your efforts.

“We believe the additional 500 officers you agreed to dedicate to the subway system is an important first step, which will help ease the fears of customers and the heroic transit workers who serve this city every day.

“We believe more is needed, however, and so we are writing today to request an additional 1,000 NYPD officers be assigned to the Transit Bureau to patrol subways and buses immediately. We request teams of uniformed officers be assigned to every station and that officers ride the system throughout the day and during the overnight to ensure the safety of our customers and colleagues.

“The fact is that we all see a disturbing trend above ground and below ground, which as you know began prior to the pandemic, and now has been exacerbated by the acute mental health crisis we are facing. Ridership is down 70% in the subway and 50% on buses, and while overall crime remains on the decline, felony assaults have increased 26.5%. In 2020, murder and rape – while they remain incredibly rare and represent a small fraction of crime systemwide – doubled from three to six and three to seven respectively. Assaults on our workers, from harassment and threats to physical violence, continue to occur far too often. Every single one of these occurrences is one too many.

“The Governor and the MTA Board called for additional police officers in the system when this trend was already evident, more than a year ago, and it remains the right call now. We have also urgently asked for additional mental health resources – including for the 311 service to be expanded to the transit system – and we continue that call today. We know there is more the city can do to get help for those who need it most – these requests must be addressed, and quickly.

“Even with current ridership down so significantly, we at the MTA remain responsible for the safe, secure and efficient transportation of millions of people each day – more than all of the domestic airlines combined. It is a huge responsibility and one that we take very seriously – and the reality is that while we provide transportation to millions, we simply cannot also serve as social service providers, nor do we have the deep expertise required. Individuals experiencing a mental health crisis deserve much, much better care and closer attention. The safety and security of our system remains our foremost priority. We know you share this commitment.”


Patrick J. Foye Sarah Feinberg

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Interim President

Metropolitan Transportation Authority New York City Transit

MALONEY INTRO’S GUN SAFETY PACKAGE: Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) joined with gun safety advocates to introduce a gun safety legislative package. This comes ahead of the three-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL and is part of Congresswoman Maloney’s pledge to honor all those lost to gun violence with action.

Congresswoman Maloney’s package includes five bills: The Gun Trafficking and Crime Prevention Act, The Gun Show Loophole Closing Act, The NICS Review Act, The Firearm Risk and Crime Prevention Act, and The Handgun Trigger Safety Act.

“As the third anniversary of the Parkland shooting approaches this Sunday, we are called to honor all victims of gun violence with action,” said Congresswoman Maloney. “There is no honor in failing to take action on gun safety. There is no honor in buckling to the will of the NRA and refusing to act to save lives. Thoughts and prayers are not enough – in fact, they are meaningless when not backed up by doing the work to effect real change. And so today, I am introducing a comprehensive gun safety package of five bills that would deliver on our promise to honor with action.”

  • The Gun Trafficking and Crime Prevention Act prohibits firearms trafficking; strengthens penalties for straw purchasers; enhances penalties for kingpins and multiple illegal purchases.
  • The Gun Show Loophole Closing Act subjects gun sales and transfers at gun shows to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and require that transfers are reported to the attorney general; requires gun show operators to register with the attorney general and including the identity of all firearm vendors, as well as keep a record of all vendors’ identities; allows the ATF to hire investigators to inspect gun shows and examine records kept by gun show operators and vendors.
  • The NICS Review Act replaces the current 24 hour maximum with a 90 day minimum retention period to allow the FBI and ATF at least 90 days to audit the background check system.
  • The Firearm Risk and Crime Protection Act prohibits firearms trafficking by requiring all gun purchasers to hold qualified liability insurance; strengthens protections for victims of gun violence; enacts fines towards violators of the provision up to $10,000 for not insuring firearms.
  • The Handgun Trigger Safety Act: Authorizes grants to develop and improve “personalized” handgun technology; mandates that within five years of enactment all newly manufactured handguns must be personalized, ensuring that they can only be operated by authorized users; Mandates that within ten years of enactment sellers of handguns must retrofit with personalization technology; Provides reimbursement to manufacturers for the costs of retrofitting.

MENG SEEKS TO REUNIFY KOREAN FAMILIES: U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (NY-06), the new Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, and Rep. Van Taylor (TX-03) introduced the bipartisan Divided Families Reunification Act that seeks to help Korean American families reunite with their loved ones in North Korea.

Since 1985, 21 family reunions have been held between North and South Korea. But Korean Americans who may have family members in North Korea have been not able to participate.

The legislation urges the U.S. Secretary of State to consult with his or her South Korean counterpart to identify opportunities for Korean Americans to participate in future reunions, including by video. It also encourages the Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights Issues to work with the Korean American community to identify those same opportunities.

“In the last Congress, I worked with the Korean American community to pass the Divided Families Reunification Act,” said Rep. Meng. “It passed the House of Representatives but the Senate failed to act. I am proud to once again introduce this humane and commonsense legislation, and to partner this time with Congressman Van Taylor. There are nearly two million people of Korean descent in the U.S., including many in my district in Queens. I have had the honor to meet some of the divided Korean American family members, and it breaks my heart that their chance of a reunion with their loved ones grows less likely each day. Many of them are in their 70s-90s, and time is of the essence to be reunited with their families. We have the technology and resources to make this happen – we just need the leadership to see this through. I thank my colleagues for their support and I look forward to the Divided Families Reunification Act becoming law this year.”

“I welcome the legislation that Representatives Meng and Van Taylor are introducing,” said Ambassador Robert R. King (ret), former Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues at the Department of State (2009-2017). “The inability of Korean-Americans to meet with their relatives who live in North Korea is heartless and cruel.  Helping these divided families meet with their loved-ones again should be an element of our human rights efforts with North Korea.”

“We proudly support the tireless efforts of Reps. Grace Meng and Van Taylor to reunite Korean American divided families with their loved ones in North Korea,” said Charles Yoon, President of the Korean American Association of Greater New York (KAAGNY).

In Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021, Meng secured provisions in Appropriations reports that supported the reunification of Korean Americans and their families in North Korea. She also unanimously passed the Divided Families Reunification Act in the House during the last session of Congress on March 3, 2020. However, the legislation was not taken up by the Senate.

BILL TO COMBAT HOUSING DISCRIMINATION PASSES SENATE: NYS Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and the Senate Democratic Majority have passed major legislation to continue addressing housing discrimination across New York State. This legislative package was based upon the Senate Majority’s 97-page investigative report on fair housing and discrimination on Long Island which was released last month. That investigation was launched following the troubling expose Long Island Divided, which Newsday published in 2019.

“This legislative package helps to address the decades of damage caused by discriminatory practices,” Senator Stavisky said. “It is not enough for New York to simply condemn these actions, we need to recognize the lasting negative effects they have on many people and we must actively work to build more inclusion into our neighborhoods. Fighting for housing equality and deterring those who try to discriminate not only enriches our communities, but provides more people access to educational and employment opportunities they may not have otherwise have. I thank Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and my colleagues in the Senate Majority for passing this legislation.”

The bills advanced will implement fair housing practices, implicit bias training, and compensatory relief to victims of housing discrimination.

RENTERS / OWNERS BENEFIT INFO SESSION W/FINANCE DEPT: Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-South Queens) announced that she will be hosting a Homeowners and Renters Benefit Session with the NYC Department of Finance (DOF). The virtual event will address DOF benefit program options for home, condo, and co-op owners, DOF benefit programs for renters, COVID-related service changes, and how to submit questions to DOF online.

“Filing taxes can be difficult and confusing, so I am glad to bring this event to my community and provide this resource to our constituents,” Assemblywoman Pheffer Amato said. “At this webinar, you can speak directly with DOF representatives about property tax questions and find out what benefits your family qualifies for. Even though the DOF is unable to come into our community physically this year, they are still here to help you understand your taxes.”

The virtual event will take place on Friday, March 5 from 2: 00pm to 3: 00pm over Webex. To reserve a spot, register at bit.ly/benefits030521 and for more information, call the Assemblywoman’s office at 718-945-9550.

ADDABBO TO HOST POISON SAFETY WORKSHOP: State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. will host a free virtual “Healthy Homes” workshop sponsored by Empire BlueCross BlueShield, and NYC Poison Control. Get information from Eduardo Torres of NYC Poison Control on how to keep your home safe. It will be held on Monday, February 22 at 7 p.m.

To join on Zoom, enter the meeting ID: 995 3685 0789 and Passcode: 420041.

Participants can also dial in at: + 1 929 205 6099

For more information about this and other events, contact Addabbo’s office at 718-738-1111.

RETURN OF PERFORMING ARTS WITH ‘NY POPSUP’: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo just announced the launch of NY PopsUp, an unprecedented and expansive festival featuring hundreds of pop-up performances, many of which are free of charge and all open to the public, that will intersect with the daily lives of New Yorkers. This series of events, intended to revitalize the spirit and emotional well-being of New York citizens with the energy of live performance while jumpstarting New York’s struggling live entertainment sector, is a private/public partnership overseen by producers Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal, in coordination with the New York State Council on the Arts and Empire State Development.

The Festival will serve as a “pilot program,” creating the state’s first large-scale model for how to bring live performance back safely after this prolonged COVID-related shutdown. NY PopsUp will launch on Saturday, February 20 and run through Labor Day. The Festival will reach its climax with the 20th Anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival and The Festival at Little Island at Pier 55, bringing the total number of performances to more than 1,000. NY PopsUp is being coordinated in lock step with state public health officials and will strictly adhere to Department of Health COVID-19 protocols.

All indoor events will strictly follow Department of Health public health and safety guidance.

The public will encounter a range of artists representing all areas of performance – from theater to dance, from poetry to comedy, from pop music to opera, and so much more. Among the confirmed artists are Hugh Jackman, Renée Fleming, Amy Schumer, Alec Baldwin, Chris Rock, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Isabel Leonard, Nico Muhly, Joyce DiDonato, John Early and Kate Berlant, Patti Smith, Mandy Patinkin, among many others.

More details about NY PopsUp will be announced soon. Please note that, given the impromptu nature and surprise element of the pop-up format, not all performances will be announced in advance. Please follow @NYPopsUp on Twitter and Instagram for the latest.

The first performances will include, among others still to be announced, the following:

Beginning Saturday, February 20 (Opening Day), members of the artists council will lead a performance at the Javits Center as a special tribute to our healthcare workers. The performance will feature Jon Batiste, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Ayodele Casel, and additional special guests joining forces for a one-of-a-kind live performance.

Throughout the day, the performers will travel around New York City, meeting audiences at various locations throughout all five boroughs in courtyards, workplaces, parks, and street corners, at the footsteps of locations such as, Flushing Post Office and Elmhurst Hospital. Saturday will conclude with one of Jon Batiste’s signature Love Riots beginning at Walt Whitman Park and ending at Golconda Playground in Brooklyn.

Patti Smith performing at the Brooklyn Museum in remembrance of the passing of Robert Mapplethorpe.

A series of dynamic and participatory performances will be taking place in the lobbies of free museums throughout the City of New York, including the Queens Museum.

NY PopsUp, the Tribeca Film Festival, and The Festival at Little Island will together bring a total of more than 1,000 performances to New York State between February 20 and Labor Day, signaling an event unmatched in scale and unrivaled in scope.

MAYOR RELEASES GUIDELINES FOR ‘OPEN CULTURE’ PROGRAM: Mayor Bill de Blasio just released guidelines for the City’s Open Culture program, which will permit outdoor cultural performances on designated city streets this spring. Open Culture will provide stages for artists and cultural groups in all five boroughs, putting artists back to work and providing New Yorkers the opportunity to enjoy the arts safely in their neighborhoods.

“Arts, culture, and live events are the heart of New York City. Today, we’re bringing them back,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “From Open Streets, to Open Restaurants, to Open Culture, New York City has found creative and sustainable ways to connect New Yorkers to their neighborhoods while staying safe from COVID-19. I’m honored to support the cultural institutions who make our city great, and I can’t wait to see our creative community in action.”

Modeled on the City’s successful and nation-leading Open Streets program, Open Culture is a new permit type available from the Mayor’s Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO) allowing for ticketed performances, rehearsals, classes, and workshops. Arts and cultural institutions, as well as entertainment venues, can secure a permit for single day, socially distanced performances at over 100 street locations throughout all five boroughs. Following the release of these draft guidelines, applications will open to eligible organizations March 1 and will extend through October 31. Eligible organizations include:

  • Arts and Culture Institutions: Members of the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG); recipients of Cultural Development Fund (CDF) support; recipients of borough arts council funding in 2019 or 2020; or other groups are eligible for CDF grant funding but haven’t received before.
  • Cultural Venues (Performance Venues): Entertainment facilities designed to be used for a performance in front of a live audience; this could include concert venues, theaters, and other establishments.

SAPO will accept applications on a rolling basis starting March 1, 2021. For complete guidelines, visit SAPO’s website.

“Members of the Cultural Institutions Group, as well as performing arts organizations throughout the city, and performers are all thrilled for the opportunities that Open Culture will provide. Artists will be bringing joy, beauty and unforgettable performances outside – safely,” said Taryn Sacramone, CIG Chair, Executive Director, Queens Theatre. “The diversity of the cultural community will be on display with streets turned into stages across all five boroughs. It’s a much-needed opportunity for artists to work and to connect with audiences, and something for all New Yorkers to look forward to – a reason for celebration!”

“We love the idea of bringing the arts to the people in their neighborhoods,” said Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer, Executive Director of Queens Council on the Arts.

GIANARIS BILL TO PREVENT THEFT, FRAUD IN ROMANCE SCAMS: Just before Valentine’s Day, Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris urged passage of his legislation (S.166) to prevent more people from falling victim to scams. The Federal Trade Commission estimates Americans lost $201 million in romance scams in 2019 alone – a number that’s grown six times since 2015.

“This Valentine’s Day, New York has no love for those who seek to scam people out of their money,” said Senator Gianaris. “New Yorkers deserve the strongest protections against predators and fraud. I am committed to keeping everyone safe from these scammers.”

According to the FBI, romance scams happen when a person using a fake identity online gains the trust or affection of a victim, and uses the prospect of a romantic relationship to steal money from the victim. Often, these scammers encourage victims to send money using fund transfers.

Senator Gianaris’ legislation will require financial institutions to provide a warning to customers of the danger of consumer fraud when transferring funds.

“Unfortunately, consumer fraud is all too common as con artists continue to scam New Yorkers into wiring them hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Assembly Member Al Stirpe, who sponsors the legislation in the State Assembly. “Seniors in particular are heavily preyed upon by these bad actors, and we must put a stop to it.”

CITY COUNCIL PASSES THE RENEWABLE RIKERS ACT: The New York City Council voted on Feb. 11 to pass the Renewable Rikers Act, which will transfer jurisdiction of Rikers Island from the Department of Correction (DOC) to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and directs the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (MOS) to conduct a feasibility study on the island’s potential to generate and store renewable energy. Under the Act, DOC will also be prohibited from operating jails on the island after August 31, 2027. The Renewable Rikers vision emerged from conversations about the post-carceral future of the island, led by survivors of Rikers who advocated for its closure, in partnership with environmental justice leaders.

“The 413 acres of Rikers Island have, for far too long, embodied an unjust and racist criminal justice system,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides. “Far too many New Yorkers found themselves caught in a cycle of over-policing and over-incarceration symbolized by an island named for the family of a slave catcher. Now, however, we will have a golden opportunity to put the principles of the Green New Deal into practice with the Renewable Rikers Act. These bills will offer the city a pathway to building a hub for sustainability and resiliency that can serve as a model to cities around the world.”

Intro. 1593 will require the city to study how building renewable resources paired with battery storage on the island can tie into the city’s long-term energy plan to phase out fossil fuel-fired power plants established as part of the Climate Mobilization Act. According to a preliminary analysis by Sustainable CUNY, 35 acres of solar PV panels installed on Rikers Island would have a capacity of 14.6 megawatts and generate about 17.2 gigawatt hours annually. A mere 12 acres, or 4% of the island’s total area, meanwhile, could potentially hold 1520 megawatts worth of storage, or about one half of the goal set for the entire state by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

Constantinides partnered with the CUNY Law School’s Center for Urban Environmental Reform to expand on the Commission’s suggestion. Prof. Rebecca Bratspies, Founding Director of the CUNY Law School Center for Urban Environmental Reform, estimated using 100 acres of the land for solar energy and battery storage could lay the groundwork to justify closing every peaking power plant built in the last two decades.

Advocates have long argued a Renewable Rikers is the best use for the land given both its traumatic history and its own precarious environmental issues. As the island is predominantly landfill from ash and garbage, methane leaks are a persistent problem. Former Rikers employees have attributed health problems to gas seeping from the toxic soil, while collapsing methane pockets have disrupted the foundation of already crumbling jails.

URGE FDA TO OPEN ACCESS TO MIFEPRISTONE: Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Committee Member Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus’ Abortion Rights and Access Task Force, led all Democratic Committee congresswomen in sending a letter asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift the medically unnecessary in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone—a prescription medication that has been used to safely end early pregnancies in the United States for more than two decades.

“Imposing this requirement in the midst of a deadly pandemic—one that has disproportionately impacted communities of color across the United States—needlessly places patients and providers in harm’s way, and further entrenches longstanding health inequities,” the Members wrote.

The FDA created the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS) program to ensure the safe use of medications that pose “serious safety concerns” to patients. During the coronavirus pandemic, FDA suspended certain in-person REMS requirements, citing the health risks and difficulties they pose for patients who are quarantining or self-isolating. However, FDA declined to suspend the in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone, despite data showing that less than 0.1% of patients who take mifepristone experience major adverse effects. By comparison, hundreds of people in the United States who carry their pregnancies to term die annually in childbirth.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), FDA’s REMS restrictions for mifepristone “have no medical basis, provide no patient benefit, and unnecessarily restrict access to care.”

Of the more than 20,000 drugs regulated by the FDA, mifepristone is the only one FDA requires patients to obtain in-person, but does not place restrictions on the ability of patients to self-administer unsupervised.

“In light of the clear danger that the reinstated requirement poses to people seeking comprehensive reproductive health care at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, we urge you to immediately eliminate the medically unnecessary in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone,” the Members added.

Following a lawsuit led by ACOG, on July 13, 2020 the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ordered FDA to suspend the in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone during the coronavirus pandemic, noting that in-person requirements had been waived for many other drugs in the interest of public health. The Trump Administration requested a stay on the District Court’s injunction, which was granted by the Supreme Court on January 12, 2021, reinstating the in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone.

NYS CARES + BABY2BABY DIAPER BANK: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a proposal to establish the New York State Cares + Baby2Baby Diaper Bank as part of the 2021 Women’s Agenda. Through a partnership with Baby2Baby, a national nonprofit that provides basic essentials for children under the age of 18, 20 million donated diapers will be made available to New York’s Emergency Feeding Programs for distribution to food banks throughout the state at no cost to New York families.

“COVID-19 has piled challenge after challenge onto hardworking New York families, including the ability to afford the products they need to care for their children,” Governor Cuomo said. “Even before the pandemic, an astonishing one in three families struggled to cover the cost of diapers, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this issue.”

Benefit programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) do not cover diapers even for the most needy families because they are not considered food. Therefore, most families rely on donated goods or must scrape limited resources together to meet the need. The problem is exacerbated for children in child care, because virtually all child care facilities require parents to provide diapers for their children. While 26 percent of New York families with children under the age of three receive federal child care support, there are no federal programs that help offset the cost of diapers that they can send with their children to day care. Twenty-one percent of families with children earn less than 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, and the cost of diapers can consume up to 14 percent of a low-income family’s budget.

The New York State Cares + Baby2Baby Diaper Bank complements the Nourish New York program, which was first announced by the Governor in April 2020 in response to the financial hardships New York’s dairy farmers were facing with the loss of key markets and the significant, increased demand New York’s food banks were seeing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of December 1, 2020, Nourish NY has resulted in $26.4 million in purchases for 17 million pounds of food. More than one million households have received New York State products through food distributions and more than 4,000 farms have benefitted from the initiative. On January 17, Governor Cuomo announced $25 million to continue programs through the Nourish NY initiative as part of the 2021 State of the State agenda.

For further info, visit www.governor.ny.gov.

GILLIBRAND: FCC MUST FUND E-RATE FOR STUDENT INTERNET: U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined more than 40 Senate Democrats to call on the new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) leadership, Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel, to immediately provide emergency funds for the E-Rate program as schools and students continue to rely on remote learning during the pandemic. The E-Rate program allows students to learn safely from home while guaranteeing online access to course materials.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 4.4 million households with children nationwide do not have consistent access to computers for online learning during the pandemic. Research shows the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the “homework gap” experienced by an estimated 16 million students who lack reliable internet access at home. These students are disproportionately from low-income households, rural areas and communities of color.

The FCC has authority and available funding under the E-Rate program to help these students access reliable internet at home — especially at a time when most students continue with online learning. However, under the Trump administration, the FCC refused to use the emergency authority available to the chair to make resources available to connect vulnerable children through the E-Rate program. In addition to immediate emergency funding for the E-Rate program, Gillibrand and her colleagues are continuing to call on Congress to pass their previously introduced Emergency Educational Connections Act, which would invest $4 billion in educational funding in the next relief package to ensure students have access to technology and broadband to continue online learning.

Senator Gillibrand said, “The FCC’s refusal to act has been an immense failure and I hope the new administration will right this wrong.” While I urge the FCC to act immediately to support our students, I will continue fighting to pass legislation that will provide billions in E-Rate funding to help close the homework gap during this pandemic.”

The letter states: “The E-Rate is, and has been for over two decades, an essential source of funding to connect the nation’s schools and libraries to the internet. Contrary to your predecessor’s assertions, the FCC has always had clear emergency authority to utilize existing E-Rate funding to connect students learning online during the coronavirus pandemic.”

‘REOPEN ALL K-12 NYC PUBLIC SCHOOLS, NOW’: Former NYC Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley has issued the statement below regarding the reopening of the NYC schools:

“I call on Mayor de Blasio to immediately reopen all NYC K-12 public schools with CDC-recommended safety measures and with ongoing Covid testing.

“Mayor de Blasio’s announcement today to only reopen middle schools in two weeks is disconnected from the realities faced by our families and students.

“NYC middle and high schools have been mostly closed since last March, meaning that our children have had nearly a whole year of substandard, remote learning. Research has shown, and the Mayor himself has stated, that remote learning does not offer the same quality of education that in-person learning provides students. Our students are suffering and need to immediately resume in-person education.

“The CDC has found that schools pose little threat in the transmission of the coronavirus and the CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, recently stated that schools can reopen safely with appropriate measures in place.

“In NYC, we have seen most private and Catholic schools reopen without spreading the virus and our public schools should do the same.”

BILLS SUPPORTING STUDENT AID IN HIGHER ED PASS: NYS Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D- 16th district), Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, and the Senate Democratic Majority passed legislation to improve student aid in New York’s higher education institutions. Within this legislative package are a series of bills sponsored by Stavisky, standardizing the award schedule of the Tuition Assistance Program for dependent and independent students, and protecting the privacy rights of immigrant students on campus.

Senator Stavisky said, “All New Yorkers should have access to higher education, regardless of when they pursue it. This legislation makes sure students who initially qualified for TAP benefits in the past can receive financial assistance that reflects the current cost of tuition if they choose to re-enroll in college. Additional legislation protects the immigrant student community by prohibiting colleges from asking about their immigration status so they can pursue their educational aspirations without fear of deportation. I thank my colleagues and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for advancing this, and other important legislation to support New York’s students.”

In addition to the bills sponsored by Senator Stavisky, this package includes legislation that will provide support for veteran students through campus resources and academic credit opportunities, create a task force to study refinance options for private student loans and help provide the community and state college systems of New York with additional support.

BILL GRANTING COLLEGE CREDITS TO VETS APPROVED: The NYS Senate passed a bill sponsored by Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., S.2680A, providing academic credit at state-operated institutions to veterans based on their training and experience. In addition to this legislation, Addabbo introduced a package of bills for the 2021 legislative session providing financial, emotional, and other supportive benefits specific to New York’s veterans.

“Providing military service members the opportunity to apply their training and experience towards a degree or program of study is common sense,” Senator Addabbo said. “Granting credit hours for experience is not new, but this bill would define state law to ensure ACE certified credit-worthy courses are always accepted without having to go through an additional review or recommendation process. Enacting this legislation provides our military members with vital, well-deserved educational savings. As elected officials, I believe we can and must do more for our veterans.”

Other Addabbo bills under consideration in the Senate to assist veterans include:

  • 351 – Requires a 120-day warning period for certain veteran’s organizations so they can rectify specific violations in lieu of the immediate imposition of a fine;
  • 377 – Provides an exemption of sales tax on beer, wine, and soda for veterans service organizations such as American Legions and VFW posts;
  • 1764 – Directs the Division of Veterans’ Services to route “988” calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline;
  • 2918 – Establishes a real property tax exemption for veterans who have a 100% service-connected disability;
  • 2679 – Establishes a process for the alternative resolution of criminal proceedings involving service members and veterans who served in combat or experienced a traumatic event or were physically or mentally injured during military service where their resulting illness, injury, and/or other condition may have played a role in the commission of the criminal offense;
  • 4069 – Creates a voluntary contribution on the state personal income tax return for congressional chartered veterans’ service organizations;
  • 4202 – Requires the Empire State Development Corporation “Small Business Revolving Loan Fund” to target and market to veteran-owned enterprises and service-disabled veteran-owned enterprises;

“Even before COVID-19, NYS veterans were at a higher risk of depression, but the pandemic has presented more significant challenges for veterans, including mental health issues,” Addabbo added. “Every one of our veterans, including the organizations that serve them, is deserving of exclusive privileges and supportive services, which is why I am honored to introduce legislation specific to our military personnel. I am hopeful the Senate will vote to pass all of these important initiatives,” said Addabbo, a long-standing member of the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee.

UFT ENDORSES CABÁN FOR CITY COUNCIL D22: Tiffany Cabán, a 33-year-old organizer, activist, former public defender, queer Latina, and candidate for New York City Council District 22, received the endorsement of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). UFT represents nearly 200,000 members as the sole bargaining agent for New York City public school employees. UFTʼs endorsement is critical addition to the organized labor groups that have thrown their support behind Cabánʼs campaign including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), 1199 SEIU, Communication Workers of America (CWA), 32BJ, District Council 37, Hotel Trades Council, and New York State Nurses Association.

“As a public defender, Tiffany Cabán has been a progressive voice for her community,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “We look forward to her bringing that same determination and drive to the City Council.”

“Teachers are frontline workers that have met the call to be more than just traditional educators in this moment, and I am so proud to have the endorsement of UFT,” said Cabán. “Through this unprecedented pandemic, UFT has advocated fiercely for its members, and for the students of New York City. Here in District 22, we have seen the D30 teachers step up on behalf of our community, and our kids. We have to protect our students during this public health crisis, and UFT is leading the way. I am honored to have UFT alongside us in this fight for District 22.”

UFTʼs endorsement adds to Tiffanyʼs growing coalition of local leaders, labor unions, and community organizations including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; NYS Senators Jessica Ramos, Julia Salazar and Michael Gianaris; Assemblymembers Jessica Gonzalez Rojas, Zohran Mamdani, Phara Souffrant Forrest and Marcela Mitaynes; Councilmembers Brad Lander, Jimmy Van Bramer and Ben Kallos; District Leaders Shawna Morlock and Zachariah Boyer; Working Families Party; DSA-NYC; Make the Road Action; New York Communities for Change; Community Voices Heard Action; Churches United for Fair Housing; TreeAGE; Women of Color for Progress; 21 in 21; VOCAL-NY Action Fund; Run for Something; NYIC Action; and the Freelancers Union.

MASS VAX SITES TO INCREASE EQUITABLE ACCESS: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo joined with White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients and White House COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Chair Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith to announce that at the Governor’s request, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will establish two community-based mass-vaccination sites at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and York College in Queens, which will serve as a national model for the equitable distribution of the COVID vaccine. These two major mass vaccination sites in New York City will vaccinate approximately 3,000 New Yorkers each day over an eight-week period and, like the State and City operated Yankee Stadium site in the Bronx, will be reserved only for the residents of the borough where the site is located. New York State is working with FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to identify additional sites outside of New York City to launch special targeted efforts focused on vaccine equity and improving access to socially vulnerable populations, each to vaccinate 1,000 New Yorkers per day.

These sites will target communities and populations historically underserved by the traditional health care system that were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. By increasing vaccine access in communities where vaccine hesitancy and vaccination rates are lower than other parts of the state, these sites will build on the focus of New York State and the Biden Administration to vaccinate as many people as possible fairly and equitably by creating vaccination venues in settings that people trust through partnerships with community leaders and organizations.

According to the governor, the York site will be the largest in the state thus far, expecting to vaccinate 3,000 people per day in the college’s Health and Physical Education Building (“The Gym”). The site will open on Wednesday, February 24. The campus is conveniently located near a busy public transportation hub.

While COVID-19 has had a damaging impact on the nation writ large, poor communities and communities of color have been particularly devastated by this virus, with Black and Latino people dying at a much higher rate than white people. Since the beginning of the vaccine distribution process, another concerning trend has emerged – mistrust of the vaccine, especially in the Black community. With a large number of the essential workers coming from communities of color, these New Yorkers face an increased risk of contracting the virus simply due to the nature of their work. This has made it all the more important to not only continue working to instill confidence in the vaccine, but to also break down access barriers and ensure it is available directly within these communities.

Sites are currently under development. Scheduling information, and hours of operation will be made available in the coming days.

‘CUOMO MISHANDLED NURSING HOME DATA, PANDEMIC’: NYS Senator Jessica Ramos released the following statement: “At a time when we need New Yorkers to trust their elected officials the most, the Governor and his administration knowingly chose to lie and play politics with New Yorkers’ lives. This news is another slap in the face to the many New Yorkers still grieving the loss of their loved ones across our state. It has become increasingly clear that the Governor has allowed his ego and his donor base to dictate the response to this pandemic, leaving the most vulnerable in our communities at risk and dismissing their cries for relief at every turn. New Yorkers deserve truth and transparency, and the Governor and his administration must be held accountable for (their) actions. His emergency powers must be rescinded, he and his administration must be subpoenaed for all of the pertinent information, and a full investigation must result in justice for our grieving families.”

IMPROVE COVID DATA REPORTING BY CARE FACILITIES: United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Senate and House leadership urging them to improve data reporting requirements for assisted living facilities, residential behavioral health facilities, and other congregate care settings in future coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) relief efforts. Specifically, the lawmakers urged leadership to consider including provisions from their Assisted Living Facility Coronavirus Reporting Act, legislation Warren and Maloney, along with Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), introduced last Congress that would address gaps in COVID-19 data reporting at assisted living facilities.

“Since the coronavirus crisis began ravaging our country, congregate care facilities have emerged as epicenters of the pandemic,” wrote the lawmakers. “We strongly encourage you to prioritize strengthening data reporting requirements for congregate facilities in future coronavirus relief efforts and stand ready to work with you on this critical issue.”

Despite the vulnerabilities that all congregate care facilities share, different types of facilities are subject to different data reporting requirements. Nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities are regulated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and required to report specific information to the federal government on COVID-19 cases, testing, and deaths. Yet assisted living facilities, which also serve clinically vulnerable populations, are subject to very limited federal COVID-19 data requirements.

The lawmakers wrote, “Ensuring that congregate facilities, particularly those that receive federal funds, are required to report data on coronavirus testing, hospitalizations, vaccinations, and deaths will make it easier for health officials to track outbreaks. Our Assisted Living Facility Coronavirus Reporting Act, which would establish basic data reporting standards for assisted living facilities, offers a legislative framework for these requirements.”

Senator Warren has repeatedly called for more detailed national COVID-19 data reporting and has advocated for better reporting standards and protections in congregate settings like schools, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, prisons, and workplaces such as meatpacking plants.

‘ALARMING NUMBER OF COVID DEATHS IN USPS’: Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Chair of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, sent a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy seeking a briefing on whether the Postal Service is effectively mitigating coronavirus infections across its workforce and to press the Postmaster General to more transparently report on employee infections and deaths.

“We are writing to request a briefing about alarmingly high numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths suffered by postal workers during this pandemic,” the Chairs wrote.

According to the Washington Post, “coronavirus infections among postal staff have spiked.”  The article continued, “More than 16,000 employees are under quarantine this week after testing positive for the coronavirus or coming in contact with someone who had.”

Postmaster DeJoy also admitted recently that the Postal Service lost 119 postal workers to coronavirus and more than 14,000 employees have contracted coronavirus nationwide.

On November 20, 2020, the Postal Service Inspector General found that the Postal Service was falling short on its implementation of preventive and treatment measures for its workforce.

Chairs Maloney and Connolly requested the Postmaster General provide a briefing no later than March 1, 2021 on these troubling reports, his efforts to provide greater transparency about the toll of the pandemic on the Postal Service, and his progress on implementing recommendations from the Inspector General.

FEMA WILL PAY FOR COVID FUNERALS: U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez formally announced that, following their successful effort to include it in recent COVID relief legislation, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) will help pay for the funeral and burial of COVID-hit families that cannot afford it via a $2 billion national pot of disaster funds. Schumer and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said this marks real progress in their larger disaster declaration support efforts, but that New York families will have to apply for these dollars when available, and that these families can prepare now.

Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez said that families across New York, particularly those in communities of color and low-income communities like Corona, which was the epicenter of the crisis early on, have already paid the ultimate price amid the pandemic and that these special FEMA funds will help alleviate some of the pain in being unable to afford or give a proper burial and funeral to a loved one.

Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez said funerals and burials on average cost $7,000. The COVID relief legislation provides $2 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund and activates FEMA’s Disaster Funeral Assistance program – New Yorkers will receive approximately $260 million in funeral assistance funds, based on average funeral costs that will help grieving New York families. The legislation provides this assistance at 100% federal cost share. Eligibility for the funds is retroactive through the beginning of the pandemic, January 20, 2020, to December 31, 2020, and Schumer says he and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez are working to keep the program in place for the rest of the pandemic.

Schumer and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez explained that their respective offices stand at the ready to help families navigate and secure this new benefit, and this federal relief is now a reality amid this crisis and will soon be open for application.

Schumer explained, a family that thinks they are eligible should work with their family members, the city and state, as well as their funeral director to prepare: 1) documentation to verify the caller’s identity and relation to the deceased; 2) a death certificate that lists the deceased’s death as related to COVID-19, following the CDC’s guidelines; 3) documentation of all costs associated with the deceased’s funeral; and 4) coordination with family members and the city and state on who will submit the claim as they are “next of kin.”

FEMA is setting up a call center, where caseworkers will help individuals who believe they are eligible to register in FEMA’s system. Registered individuals will be provided access to an online portal to submit documents, and there will be a fax and mail option available as well.

YANG: BARS AND RESTAURANTS CRUCIAL TO NY’S RECOVERY: Andrew Yang, Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City, called on the city and state to take action on a number of measures aimed at saving New York City’s restaurants, bars and nightlife venues that have been crushed by COVID-19.

According to a recent report by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the next year could see as many as one-third of New York City’s bar and restaurants close, resulting in the loss of as many as 12,000 city restaurant jobs and 159,000 industry jobs, Yang noted, adding, “Restaurants and bars are not just the cultural and social lifeblood of New York City, but an invaluable economic engine, accounting for hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, in tax revenue, economic activity, jobs, tourism and beyond. By not removing the bureaucratic weights holding these businesses back, we are failing them. Bars and restaurants need to be at the center of New York’s recovery plans.

“There are several measures we can take right now that could provide relief overnight to countless small businesses, including temporary halting the commercial rent tax and converting the sales tax collected by bars and restaurants into grants for struggling businesses. The cost of these measures to the city and state’s bottom line shouldn’t be taken lightly, but will pale in comparison to the devastation we will face in the long run if we continue hemorrhaging small business jobs at the rate we have been. We need to think long term.

“We need Congress to pass the RESTAURANTS Act immediately. Any stimulus package that doesn’t include restaurant relief will be a massive failure, especially in cities like New York, where food service is the bedrock of countless local communities.

“And of course, no real recovery is possible without equitable and accelerated vaccine distribution. Now that restaurant workers can access the vaccine, we must ensure that the city is a true partner with business owners to get workers access. Sixty percent of NYC restaurant workers are immigrants, and access to the already-opaque system with the help of trusted community partners and clergy to encourage trust and ease of sign-up is essential.”

Yang is also echoing calls by NYC Hospitality Alliance and Center for an Urban Future to help generate revenue for restaurants and bars (as noted above), while facilitating safe practices, including:

  • Provide PPE to all restaurants free of charge and prioritize hospitality workers for the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Buy regulated hardware, such as outdoor heaters, dividers and air filtration systems, in bulk and sell them to local businesses. The city should work with the FDNY to streamline applications and adjust regulations while continuing to prioritize safety.
  • Incentivize owners of vacant storefronts to “lend” their outdoor vacant spaces to adjacent businesses: Yang supports the proposal of Tim Tompkins of the Times Square Alliance to capitalize on the good will business owners showed one another, such as non-restaurant businesses lending their curb space to their neighborhood restaurants, and provide a system to streamline this goodwill so that it is increased and the lenders are protected. Yang proposes that the city should institute a 150% current or future tax credit to the landlord “lending” their space, meaning that a landlord would receive a 45-day-value-tax credit for a 30-day lease.

Lastly, Yang is backing long-term solutions to keep and maintain New York City’s restaurant and nightlife thriving, in a post-pandemic world, including:

  • Making the cap on delivery fees permanent… as restaurants typically have margins in the 10% range and these fees were already unmanageable.

Said Andrew Yang, “Food delivery apps have traditionally taken upwards of 30% of an order – that’s money taken away from a local, small business and going straight to another state. As restaurants are forced to shift their business to online ordering, this fee is killing their bottom lines….”

  • Making outdoor dining a permanent fixture of our neighborhoods… giving business owners not only another source of revenue, but also fostering a stronger sense of neighborhood community.
  • Work with the Governor’s Office to permanently relax the executive order restricting carry-out or delivered alcohol. Margins in foodservice are razor-thin, and alcohol sales can make or break a restaurant.

‘PANDEMIC EXACERBATES ADDICTION, MENTAL HEALTH CRISES’: U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Representative David Trone (D-MD) urged Congress to include robust funding for substance use disorder and mental health care services in the next coronavirus relief package. In their letters to Senate and House leadership, the lawmakers called for $10 billion in funding for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), dedicated to the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant and Community Mental Health Services Block Grant programs.

Since the pandemic began, social isolation, increased financial stress, loss of work, lack of structured time, and daily uncertainty have exacerbated mental health issues and substance use disorders and caused overdose rates to soar. The CDC reported over 81,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States between July 2019 and June 2020 — the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period. Meanwhile, mental health and addiction providers and organizations have been overwhelmed by need and are at risk of closing their doors because of the financial uncertainty originating from the pandemic.

“The pandemic has exacerbated our country’s addiction crisis and we must do more to address the troubling trend of high rates of mental health and substance use disorders,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Many mental health care and substance use disorder support services face the heavy burden of helping Americans in need with limited resources. Shoring up SAMHSA with robust funding in the next package would ensure resources are available to those recovering from substance use and will help save lives.”

Throughout the pandemic, Senator Gillibrand has fought to support the needs of New Yorkers struggling with mental health and substance use disorders, and their families. She repeatedly called on Senate leadership to include robust funding for substance use disorder and mental health care services as Congress negotiated the last relief package. Gillibrand and Trone previously introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Family Support Services Act to create a $25 million grant program over five years to help nonprofits and community organizations provide support services to families with loved ones seeking addiction treatment.

PHEFFER AMATO APPOINTED TO SCIENCE, TECH COMMITTEE: Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-South Queens) announced her appointment to the new New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Science and Technology. The committee will address the scientific and technological challenges that will “help determine the future” of this state and will be Chaired by Assemblyman Steve Otis (D-Rye).

“21st century problems require 21st century solutions. State legislatures facing these challenges must be equipped with committees that roll up their sleeves and start the work,” Pheffer Amato said. “I am excited to work on tackling the issues that are going to define the future of the State of New York. We are going to do some amazing work; broadband, digital data policy, and infrastructure.”

The Science and Technology committee is the first new committee in the Assembly since the Library committee was formed in 1997. The Assemblywoman adds this committee membership to her various others including: Consumer Affairs and Protection; Corporations, Authorities and Commissions; Governmental Employees; Racing and Wagering; and Veterans’ Affairs.

SHE SHOULD RUN ESSAY CONTEST AWARDS: Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Beach), and the Rockaway Leaders Alliance (RLA) announced the winners of the 2020 She Should Run Essay contest launched at the end of 2020. The contest, inspired by the 2020 She Should Run Barbie Doll set meant to inspire young women to run for office and get involved in politics, challenged the students to think critically about which laws they would want to change or create, and why. Twenty students submitted essays, of which 4 winners were chosen: 4th Grader Katherine E of PS 114, and 5th Graders Shaleah M from PS 105, Cassidy R of PS 114, and Daiyana DL from PS 253. The finalist’s submissions covered a variety of topics ranging from pollution to citizenship requirements in order to run for president.

“I am so proud of all the students who participated in this contest, and of their incredible and thought-provoking submissions – they fully embraced this challenge,” Pheffer Amato said. “It is crucial that we develop our next generation of legislators and community leaders, and I hope this contest helped them realize the power of their voices. We are teaching our young people, especially young women, that their voice matters, and that there are no boundaries to their potential, and that’s why this contest was so important to me.”

“Our She Should Run essay contest was a great initiative to spark students’ thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills.  As students experience the world, they are processing events, formulating ideas and have an opinion that’s worth sharing; through their writing, we were able to capture complex thought, passion and their voice.,” said Principal Phoebe Robinson of PS 253.

Each of the participants will receive a certificate of merit, and the four finalists will get a set of the She Should Run Barbie Doll personally delivered to their homes by Assemblywoman Pheffer Amato.

‘HONOR PHOTOGRAPHER CORKY LEE WITH EXHIBITION’: U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens), First Vice Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, announced that she led a letter to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. urging officials there to create a special exhibit honoring the late photographer Corky Lee.

Lee, who was from Meng’s home borough of Queens, was a prolific photographer who captured the Asian American lived experiences in the United States from the 1975 protests against police brutality to the gentrification of New York City’s Chinatown, and from the anti-Muslim hate in the post-9/11 era to the anti-Asian hate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex that consists of 19 museums and galleries.

“Photographs are powerful tools and mediums to communicate the human experience. Corky understood this when he studied at Queens College and saw a photo of the Transcontinental Railroad that depicted no Chinese laborers despite them having built it,” said Meng. “From that moment, he dedicated his life to covering our community and making sure our cries, struggles, laughter, and solidarity with others were captured. His whole life was focused on this – helping lift up our stories and giving voice to the greater AAPI community in the United States. Let’s honor Corky by creating an exhibit at our nation’s national museum that highlights his work and legacy. I look forward to seeing this come to fruition.”

Corky Lee passed away on January 27 due to complications from COVID-19.

—With contributions by Annette Hanze Alberts

This column was originated by John A. Toscano

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