Speaker Johnson introduces $12 billion relief plan

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Councilmember Keith Powers came out in support of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s relief plan for workers and businesses throughout the city that are impacted by COVID-19 that was introduced last week.

Johnson’s $12 billion relief plan, proposed last Thursday, includes a temporary universal basic income for all New Yorkers, unemployment protections for hourly and freelance workers, up to $250,000 to cover costs for impacted businesses, temporarily deferring fees for businesses and refunding business taxes.

“We’re calling on the city to take action to help our restaurant and bar industry,” Powers said of the proposal. “We mandated they had to close. It’s already a struggling industry and it’s the lifeblood of NYC. They’re dependent on that paycheck.”

According to City Council estimate, more than 500,000 workers and more than 40,000 businesses generated $40 billion in taxable sales last year and are among the hardest-hit industries so far in the COVID-19 crisis. These businesses include the hospitality industry as well as retail shops, performance venues, salons and other businesses.

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Petitioning suspended for congressional race

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Multiple candidates running for the Congressional seat in District 12, including incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, suspended petitioning last week in order to protect the public during the COVID-19 pandemic shortly before the governor suspended all petitioning on Saturday. 

Candidates Lauren Ashcraft and Peter Harrison also signed an online petition calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to suspend or reduce petitioning requirements in response to coronavirus fears and the governor signed an executive order suspending the candidate petitioning process on Tuesday at 5 p.m. for the June primaries for Congressional, State Senate, State Assembly and Judicial races. The order also modified signature requirements for ballot access. Candidates will only need to collect 30% of the statutory threshold. For Congress, candidates would need 375 signatures instead of 1,250.

Maloney issued a statement on Thursday announcing that she would be suspending petitioning.

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Bill from Hoylman aims to protect consumers amid coronavirus fears

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

State Senator Brad Hoylman introduced legislation on Tuesday that would address price gouging of consumer medical supplies during a public health emergency in order to penalize retailers that take advantage of concerns about coronavirus and increase prices by more than 10% on products such as face masks and hand sanitizer.

“It’s said that after the storm come the vultures – and that’s exactly what could happen here if we don’t act now to stop price gouging in anticipation of the coronavirus outbreak here in New York,” Hoylman said. “Profiting off fear of disease is unconscionable. We can’t allow shady businesses to hike prices on the supplies New Yorkers need to stay safe and healthy, like hand sanitizer and face masks.”

Hoylman also noted that healthcare professionals have discouraged the use of face masks.

“The U.S. Surgeon General has made it clear that face masks won’t help healthy people avoid COVID-19: the best way to stay healthy is by washing hands regularly and getting the flu shot,” he added.

Under the new legislation, the New York State Attorney General could penalize retailers, manufactures and distributors who increase prices on these products. Prices on face masks and hand sanitizer have increased significantly in neighborhoods in Manhattan, including the Upper West Side and Chinatown.

The legislation would specifically amend the state’s price gouging statute in order to establish that an “unconscionable excessive price” is a price more than 10% higher than before the public health emergency began. The bill would ban stores from selling consumer medical supplies, including over-the-counter medications, hand sanitizer and face masks, at an unconscionably excessive price during a public health emergency.

The Attorney General would also be able to enforce a civil penalty of up to $25,000 against businesses that have been proven to have participated in price gouging.

In other countries where coronavirus is most prevalent, Amazon announced that third-party listings have unfairly charged customers for medical supplies, including in Italy and Australia.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also announced on Wednesday morning that three family members of the Westchester resident who was diagnosed with coronavirus earlier this week have also tested positive and two contacts have been transferred to Bellevue for testing. The three family members of the Westchester resident who tested positive include his two children and his wife, and all three remain in home isolation in Westchester.

The Westchester resident works at a law firm in Manhattan. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said on Tuesday that this is the first case of community spread of the disease in New York City, meaning that the source of the infection is unknown. The individual is currently hospitalized at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan and is in severe condition.

NYC Health+Hospitals is working closely with the Health Department, which has also conducted outreach and offered guidance to city hospitals and health providers about how to identify, isolate and inform the city about individuals who might need evaluation for COVID-19. The city’s Public Health Laboratory can now test for the infection, which allows for shorter turnaround time for test results compared to when samples had to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s headquarters in Atlanta, and the Health Department this week will lower the threshold for people who get tested so that person-to-person transmission can be detected.

The infection can lead to fever, cough or shortness of breath and while come infections have resulted in severe illness or death, others have milder symptoms. The city is recommending that if individuals who have traveled to China, Iran, Italy, Japan or South Korea are experiencing fever, coughing or shortness of breath, they should stay home and avoid contact with others, and contact a health provider and tell them about their travel history. All New Yorkers are encouraged to cover their coughs and sneezes with their elbows and now hands, wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available and avoid touching their face with unwashed hands.

Residential evictions decreasing, mayor says

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday that residential evictions by marshals have decreased by more than 40% since 2013 and just in 2019, declined by 15%. The decrease in 2019 was the largest single-year decrease since the mayor signed the Right to Counsel law in 2017 and launched the city’s Universal Access to Counsel program.

More than 100,000 tenants who might have otherwise faced eviction have been able to stay in their homes since 2013 and residential evictions have been steadily decreasing in every borough.

“If we’re going to save our city, we must do everything we can to help people stay in the homes they love,” de Blasio said. “With evictions down over 40% citywide, the unprecedented investments we’ve made in tenant legal services have helped 100,000 people stay in their homes and off the street.”

More than 350,000 tenants have received assistance in evictions or other housing-related matters during the de Blasio Administration through legal services programs, including Right to Counsel, which provides tenants facing eviction in Housing Court with access to free legal services. More than 84% of tenants that received counsel in cases where they faced eviction were able to keep their apartments.

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Councilmembers propose expansion of Right to Counsel

Councilmember Carlina Rivera spoke in support of bills that will expand Right to Counsel at a rally outside City Hall on Monday. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Councilmembers Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson lead a rally on Monday to support their new legislation that would strengthen and expand the Right to Counsel law that passed in 2017.

The Committee on the Justice System and the Committee on Housing and Buildings held a joint hearing on the two new bills following the rally outside City Hall.

New York was the first jurisdiction in the country to guarantee legal representation to low-income tenants facing eviction when the current law passed in 2017. The law mandated the Office of Civil Justice to provide tenants with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty line, or $50,200 annually for a family of four, with free legal representation when facing eviction. A report from the Community Service Society of New York releases this week found that the law helped reduce evictions but showed that there were still gaps.

Councilmember Carlina Rivera, a co-sponsor of both pieces of legislation, said that the current Right to Counsel law has already helped her district.

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What to know about the upcoming plastic bag ban

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

All plastic carryout bags will be banned in stores throughout New York State starting on March 1. Under the new law, which passed last March, plastic carryout bags will not be distributed to consumers at any businesses that collect New York State sales tax, and stores will be implementing a five-cent paper carry-out bag fee.

The five-cent fee on paper bags will not apply to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) recipients and all consumers are encouraged to bring their own bags to reduce waste. Film plastics will still be used on items such as bread bags, cases of water, paper towels and other similar items, and customers are encouraged to recycle those items at participating retailers.

There are still some bags that are exempt from the law and can still be distributed to customers under limited circumstances, including produce bags for fruits and vegetables and bags used by pharmacies for prescription drugs.

State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein were both cosponsors of bills that passed in the state legislature last year banning single-use plastic bags, and the elected officials penned an op-ed for Town & Village last week, outlining the ban’s importance for the environment.

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Krueger introduces alternative bill to legalize surrogacy

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

State Senator Liz Krueger, along with Assemblymembers Didi Barrett and Daniel O’Donnell, announced the introduction of legislation that would legalize and regulate surrogacy last Thursday. The legislation would legalize and regulate compensated gestational and genetic surrogacy, in addition to establishing protections for all parties involved in assisted reproductions and egg and sperm donations.

State Senator Brad Hoylman previously introduced legislation to legalize surrogacy that passed in the State Senate but died in the Assembly earlier this year. While Krueger and Hoylman have been in regular communication about the issue, Krueger felt that her bill provides more protections for individuals involved in assisted reproduction and surrogacy than Hoylman’s legislation, so she felt that it was necessary to introduce her own alternative.

“Surrogacy can be a satisfying and positive experience, but it is also a complex physical, emotional, and legal process with the potential for serious negative outcomes,” Krueger said. “That is why it is vital to have protections in place for everyone involved, especially low-income people. We need to clarify the law in this space in order to make an array of assisted reproduction options available to New Yorkers while also protecting the health, safety, interests and rights of all parties, including intended parents, people acting as surrogates, egg- and sperm donors and children.”

Gestational surrogacy is the process by which a fertilized embryo, created using the eggs and sperm of the intended parents, is implanted into the surrogate mother, meaning that the surrogate is not genetically related to the child. In genetic surrogacy, the surrogate uses their own egg and is artificially inseminated with the sperm of the male intended parent, and the surrogate is genetically connected to the baby.

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CUNY students, pols protest tuition hikes

Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City University of New York students, education advocates and local elected officials rallied on the Baruch Plaza at Lexington Avenue and East 25th Street last Thursday, protesting tuition hikes for CUNY students.

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein argued at the rally that more money should be allocated to the city and state university systems, and also said that bills he has introduced would help provide that funding.

One piece of legislation from Epstein, which is co-sponsored by Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, would impose a 2% sales tax on various luxury items, including vehicles, jewelry and clothing over a certain amount, and the tax would be distributed equally to SUNY and CUNY. Another bill would increase taxes on beer and would direct the revenue generated from the tax to SUNY and CUNY, with Epstein noting that New York currently has one of the lowest beer taxes in the country. The bill would increase the tax to 30 cents per gallon, up from 14.

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Maloney challenger Erica Vladimer ending campaign

Erica Vladimer (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

District 12 congressional candidate and Upper East Side resident Erica Vladimer is ending her bid to replace incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Vladimer announced the end of her campaign in an emailed statement to supporters last Friday.

Vladimer said that she made the decision after difficulties fundraising and also due to a struggle with health issues, partially due to a lack of insurance since she’s been campaigning.

“Knowing myself personally, and knowing that anything I chose to do, I want to do my best, I realized that I couldn’t do that and didn’t feel comfortable with that,” she said of the overall decision.

Vladimer said that for a newcomer like herself, it was difficult to get momentum against Maloney, who already has a fundraising base as an incumbent congresswoman.

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Maloney challenger proposes free public transit

District 12 Congressional candidate Peter Harrison (standing, center) announced his transit plan at East 14th Street and First Avenue this past Tuesday with (from left to right) Brooklyn City Council candidate Victoria Cambranes and activists Dustin Jones and Dannelly Rodriguez. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Stuy Town resident and Congressional candidate Peter Harrison announced his campaign to make public transit free and increase accessibility throughout the system on Tuesday morning at the corner of First Avenue and East 14th Street.

Harrison’s proposal, the “Freedom of Movement in America Plan,” calls on the federal government to spend $1.7 trillion on public transportation over the next 10 years. One component of the plan is to make transit completely fare-free and provide $17 billion in federal funding to cover fare revenue, in addition to providing $9 billion in funding for paratransit in order to achieve 100% accessibility for public transit.

Another aspect of the proposal would fund the Federal Railroad Administration in order to invest $150 billion in Amtrak, $150 billion into the development of high-speed rail and update rolling stock to decarbonized, emission-free systems within 12 years at a cost of $500 million a year.

Harrison, a Democratic Socialist who is challenging incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in District 12, said that his plan isn’t intended to punish car-owners, but aims to make transportation more accessible for everyone, especially residents who can’t afford cars.

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Epstein hosts town hall for East Side residents

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein spoke at a recent town hall about legislation he recently introduced that aims to increase job opportunities for individuals with disabilities. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein held his second annual town hall last weekend to address concerns in the community on housing, as well as disability rights, climate change, prison reform and education. The event was held in the Friends Seminary at 218 East 16th Street and US Senator Charles Schumer also made an appearance near the end of the town hall after a stop at the Chinese New Year celebration in Lower Manhattan in order to provide an update for residents in the community about the impeachment trial.

Advocates broke off into panels for the majority of the town hall to discuss each of the topics but housing was combined into one panel at the end of the afternoon. Yonatan Tadele and Alex Lee of Cooper Square Committee, Barika Williams of Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, and Munir Smith of GOLES discussed preservation of affordable housing and how tenants can protect themselves against predatory landlords, as well as what advocates still need to work towards after the success of last year’s strengthening of the rent laws.

Williams said that homeownership should be part of the conversation in addition to the discussion about the rent laws.

“Sometimes you’re like, I don’t want to have to fight this renter fight for the rest of my life, and maybe would like to purchase a home,” she said. “So we have to be able to think of those things and we’ve got to think about preserving our stock. There’s going to be a huge battle to make sure that that housing doesn’t all go to market rate because then we’re right back where we started fighting.”

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Local Democratic club endorses Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney at forum

The Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club endorsed Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in her re-election bid over her four Democratic challengers. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club voted to endorse Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney for re-election after a forum featuring the current representative and four of her Democratic opponents on Tuesday evening at the New York New Church on East 35th Street.

Stuy Town resident Peter Harrison, Upper East Side resident Erica Vladimer, Long Island City resident Lauren Ashcraft and Lower East Side resident Suraj Patel made their case in their campaigns against the longtime incumbent at the event co-organized by the Tilden Democrats, Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats, Four Freedoms, Coalition of a District Alternative (CODA), East River Democratic Club and Lexington Democrats. Tilden previously endorsed Maloney for re-election in November.

Members of the various Democratic clubs that were in attendance submitted questions for each of the candidates, focusing on topics such as housing, transportation, education and infrastructure. ERDC District Leader Mike Corbett lead the forum last Tuesday.

All of the candidates said that they are supportive of protecting and expanding affordable housing as well as protecting public housing, although Congresswoman Maloney was the only candidate who specified where she believes the district needs more affordable housing.

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Tenants rally to save Fifth Avenue building

Although the building is not in his district, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein spoke at the rally against the demolition of the Fifth Avenue building and the proposed development at the site. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Tenants, local elected officials and housing advocates last Friday rallied against a plan from Madison Realty Capital that would demolish a five-story, 20-unit apartment building on Fifth Avenue in a historic district and replace it with a building almost four times as tall as the existing structure but with fewer apartments.

The plan from the developer would replace the building at 14-16 Fifth Avenue, which was constructed in 1848, with a 244-foot, 21-story tower with 18 units of luxury housing.

Advocates at the rally last week condemned the project, arguing that the proposed building was an inappropriate size compared to other buildings in the neighborhood. The demolition of the building would also include the loss of at least 10 rent-stabilized units, which would then be replaced by fewer units, all of which would be unaffordable.

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Hundreds protest before Trump is impeached

The rally in Union Square was held on the night before the impeachment vote in the House. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Rain and raw, damp weather did not stop the hundreds of protesters who marched from Times Square to Union Square last Tuesday in support President Donald Trump’s impeachment, which the US House of Representatives voted for on Wednesday.

“Impeach and Remove” rallies organized by progressive groups such as MoveOn.org and the Women’s March took place in cities across the country prior to the impeachment vote that was scheduled for the following day in the House. Local groups that participated in the rallies included Empire State Indivisible, Common Cause New York and Rise and Resist.

One group of protesters at the Union Square protest carried a giant cloth banner with the words from Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution printed on it: “The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Other protesters at the rally had an inflatable caricature of the president along with LED signs that spelled out “End 45.”

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Petitions ask Cuomo to study hospital downsizing

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein delivered petitions to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office in Midtown on Monday, asking the governor to further study Mount Sinai’s plan for downsizing Beth Israel. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, local residents and healthcare advocates delivered a thousand petitions to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown office on Monday afternoon, calling on the governor to further study the impact of Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s downsizing on the community.

The petition requested that Cuomo direct the State Department of Health Services to stop further closure of services at Beth Israel and conduct a thorough, independent study of the impact of the closures with community input.

“We just want to talk to the State Department about next steps,” Epstein said. “We want to talk about a larger study, a real study, to find out if this is really in the best interests of the neighborhood or if this is just a real estate deal.”

The petition argued that the reduction of beds from the current Beth Israel to the new facility being built is a “health crisis” because the hospital is still in use and that the Cardiac Surgery Unit, Maternity Ward and Pediatric Surgery Unit were closed in 2017 with approval from the State Health Department but without a community-vetted replacement plan in place.

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