By Sabina Mollot
On November 7, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill benefiting veterans that was written by a Stuyvesant Town resident.
While he doesn’t work in politics, the resident, Jerry Alperstein, is a Korean war vet and also the New York Department Legislative Committee Chair of the Jewish War Veterans group.
He’d been researching veteran-related legislation in 2010, when he discovered a discrepancy in a 2005 law that left some city employees who’d left their jobs for military duty ineligible for an existing pension credit.
The discrepancy in the 2005 law came from most – but not all – city employees called to active military service between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2005 being able to get the pension credit.
This was tied into a benefit program that allowed city employees called to active military service to continue receiving their full salary and benefits, including pension benefits, as long as they paid back their military pay or city pay (whichever was less) when returning to their city jobs.
However, city employees who elected not to receive their city pay while on active duty were not covered by the 2005 law. Alperstein said this wound up being 60-70 people.
After discovering the discrepancy, he got the support of the JWV to write an amendment to include those employees and then find a State Senate member and an Assembly member who’d be willing to sponsor the amendment in Albany.
After discussing it with an Assembly member he knows, Amy Paulin of Scarsdale, Alperstein said she advised him to pitch the amendment to city legislators, since the law would only impact city residents and legislators. And, in the interest of getting it passed, she advised him to choose majority party legislators.
He ended up reaching out to Democrat Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan and Republican State Senator Andrew Lanza of Staten Island, both of whom “didn’t need convincing,” Alperstein said.
The rest of the legislature, however, was another matter. Though the bill was introduced in 2011, it didn’t go anywhere until getting reintroduced in 2013.
Alperstein said he wasn’t worried during that time though.
“Bills have to run their course to build up support and for other organizations to notice them,” he said.
That year it did end up getting passed in the Assembly, and in 2014, it was passed by both houses.
Rosenthal, in an interview with Town & Village, said she wasn’t sure why it wasn’t initially passed by the Senate, but recalled that there was a problem with an actuarial note given by the city. The note had “drastically” overstated what the cost would be to the city if the pension credit were to be approved for the city employees. So Rosenthal had to convince Albany the figures were incorrectly inflated.
“I would have been for it whether it was costly or not,” said Rosenthal. “We all wanted to make sure it would go through.”
But not surprisingly, the bill encountered less resistance once it became clear it would impact only a small group of veterans.
Alperstein, who added that he was appreciative of Rosenthal and Lanza’s efforts in drumming up the support for it, said he has since been mulling the idea of getting involved in other veteran legislation in the future.
“I say it jokingly, that yes, I wrote the bill, but really it was just adding six words,” said Alperstein.
The six words, added in two different places, were “The New York City Retirement Systems.”