Highlights from this year's budget

A new park comes to Brooklyn

Step by step, a completed Bushwick Inlet Park is on its way. Last year, Mayor de Blasio reached an agreement with the owner of the last parcel needed to complete Bushwick Inlet Park. As a part of that $160 million deal, Council Member Levin committed to securing 4 million dollars from the Council. Council Member Levin designated $2 million from his discretionary capital fund and worked with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to allocate another $2 million from the Council. The Borough President also allocated $1 million.

With the passage of this year’s budget, the Council’s contribution is now official. “I thank the Mayor, the Speaker, the Borough President, and all the other elected officials who came together to make this happen,” said Council Member Levin. “It is also important to highlight the tremendous grassroots support that galvanized the community. This would not have been possible without the tireless advocacy from the community, especially the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park and the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn. Their support throughout the years was instrumental, but we’re just getting started.”

No New Yorker should go to bed hungry

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More than a million New Yorkers struggle with food insecurity. Far too many are forced to choose between paying for basic expenses or skipping meals. We can and should do better to make sure no New Yorker goes to bed hungry. Fortunately, New York City has a tool to fight hunger in our community. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) provides crucial support to our food pantries and soup kitchens.

Recently, the Trump administration proposed to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by over 139 billion dollars. Now is the time to step up and protect our community. Earlier this year the entire City Council, mirroring a goal set by Speaker MarkViverito, called on the Mayor to increase support to food assistance. I’m proud to say the City stands united against hunger, and is increasing funding to our food pantries.

Closing the literacy gap

Every child deserves the opportunity to follow their dreams. One of the best indicators for future academic and professional success is literacy. Unfortunately, too many children in our City have been left behind. By the time they reach the 3rd grade, 70% of NYC students are reading below grade level. Catching up only gets more and more difficult. That's why it is so important to engage early on in a child's life, well before starting school.

In 2015, the City Council had a unique opportunity to create new funding initiatives. Along with Council Member Antonio Reynoso, I proposed early childhood literacy as a funding priority. This was the start of City's First Readers (CFR). Through CFR, a coalition of literacy non-profits engage with families and children ages 0 to 5. In this year's budget, the City Council has increased funding by nearly one and a half million dollars. This funding increase will provide even more families the opportunity to share the joy of reading.

Budget Doubles Emergency Food Funding, Increases City's First Readers Initiative

Increases to the Emergency Food Assistance Program and to the City's First Readers literacy initiative were among the adopted changes for the upcoming New York City Budget.

Council members Stephen Levin and Barry Grodenchik released a joint statementapplauding the commitment to improving food security city-wide. “Food insecurity can be found in every corner of our city, and the increase to $16 million for emergency food will go very far to ensure that food pantries and soup kitchens will be better able to feed hungry New Yorkers. As we’ve said throughout the budget process, no New Yorker should have to go to bed hungry, and I applaud the decision to meet this critical and growing need,” said Council Member Stephen T. Levin, Chair of the General Welfare Committee.

The budget also increased funding for the literacy initiative City's First Readers. This initiative supports a coalition of nonprofits that provide literacy development through parent engagement, direct programming, and book distribution for children 0 to 5. "When the council first had the opportunity to propose new initiatives we thought about what could have the greatest long term impact in our community," said Council Member Stephen Levin. "It is often the case that by the time children start kindergarten many are already literacy deficient. By supporting early interventions for children through ages zero to five, we have the potential to improve outcomes for generations."

Council Members Levin and Grodenchik’s Statement on Emergency Food Assistance Program Funding Doubling to $16M in Executive Budget

“Council Member Stephen Levin and I are proud to announce that the 2017 city budget will include $16 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), double the initial amount. We extend our gratitude to Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for her leadership on this life-saving issue and to our colleagues, forty-eight of whom signed on to our letter calling on the mayor to increase the funding for EFAP” said Council Member Barry S. Grodenchik.

“Food insecurity can be found in every corner of our city, and the increase to $16 million for emergency food will go very far to ensure that food pantries and soup kitchens will be better able to feed hungry New Yorkers. As we’ve said throughout the budget process, no New Yorker should have to go to bed hungry, and I applaud the decision to meet this critical and growing need,” said Council Member Stephen T. Levin, Chair of the General Welfare Committee.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program will benefit over 1.4 million people, or one in six New Yorkers, who depend on food banks and soup kitchens. New York City is one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and it is imperative that individuals and families across all five boroughs have access to nutritious food.

48 Council Members Call on Mayor to Increase Emergency Food Funding

Today, 48 Council Members called on Mayor de Blasio to increase funding for emergency food in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget. The letter, authored by Council Members Levin and Grodenchik, highlighted that more than 1.4 million New Yorkers depend on emergency food to survive, accessing healthy, nutritious food through providers such as food pantries and soup kitchens. Meals provided 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.
 
Increased funding is critical to meet the growing demand for emergency food by New Yorkers in need. 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 116 million meals annually. Demonstrably, emergency food providers reported that in 2015, their resources have often been depleted:

  • Nearly half of providers ran out of food for adequate pantry bags or meals;
  • Providers had to turn away 10 percent more hungry New Yorkers due to food shortages; and
  • 45% of food pantries had to reduce the amount of food in pantry bags.

However, rather than growing to meet demand, the amount allocated to emergency food in the Mayor’s budget has been reduced to Fiscal Year 2015 levels. This reduction leaves the program ill-equipped to address a growing need across the five boroughs. In fact, New York City faces an annual meal gap of 241 million meals annually. I will continue to advocate for funding that will close this meal gap and ensure that no New Yorker is turned away from the food that they and their families need to survive.

No New Yorker Should Go To Bed Hungry

Council Members and Community Call for Increase in Critical Funding for Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP)

CITY HALL - Today, New York City Council Members, emergency food providers, and residents from across the city stood united on the steps of City Hall with a simple message: “No New Yorker should have to go to bed hungry.”

More than one million residents, or 16 percent of the city, rely on providers such as a food pantry or soup kitchen for emergency food. Over 500 organizations that provide millions of meals a year to families face substantial underfunding while the demand for their services continues to grow. In order to adequately meet the pressing need, Council Members and advocates called for funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) to be increased to $22 million in baseline funding. The Executive Budget reduces EFAP funding to an FY 2015 level of $8.2 million.

We need to stand united against hunger. Millions of New Yorkers rely on meals from food banks and soup kitchens, and the need is greater than ever before. Underfunding has already resulted in food banks turning some families away when supplies run out. If we do not increase our commitment to the Emergency Food Assistance Program, we risk more families going home hungry. No family should have to choose between paying for necessary expenses and being able to eat. We have the means to provide adequate funding that will ensure no New Yorker is turned away from help when it is needed the most.

Op-Ed: Half of NYC's early childhood educators get low pay and benefits

Credit: CHRISTIE M FARRIELLA/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Credit: CHRISTIE M FARRIELLA/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Council Members Stephen Levin, Cumbo, and Daneek Miller write op-ed calling for salary parity

New York City’s relatively new universal pre-K initiative is, by many counts, a striking success. Free, full-day classes are available to every 4-year-old in the city. Over 68,000 children are enrolled — triple the rate from just a few years ago. National observers say that New York City has effectively set the standard for how to do pre-K, dwarfing enrollment figures in other cities and states. New York City has also been a national leader in the fight for a $15 minimum wage.

We applaud the de Blasio administration for these significant achievements.

Despite these successes, there is one thing that is not universal about New York City’s pre-K, and that is how we pay our educators. Over half of the city’s pre-K teachers, support staff and administrators are paid significantly less than they should be: A certified teacher with five years of experience working in a community-based organization makes $17,000 less than a teacher with the same credentials and experience who is working in the public schools. With 10 years of experience, the gap doubles to $34,000.

Similar salary, as well as benefit, disparities exist for all early childhood staff and teachers in early childhood programs serving younger children year-round.

This means that many community-based educators are themselves living in poverty while performing the important task of educating low-income children. We have heard from an upsetting number of early childhood educators who live off food stamps, who are unable to pay rent or who can’t afford health insurance. A disproportionate number of them are women of color.

Meantime, their peers earn significantly higher salaries and better benefits.

These disparities are not only unfair, but they are triggering high turnover rates and risking a shortage of qualified teachers in the city’s most vulnerable communities. We know the mayor is working hard to tackle economic inequality — which is why we must address the fundamentally unequal pay structure and benefits that threaten the long-term sustainability of a potentially historic program.

Over the past several months, we and our fellow elected officials have joined advocates, parents and educators to call on the city to address this unsustainable rift in its hallmark initiative.

All early educators — whether they are public school employees or employees of community organizations with city contracts — are working with equal dedication toward the city’s ambitious goal for its youngest learners. The city should pay them all equally.