By MARINA VILLENEUVE
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Leaders of New York’s Democratic-controlled Legislature want to boost funding for housing, child care and home care in this year’s budget.
Legislative leaders are negotiating with Gov. Kathy Hochul to pass a budget by April 1.
The Democratic governor’s $216.3 million budget includes a 3.1% spending increase and a $2 billion pool of funding for COVID-19 relief.
The Assembly is proposing $7.9 billion or 3.6% more spending than Hochul’s budget. The Senate’s office didn’t immediately provide the cost of its spending proposal Tuesday.
Andrew Rein, president of nonpartisan fiscal watchdog Citizens Budget Commission, said New York should considering cutting $2 billion in funding to wealthy school districts rather than relying on one-time federal aid. His group wants the state to prioritize setting aside money into New York’s rainy day fund.
It’s unlikely the final budget will include everything pitched by lawmakers, who released proposals this weekend. The Senate’s budget would suspend the gas tax from May through December to save consumers $648 million.
The Assembly and Senate propose adding at least $1 billion in funding to New York’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which has run out of money.
The state originally received $2.4 billion in federal funding for the program, which helps landlords and tenants struggling with unpaid back rent and utilities amid the pandemic.
Hochul recently asked the U.S. Treasury for $1.6 billion in more funds. But the state received $119 million in the latest re-allocation round, on top of $27 million previously.
The Assembly proposes spending $1.25 billion, while the Senate would provide up to $1 billion in state funds for shortfalls.
New York’s eviction moratorium expired in January. Individuals who applied for rental assistance have eviction protection while their applications are reviewed. But housing advocates say such protections won’t last forever.
The Assembly and Senate also back using $250 million for a new statewide rental subsidy.
Advocates estimate about one in five New Yorkers are currently in households that are nearly $2 billion behind on electric or natural gas bills.
The Senate proposed setting aside $400 million in utility arrears assistance, while the Assembly proposed $500 million.
“Our state is one step closer to averting the utility arrears and shutoff crises and ensuring that nobody has to, or continues to, make the dangerous choices between purchasing food, paying for health care, or keeping the lights on and their home warm,” said Richard Berkley, executive director of the Public Utility Law Project of New York.
The Senate proposes spending an additional $625 million to boost pay for home care workers, and $277.5 million to remove the existing eligibility requirement for personal and home care.
The Assembly’s plan would set a minimum wage for home care workers at 150% of the regional minimum wage.
“New York faces the worst home care shortage in America — and this crisis has left tens of thousands of aging adults and disabled people without care and forced them into dangerous nursing homes,” New York Caring Majority co-director Ilana Berger said.
CHILD CARE, EDUCATION
Lawmakers want to boost funding and expand eligibility in hopes of one day offering universal child care statewide.
The Senate is proposing to spend $2.2 billion over the next year.
Over the next four years, New York would expand access to subsidized child care to households earning up to 500% of the federal poverty level — $138,750 for a family of four.
The state would cap co-payments at up to 10% of household income for families between 300% and 500% of the federal poverty level.
The Assembly’s plan includes over $3 billion in child care investments to expand eligibility for subsidies from the current 200% level to 400% over three years.
The Senate and Assembly would boost funding for universal pre-kindergarten by $250 million and $150 million respectively.
Lawmakers also want to increase funding for the state university system: the Senate would add $600 million in year-to-year support.
HELP FOR UNDOCUMENTED NEW YORKERS
Both chambers propose $345 million for a state health coverage option for more than 150,000 low-income New Yorkers whose immigration status bars them from getting health insurance.
But both lawmakers’ and Hochul’s budget proposals do not include additional COVID-19 relief for undocumented workers — a sign that the state budget likely won’t either.
New York has exhausted its $2.1 billion pandemic relief fund for workers whose immigration status made them ineligible for federal stimulus checks and other COVID-19 relief.
BAN ON NEW FOSSIL FUEL IN NEW CONSTRUCTION
The state Senate proposes banning fossil fuels in new construction in line with a similar law passed in New York City in 2021.
The Senate’s proposal would start with banning natural gas in new buildings under seven stories starting in 2024. That’s sooner than Hochul’s proposal to start the ban in 2027.
The Assembly’s budget didn’t include the proposal.
Speaker Carl Heastie said Monday that the chamber’s leaders only wanted to include fiscal, not policy, initiatives in the budget.
CLEAN SLATE BILL
The Senate wants to use the budget to pass legislation to automatically seal the records of many criminal convictions at least three years from sentencing for a misdemeanor, or seven years for a felony.
That bill, the Clean Slate Act, did not pass last summer, but advocates say it’s needed to help people reintegrate into society and find jobs and housing.
The legislation — sponsored by Sen. Zellnor Myrie, a Democrat from Brooklyn — would not apply to sex offenses, or for people who are currently under parole or probation or facing a pending criminal charge. Courts, or anyone required to run fingerprint-based criminal history checks, could access the records in certain scenarios.
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