Open Letter to New York State Leaders Amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic
We are New Yorkers committed to taking care of our communities. Through solidarity, collaboration, and by following best prevention practices, we will overcome the Covid-19 pandemic.
While we support our communities in this difficult time, it is critical that our elected officials respond to this crisis with their eyes on the future of our great state. In this moment of crisis we can show our state and the world the values of care and compassion that are the backbone of our communities and our state.
Thus far, New York State’s Coronavirus response is raising serious concerns that our leaders will protect the health of the wealthy on the backs of people of color, immigrants, and low-income families.
It is unacceptable for Governor Cuomo to call for Medicaid cuts at this moment, instead of raising taxes on billionaires and the ultra rich. It is morally bankrupt for his administration to exploit low-wage prison workers to produce cheap hand sanitizer, while keeping them trapped in cages that put their health at risk. And it simply isn’t good enough to tell people to wash their hands or stay home when sick, when the state does nothing to address the fact that the loss of a single day’s income can be devastating to families.
We must build stronger, healthier communities by raising revenue and investing where it matters. We must tax the wealthy to fully fund critical healthcare services and provide a social safety net for working families. We must protect Medicaid, guarantee paid sick days to working people, and move forward to end mass incarceration, which also presents grave public health risks.
This moment calls for us to reassess our priorities as a state and put the needs of our communities before the profits of billionaire CEOs and corporations.
The Governor and New York State’s legislature should act in service of communities across the state. They should:
1) Protect Medicaid: Ensure no cuts to Medicaid. During a public health crisis, it’s more important than ever that every New Yorker has access to care. The State should also eliminate the Medicaid “global cap” and act immediately to ensure that everyone has health insurance, regardless of their immigration status.
2) Tax the rich to pay for public health services: No one should die from lack of treatment while others sit on unfathomable wealth of billions. Health is priceless, and as the Coronavirus reminds us, health is maintained (or harmed) at a community level. New York should expand public health services and other important community supports, and ensure health providers have the resources they need to stay healthy and safe while they care for our communities. New York should pay for this by taxing the wealthiest New Yorkers. Albany lawmakers are considering a number of just, fair tax proposals including the billionaire wealth tax, an ultra-millionaire income tax, the pied-á-terre tax on vacant luxury apartments, a sales tax on stock trades. All are appropriate and necessary in this time of need.
3) Keep New Yorkers out of cages and protect incarcerated people: Albany’s leaders must reject all efforts to roll back bail reform, which would increase jail populations and health risks. The state must also immediately release New Yorkers incarcerated in prisons and jails who are particularly vulnerable to the Coronavirus, including older people, pregnant women, people with serious illnesses, and compromised immune systems. Moreover, New York must provide access to high-quality, comprehensive healthcare services for incarcerated people, including testing for Coronavirus, and eliminate co-pays for medical care; put an end to forced labor in prisons and institute a living wage for incarcerated workers; and make all phone calls, video calls, and other communication free and more accessible, if visits are temporarily halted, ensure physical visits resume once the health crisis is contained.
4) Scrap the spending cap: Albany must also scrap Governor Cuomo’s two-percent spending cap. The scale of our response to these crises should not be limited by an arbitrary cap that hinders our ability to ensure the health and well being of all New Yorkers. Our state has more wealth than ever before and we should utilize the full power of our state’s resources.
5) Moratorium on Evictions: Immediately suspend all evictions statewide, so not a single additional New Yorker is placed at risk without a home.
6) Paid Sick Days: Ensure at least three weeks of paid sick leave for all workers, including independent contractors and regardless of immigration status, to make sure no sick worker is leaving their home.
7) Wage replacement: Act swiftly to replace lost wages of all workers, including independent contractors and regardless of immigration status.
8) Access to Government: All government entities need to accept remote signatures and attestations, and remote appearances — for court cases, hearings, social service agency government contracts, and more. Elected officials should also make themselves available to the public through digital platforms, including Facebook live and tele-town halls.
This list is not exhaustive, but lays out critical needs for our communities in this moment of crisis.
Overcoming this moment will require concerted collective action to stand up for, and protect each other, across lines of race, age, immigration status, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, and more. Our leaders have an opportunity, and an obligation, to rise to the moment by taking swift and necessary action in the state budget.
Alliance for Quality Education
Citizen Action of New York
Community Voices Heard
Empire State Indivisible
Make the Road New York
New York Communities for Change
New York Working Families Party
Public Accountability Initiative
Strong Economy for All Coalition