Entire City Council Demands $22 Million in Baselined Funding for Emergency Food

 Funding would feed over a million vulnerable New Yorkers

New York — At the Executive Budget Hearing of the Finance Committee, City Council Members Stephen Levin and Barry Grodenchik presented a letter on behalf of the entire Council, urging the Administration to include $22 million in baselined food funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) in the Fiscal Year 2018 New York City budget. The fifty Council Members echoed the call for an increase from $8 million to $22 million baselined funding made by New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in her State of the City Address.
 
“The epidemic of hunger in our city disproportionately affects women, children, seniors, and communities of color and it’s critical that we can guarantee that no New Yorker is turned away from a pantry or soup kitchen,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, Chair of the General Welfare Committee. “It is unacceptable that this Administration has failed to recognize the clear need to feed more than a million New Yorkers who depend on emergency food to survive.”
 
Each year, more than 1.4 million New Yorkers depend on emergency food to survive, accessing healthy food through providers such as food pantries and soup kitchens. The City faces an annual meal gap of 242 million meals, finding evidence of hunger in every corner of our city. But rather than growing to meet demand, the amount allocated to EFAP in the Executive Budget has been reduced significantly to Fiscal Year 2015 levels.
 
“New York City is one of the wealthiest cities in the world, yet one in five children rely on soup kitchens and food pantries. I was disappointed to learn that for a second year in a row, the budget is going backwards instead of forwards on funding to address the issue of hunger,” said Council Member Barry S. Grodenchik. “Ensuring that all New Yorkers receive nutritious and high-quality foods should be a top priority. The mayor proposes spending just a $1.29 a New Yorker on emergency food – we can and must do better. It’s critical that the City provide the necessary $22 million to the Emergency Food Assistance Program to help alleviate the hunger being felt by too many hard-working New Yorkers.”
 
Increased funding is critical to meet the need for emergency food for vulnerable New Yorkers across the five boroughs. EFAP provides nutrition education, food stamp outreach, and a steady, year-round supply of nutritious food to more than 500 emergency food providers throughout New York City. Meals include all five food groups and meet the City’s rigorous nutrition standards. The program is also an important source of emergency food that is kosher and that meets halal standards. Importantly, pantries serve anyone who asks for help, regardless of immigration status.
 
“The number of hungry New Yorkers continues to grow and it is essential that we fund services to meet this basic human need. The Council should not have to negotiate and defend the Emergency Food Assistance Program every year,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Chair of the Committee on Finance. I look forward to working with this administration to reach an agreement to baseline EFAP and address our city's unacceptable meal gap.”
 
Since November 2013, the need for emergency food has escalated dramatically. Because of cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, vulnerable New Yorkers have lost more than 161 million meals annually. Demonstrably, emergency food providers reported that at multiple points in 2016, their resources have often been depleted:

  • Approximately half of providers ran out of food for adequate pantry bags or meals;
  • More than 2 in 5 food pantries had to reduce the amount of food in pantry bags; and
  • Nearly one third of food pantries and soup kitchens reported having to turn people away due to food shortages.

 These statistics speak to an insufficiency in the emergency food supply and the acute operational stress under which food pantries and soup kitchens have been functioning since the cuts. As the new federal administration threatens additional funding reductions, it is more important than ever that the Council and the Administration collaborate to ensure that New Yorkers have regular access to nutritious food.
 
“Half of food pantries and soup kitchens in New York City - the last line of defense against hunger - are facing food shortages. Without additional resources, more New Yorkers run the risk of being turned away,” said Margarette Purvis, President and CEO of Food Bank For New York City. “Ensuring no New Yorker goes hungry is a priority shared by leaders across the aisle. On behalf of our network of 1,000 charities and schools throughout the five boroughs, we are grateful for the unanimous support of the New York City Council in calling for an increase in funding for EFAP to $22 million. We look forward to working with the Administration and the City Council to ensure that the Fiscal Year 2018 New York City budget includes this much needed funding increase so that even in the hardest of times, hunger will not hold anyone back from reaching their full potential.”
 
“Hunger affects every borough and every community. We at Project Hospitality and the Staten Island Food for All Campaign are grateful to the entire City Council, especially our Council Members Joe Borelli, Steve Matteo and Debi Rose, who have shown unity in the fight against hunger by advocating for increasing EFAP funding for food to $22 million, which will help food pantries and soup kitchens in Staten Island and throughout the city,” said Reverend Dr. Terry Troia, Executive Director, Project Hospitality.
 
The Administration must work with the City Council to close this meal gap and ensure that no New Yorkers are turned away from nutritious food that they and their families need to survive. To keep up with rising food costs and increased demand, Mayor de Blasio must include $22 million in baselined funding for emergency food in the FY 2018 New York City budget.

This year's PB winners!

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Technology Upgrade for Two Special Needs Schools

STEAM Lab for Samuel Dupont Elementary School

New Electrical for AC at PS 110 Monitor School

Lockers for 13 Classrooms at Robert Fulton School

Real Time Bus Clocks

Renovated Toddler Playground at Independence Towers
 

I want to thank everyone that took part in this year's Participatory Budgeting process. Whether you were with us from the very beginning of the planning phase, volunteering, or simply casting a vote, you made PB special this year. Thanks to everyone's help, we set a new record for PB votes cast!

Remember, PB is all about engaging with your neighbors to improve your community. If you are interested in being a part of PB next year, reach out to Benjamin Solotaire at bsolotaire@council.nyc.gov. It's never too early to start thinking of a great idea you know will make life better for your neighbors in the 33rd district. 

Modernizing NYC's safety net

Council Member Levin introduces legislation to improve services for vulnerable New Yorkers

Each year, the City of New York supports individuals and families that are working hard to make ends meet by providing benefits such as access to emergency food, rental assistance, and job-training. The Human Resources Administration alone coordinates 12 major public assistance programs that serve over 3 million people. However, our office regularly hears of miscommunications and mistakes in the administration of benefits and services, due in part to antiquated case management systems. This includes, for example, an inability to track documentation to place chronically homeless individuals in appropriate housing, long lags in school transfers for homeless students, and failure to notify clients of appointments critical to the continuance of benefits.

It is essential to maintain and strengthen our safety net by bringing case management systems into the 21st century. My bill, Introduction 1577, would create an Office of Case Management to ensure that we are using the latest advancements in technology to modernize our systems and connect vulnerable New Yorkers to benefits and services that will help them overcome poverty and income inequality.

First, the office would advise and assist service-providing agencies such as the Department of Social Services and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to update case management systems and ensure appropriate integration among agencies. The Office will also be responsible for ensuring that clients can use digital tools to apply for services, upload documents, and receive service updates by text or email. To ensure ongoing quality improvements, the new Office will also monitor and evaluate existing and updated case management systems. Finally, the Office will develop recommendations to the State of New York to encourage coordinated systems development to achieve shared policy objectives and improve services.

If we are to truly tackle income inequality in our City, we must ensure that our agency partners have the best possible tools to meet the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers.

Update on 422 Fulton After Hours Construction

Additional disruption mitigations put in place at 422 Fulton Street. 

Additional disruption mitigations put in place at 422 Fulton Street. 

Our office has been in communication with Tishman Speyer, the Department of Buildings, and the Department of Environmental Protection regarding the After Hours Work at 422 Fulton Street. Many residents complained of excessive noise, especially late in the night, and the After Hour Variances were rescinded.

Since that time, Tishman Speyer has taken measures such as shrouding the lighting to include not just the hoist but the windows, lubricating the hoist and doing so on a weekly basis, adjusting the hoist speed in both direction so that the volume is consistent, and establishing a line of communication between the property management at 189 Schermerhorn Street. The modified hours are the following: Weekdays 6 PM – 10 PM, and Saturdays 9 AM – 5 PM. DEP inspected and monitored the decibel level last night, Thursday, March 30th.

The modifications have put the project in compliance and generating less noise. It is expected there will be no work this Saturday but that after hours construction will start again as early as Monday, April 3, 2017. Please contact the property manager at ORSID Realty if any issues arise so they can communicate with the night superintendent and construction manager. That phone number is 212-484-3775.

The Trump Administration's executive orders on immigration bring country shame, not safety

NEW YORK – One of President Trump's first executive orders unilaterally banned over 130 million people from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The orders halt legal immigration from the countries of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Administration officials stated this ban is just the beginning.

“There is nothing patriotic about turning our backs to those in need,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. "There is nothing courageous about closing ourselves off to the world. If fear is at the foundation of our foreign policy, we threaten our nation's most central values. To many around the world, our nation is a land of freedom and opportunity. By allowing xenophobia and Islamophobia to take root, we threaten our standing in the world. Instead of safety, this administration's actions bring shame." 

"These are not values welcome in our City, much less our nation. Last year, I joined my City Council colleagues in calling for our country to welcome immigrants in the wake of exclusionary sentiments. We demanded we recognize the humanity of individuals fleeing war-torn countries and oppression abroad. That call is more urgent than ever. Our commitment to inclusion, respect, and compassion must rise to meet this challenge. I stand united with my Council colleagues to continue protecting New Yorkers from the Trump administration’s attempts to wipe away the progress we’ve made as a nation.”

The System is Failing Our Children

Council Member Stephen Levin is Chair of the General Welfare Committee / Photo Credit: NYC Council

Council Member Stephen Levin is Chair of the General Welfare Committee / Photo Credit: NYC Council

Council Member Levin calls for comprehensive and rigorous ACS review

NEW YORK – A heartbreaking pattern of child deaths has emerged over the last four months. We have mourned the losses of six year-old Zymere Perkins, three year-old Jaden Jordan, five year-old Michael Guzman, and four year-old Zamair Coombs. The constant in each is involvement with ACS that failed to save their lives. The system exists to protect the most vulnerable children in our City and the system is failing them. 

While I appreciate Mayor De Blasio’s consistent attention to reforms, identifying and addressing the system’s failures has to be his highest priority. The Administration for Children’s Services must undergo an independent and comprehensive review of policies, procedure, and staffing at every level of the agency. 

Following the death of Zymere Perkins, the City Council Committee on General Welfare, which I chair, held two hearings to examine City practices and procedures in child protective and preventive services and concrete recommendations emerged. In addition to reforms that ACS has already instituted, I sincerely hope the City will implement new procedures to ensure robust managerial review of casework, require bi-annual training of ACS and contracted provider staff, and invest more deeply in proven preventive services models. I also believe that it is critical to enhance ChildStat casework review with participation by the highest level of ACS citywide and borough staff in order to ensure maximum casework accountability. 

Further, it is unacceptable that the Governor’s budget proposes to cut funding that ACS receives from the State for child welfare and foster care services. These cutbacks are inexcusable.

The tragic deaths of these very young children are intolerable. This is an agency that must continuously evolve and so reforms must be ongoing to ensure ACS can benefit from fresh opportunities and meet new challenges. It is essential that there be rigorous accountability at each and every level in the child welfare system. ACS must ensure that every step is taken to ensure that all children and families involved with their programs have adequate support and resources to build and sustain safe and loving homes.

What so many get wrong about homelessness

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“This doesn’t just happen to those people,” said Jennifer Garris. “Anyone can become homeless.”

Ms. Garris has a Masters degree and was a special education teacher for 24 years. But after her husband passed away, she struggled with depression and alcohol use. Soon, she became homeless.

This is a familiar story across the country. No one wakes up and decides “today is the day I become homeless.” People lose stability to the unexpected — medical emergencies, sudden layoffs, or an untreated mental health condition. Yes, access to housing is essential to address our homelessness crisis. But housing alone cannot get everyone back on their feet. Some individuals need support to move forward.

Today, Ms. Garris is no longer homeless. She lives at The Schermerhorn, a supportive housing residence in Downtown Brooklyn. The Schermerhorn provides more than affordable housing. It also offers case management, and substance abuse and mental health counseling. Other programs taught Ms. Garris about money management, community building, and self empowerment. “They teach you how to live again,” she said.

Stephen Levin is a New York City Council Member and Chair of the General Welfare Committee. Photo Credit: NYC Council

Stephen Levin is a New York City Council Member and Chair of the General Welfare Committee. Photo Credit: NYC Council

As a New York City Council Member, and Chair of the General Welfare Committee, I am a fierce advocate of supportive housing. At its core, supportive housing is affordable housing combined with on-site resources. These supportive services help individuals overcome the challenges that left them chronically homeless. Experts agree that supportive housing is an effective way to address homelessness. This is especially true for those with mental health and substance use issues.

More than just a place to live, supportive housing is about community. In Fort Greene, Brooklyn Community Housing and Services provides community space for residents.

“Neighbors organize baby showers, quinceañeras, neighborhood meetings, and even weddings and funerals.” Jeff Nemetsky, Executive Director, Brooklyn Community Housing and Services.

Supportive housing is the way forward. However, the need far exceeds the supply. In New York City, for every person placed into supportive housing there are four more people waiting. The statistics are sobering. There are over 60,000 homeless individuals in the Department of Homeless Services shelter system. Thousands more are in specialized shelters for youth, survivors of domestic violence, and those with HIV/AIDS. These figures do not include individuals living on the streets. If we are to make progress reducing homelessness, we must be aggressive.

That’s why I co-chaired a joint hearing on supportive housing on January 19th with Council Member Jumaane Williams of the Housing and Buildings Committee. Participants included a wide range of stakeholders including the City agencies connected to supportive housing — HRA, HPD, and DOHMH, supportive housing tenants, advocacy organizations, community board chairs and supportive housing providers. Ten Council Members also took part in the half-day hearing.

“We truly appreciate the Councilmembers’ decision to hold the hearing in a supportive housing residence — because quite frankly, seeing is believing,” said Laura Mascuch, Executive Director of the Supportive Housing Network of New York. “Our hope is that Council Members came away with a clear idea of the enormously successful model of housing-plus-services and its transformative impact both on the lives of the formerly homeless people who live there as well as the neighborhoods in which it’s built.”

Housing experts came together to share plans on expanding supportive housing. Through the NYC 15/15 Initiative, New York City has committed to build 15,000 units of supportive housing in 15 years. Additionally, the City will put in place 23 recommendations from Mayor de Blasio’s Supportive Housing Task Force.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has committed to building 15,000 units of supportive housing over the next 15 years. Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has committed to building 15,000 units of supportive housing over the next 15 years. Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Much of the supportive housing in New York City has been developed through joint collaborations between the City and State. These are known as the NY/NY agreements. New York City has committed to invest in new units. The State has yet to fully deliver on a year-old promise to invest $2 billion in supportive housing. The failure to establish a new NY/NY agreement is a casualty of the politics between New York City and the State. In the meantime, tens of thousands of individuals and families are waiting for shelter.

Enough waiting. We know what works. The evidence shows that supportive housing is one of the best tools we have to address the crisis of homelessness. Let’s provide for our most vulnerable neighbors and set them on a path to long-term stability.

Families and Educators Deserve to Know

Council Members Levin and Johnson Introduce Bill to Strengthen Reporting on Toxic Clean-Up in City Schools

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NEW YORK CITY—Council Members Stephen T. Levin and Corey Johnson introduced legislation that would strengthen and extend reporting on detection and remediation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in New York City public schools.

“New York families and educators deserve to know when PCBs are found in their schools and to be assured that the City is taking swift action to protect their health and well-being,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “Intro 1434 expands and extends critical reporting measures on City progress to remove PCBs-contaminated materials and keep schools safe. I thank New York Lawyers for the Public Interest for their steadfast dedication to amplifying this serious health concern.”

“There’s nothing more important than ensuring the highest standards of health and safety for our children,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health. “Every parent has the right to know when PCBs are detected in the classroom, and every Council Member needs to be equipped with this information so we can assist in the abatement process. Simply put, this legislation is going to keep us on track to create safer, healthier learning environments for our kids. I thank Council Member Stephen Levin, Rachel Spector and her team at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest for their outstanding leadership on this issue.”

Until PCBs were banned in 1979 because they were found to be a dangerous neurotoxic substance, they were commonly used in construction materials, such as light fixtures and caulking. Although no systematic testing has been done to verify the presence of PCBs, they are suspected to be present in caulking, lighting ballasts, and soil at hundreds of New York City. 

Exposure to heightened levels of PCBs may result in adverse health effects, especially for young children at a critical period of neurological development. Both the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency consider PCBs a known carcinogen. PCBs bind to nucleophilic cellular macromolecules in the body, such as DNA, RNA, and protein, which may elevate long term cancer risk through accumulated exposure. 

Intro 1434 would amend Local Laws 68 and 69 of 2011, legislation also sponsored by Council Member Levin, which created parental notification requirements when PCBs were detected in children’s schools and also required the City to report to the Council its progress in removing light fixtures contaminated with PCBs. The City’s removal of all PCB-contaminated light fixtures will trigger the expiration of the existing law, although many sources of PCBs are thought to remain. The newly introduced bill:

  • Maintains the current reporting requirement that the Department of Education must notify parents upon the discovery of PCBs in their children’s schools; and
  • Requires annual reporting to the City Council of all PCBs detected throughout the school system from sources including caulk, soil, and heating ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems, as well as reports of steps taken to remove or remediate PCBs after detection.

The 2011 legislation was introduced after the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) filed a lawsuit on behalf of New York Communities for Change, resulting in remediation of lighting containing PCBs in 883 schools and protecting over 500,000 New York City children and educators. 

“While the City has made critical progress in removing PCBs from schools as a result of our lawsuit, there is still more work to be done,” said Rachel Spector, Director, Environmental Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “The presence of PCBs in caulk remains a widespread problem, and the City must keep parents informed about when these harmful chemicals are discovered in their children’s school and what steps they are taking to address it. The health of our children is at stake.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now overseeing the development of a long-term plan to address remaining PCBs from caulk and other materials in New York City schools. The EPA plan is unlikely to require testing or removal of all sources of PCBs, and will focus on mitigating risks of exposure. Future tests of soil, caulk, air, or other school building materials may reveal elevated levels of PCBs.

Coming Together: Organizing for a Better Brooklyn

In response to the recent rise of violence and hateful acts, Council Member Stephen Levin is organizing two meetings to bring together residents and organizations to make a positive change in their community. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there have been more than 300 incidents of “hateful harassment and intimidation” reported nationwide since election day. In just a week, more incidents had been reported than the preceding 6 months altogether. 

“The very things that make our city great, the shared values of tolerance and inclusion, are being attacked. Those that perpetuate hate have it all wrong. Our diversity, compassion, and unity are not weaknesses—they are a source of strength. We will not compromise our ideals. 

While there have already been deeply troubling incidents of violence and hate in our very own district, I have been heartened by the community’s response. In the wake of these incidents we have come together and reaffirmed our belief in a welcoming and empathetic city. Everywhere I go people are seeking opportunities to better help one another. Love, not hate, is the answer. 

That's why I'm making this call to action. In the face of uncertainty, we must join together with one another to make a positive change in our community. While we keep a watchful eye on what is happening on a national stage, we can also make a difference right here in our neighborhood. I hope you will join us and learn how love will prevail in the end.” 

Join Us

North Brooklyn Meeting
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Automotive High School Auditorium
50 Bedford Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11222

Downtown Brooklyn
Monday, December 19, 6:30pm - 8:30pm
St. Francis College - Founders Hall
182 Remsen St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201


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A Victory for Brooklyn and Beyond - A Statement on Bushwick Inlet Park

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I am beyond overjoyed. Thank you, Mayor de Blasio, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, and your committed staff, for making the Williamsburg and Greenpoint communities whole once again. The historic 160 million dollar deal to acquire the CitiStorage parcels will positively touch the lives of millions over the course of future generations. Your leadership throughout this process has set an example for future administrations. Beyond North Brooklyn, communities citywide, especially those undergoing the land use process, will know and appreciate what this precedent might mean for them — when the City makes a promise, it keeps it.

That promise, made over 11 years ago, will impact a community in great need of public space, and will continue to benefit individuals for generations to come. Long after we are gone, a completed Bushwick Inlet Park will continue to serve the community and bring joy to the residents of Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

I would also like to thank my North Brooklyn elected officials for their tireless dedication and support for this acquisition. I am sincerely appreciative of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Borough President Eric Adams, Senator Daniel Squadron, Senator Martin Dilan, and Assemblyman Joe Lentol for helping to make this happen. I would also like to thank Norm Brodsky for keeping his commitment to working with the community to make Bushwick Inlet Park whole.

Most of all, I’d like to thank the community. This is for you. I appreciate the countless community residents who have tirelessly advocated for Bushwick Inlet Park, especially the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park and the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn. Their steadfast support, undiminished for two decades, galvanized the community in anticipation of this historic agreement. We will continue to rely on your efforts, advocacy, and support to make our neighborhoods a vibrant and safe place for everyone.