Brooklyn Lawmakers on the Move Nov. 13, 2019

News Site Brooklyn

Cuomo Signs Law Restoring NYS Benefits to LGBTQ Veterans

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation (S.45B/A.8097) this week enacting The Restoration of Honor Act, giving LGBTQ veterans who were denied an honorable discharge because of their sexual orientation or gender identity the right to apply to have their New York State veterans’ benefits restored. Under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and similar policies hundreds of thousands of veterans received less than honorable discharges. As a result of that those individuals are ineligible for veterans’ benefits.  While military discharge decisions can only be formally changed by the federal government, The Restoration of Honor Act allows these veterans to apply to claim their New York State benefits.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

“Countless service members were discharged from the military simply because of who they are. Adding insult to injury, they were then denied the services and benefits they earned as members of our armed forces who fought to protect our country and defend our ideals,” Gov. Cuomo said. “With this measure we are righting that wrong and sending a message to LGBTQ veterans that we have their backs, just as they had ours.”

The bill also restores benefits eligibility for veterans who received less than honorable discharges as a result of military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, or post-traumatic stress disorder. This makes New York the first state in the nation to restore the benefits of veterans who received less than honorable discharges either because of these traumas or because of their LGBTQ identity.

Bill Signed Making it Easier for Veterans to Serve as Firefighters

Governor Cuomo signed a bill this week making it easier for veterans to serve their city as first responders after serving the nation. The legislation, sponsored by State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Gravesend, Gerritsen Beach, Manhattan Beach,Marine Park) and Assembly Member Peter Abbate (D-Sunset Park, Bensonhurst), amends the law to deduct an extra year of military service from the age maximum to serve in the FDNY. This bill would allow people like decorated Navy SEAL Shaun Donovan, who had previously been rejected after just missing the age cut-off for military members, to join FDNY. According to the FDNY, three other previously rejected military members will now be eligible.

State Senator Andrew Gounardes
State Senator Andrew Gounardes

“Any person who puts their life on the line for our country deserves our unending gratitude and respect. With the passage of this bill, we are helping selfless people who have the desire to enter into public service as firefighters after already serving our nation in the military. This is the right thing to do, and I’m glad this commonsense change will be made,” said Gounardes.

“America’s veterans deserve the best when they come home, and here in New York, we are doing everything possible to make it easier for them to join the workforce. While some public service work opportunities put an age limit on eligible applicants, veterans deserve a reasonable accommodation, since many of them were serving our country during the time that they would have been eligible for these opportunities,” Abbate said. “I am happy to see the age accommodation expand for many of these opportunities to allow veterans to deduct up to seven years of their military service from the qualifying age, and I applaud Governor Cuomo for being a fervent champion for New York’s veterans.” 

Rep. Max Rose (D-South Brooklyn, Staten Island) added, “Shaun Donovan represents the best our city and country has to offer. I commend his commitment to serve not only overseas but now back here at home and appreciate all the work done by so many to make this happen.”

Rep. Clarke Announces Legislation to Make NYC Rents Affordable

Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (D-Park Slope, Crown Heights, Brownsville, Flatbush, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay) recently introduced The Affordable Housing and Area Median Income Fairness Act (HR-4984) to help counter skyrocketing rent prices in New York and other major American metropolitan areas.

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke

“Affordable housing has become out of reach for so many New Yorkers and in urban areas across America—when I’m home in Brooklyn, constituents have shared concerns with me about being ‘priced out’ of their neighborhoods. As cities grow and evolve, the ability to afford having a roof over someone’s head should not be a luxury only provided to those whose income is considered upper class,” said Rep. Clarke. “My legislation, The Affordable Housing and Area Median Income Fairness Act, will bring some much-needed course-correction to curb rental rates that have disproportionately ballooned over the years for Brooklynites and for hard-working people who call other cities home,” Clarke continued.

Area Median Income (AMI)—a statistic set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development—is used as the basis for affordable housing income caps and rent prices for programs from the Housing Trust Fund to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. In recent years, high AMI levels across the country have placed affordable housing income caps and rent prices out of reach for many low- and mid-income communities.  

Clarke’s bill includes adjustments to AMI that will lower income caps and make rent prices more affordable for both existing and new affordable units. In addition to reforming AMI, the Affordable Housing and Area Median Income Fairness Act takes significant steps to empower municipalities, increase developer transparency and bolster the supply of affordable housing for Americans across the country by creating over 350,000 new units of affordable housing.

“Living in cities was once the cornerstone of the American dream, but this is quickly becoming out of reach for too many Americans,” Clarke added. “My newly-announced legislation, The Affordable Housing and Area Median Income Fairness Act, takes action now by addressing this national crisis to ensure that families of all income levels have access to safe and affordable housing.”

De Blasio Announces Expansion of Mental Health Services, Programs for Veterans

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner of Department of Veterans Services James Hendon recently announced a major expansion of programs offered through the Department of Veterans Services (DVS) that will help the City make huge strides forward in its mental health outreach, and treatment efforts for veterans citywide. The Mayor made the announcement at a Gracie Mansion breakfast reception in honor of Veterans Day.

Mayor Bill de Blasio

“As the son of a World War II veteran, I know the men and women who serve our country can carry a tremendous pain that is still felt years or decades later,” said de Blasio. “As the only city with our own Department of Veterans Services, New York City is here to help its veterans shoulder the load, and today that means providing them with new tools to look after their mental health. I’m proud of the successes DVS has achieved so far, and I know this announcement will lead to further victories for our city’s veterans in years to come.”

The announcement includes a suite of programs that will revamp the City’s mental health efforts for veterans and touches on a wide variety of mental health components, ranging from peer support and training for mental health professionals to holistic mental health treatments and legal services. Included in the announcement is Service2Service, a joint DVS-NYC Service mentorship program that connects veterans and AmeriCorps alumni with mentors in City government to help them find careers as civil servants.

Stringer Calls on NYCHA to Fix Disturbing Months-Long Gas Outages

New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer called on the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to move urgently to restore gas service at over 40 NYCHA developments citywide, including at some developments which have been without gas for months on end. In a letter to Gregory Russ, Chairman and CEO of NYCHA, Comptroller Stringer demanded immediate attention to NYCHA’s disturbing failure to address natural gas leaks in a timely manner, which has led to gas cut-offs since April and June of 2019 at developments in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan — while failing to be clear and transparent with residents about efforts to restore service. Comptroller Stringer called on NYCHA to reimburse tenants for the absence of this essential service, provide abatements on monthly bills, and deliver real solutions that go beyond the temporary hot-plates issued to homes without gas.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer

“NYCHA’s consistent inability to deliver essential services to its tenants is outrageous — and when residents are forced to live without gas for nearly a year, it’s shameful. That’s what is happening at dozens of developments across the city. Today, I am urging NYCHA to fulfill its responsibility to its tenants and restore gas service as soon as possible to all who are affected. Anything less is unacceptable,” said Stringer. “As we approach the holiday season, many families across the city are looking forward to gathering together and cooking a Thanksgiving turkey at home — a prospect that is being needlessly denied to too many NYCHA families as a result of the agency’s foot-dragging. NYCHA must do better.”

Gas outages force NYCHA tenants into precarious financial situations. In the absence of cooking gas, NYCHA has given tenants a single hotplate to put food on their family’s table — often forcing tenants to order prepared food from outside. Of course, not only is commercially prepared food more costly, it can be less healthy and less conducive to family wellbeing. At East River Houses, for example, the average income amounts to approximately $22,476 a year, which means that any change in tenants’ ability to cook at home must be regarded as a severe burden to residents.

Moreover, the Comptroller’s office has learned that NYCHA has failed to communicate clearly with residents. At some residences, tenants were not told of scheduled meetings and were given no information about when service might be restored as part of a broader breakdown in communication with residents.