State Sen. Roxanne Persaud (D- Canarsie, East New York, Brownsville, Mill Basin, Old Mill Basin, Sheepshead Bay, Bergen Beach, Marine Park, Flatlands, Mill Island, Georgetown, Ocean Hill, Starrett City) held a virtual town hall over Facebook Live this week titled “Navigating New York’s Social Safety Net: Public Assistance Benefits During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
“Prior to COVID-19, New York State’s human services network, they were serving millions each day,” Persaud said. “When COVID-19 hit and the pandemic was declared, over a million New Yorkers were laid off. What has that caused? That has caused more insecurity than we have ever experienced.”
The town hall lasted around two hours and included Assemblymember Jaime Williams (D- Canarsie, Georgetown, Mill Basin, Old Mill Basin, Marine Park, Bergen Beach, Gerritsen Beach) and City Councilmember Alan Maisel (D- Bergen Beach, Canarsie, Flatlands, Georgetown, Gerritsen Beach, Marine Park, Mill Basin, Old Mill Basin, Mill Island, Sheepshead Bay).
Additionally, representatives from the city’s Department of Social Services, City Harvest, Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, and the New York Legal Assistance Group were present and discussed their organizations and what they could provide for New Yorkers.
“Our task this evening is to answer some of those questions, point them in the right direction, how can we alleviate some of the burdens that they’re encountering,” Persaud said. “That’s our job.”
After explaining the necessity of public assistance programs during the coronavirus crisis — whether in the form of public housing, food pantries or legal services — the different representatives from the programs discussed the services they can offer.
The town hall, which was moderated by Dennis Weakley from Persaud’s office, focused heavily on bringing attention to the services that people around the city can rely on to help them and phone numbers of organizations and offices were distributed and repeated throughout.
Members of the Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A stressed housing rights during the pandemic, such as the eviction moratorium that prevents landlords from evicting anyone for any reason until the pandemic has ended.
They explained that while eviction is prohibited for the time being, rent is not canceled and tenants should have a conversation with their landlords if they truly cannot pay their rent.
Renters can try to set up a payment plan or pause rent if their landlord is receptive to their hardship and can afford to go without receiving rent payments for some time.
“The best thing you can do is reach out to your landlord as soon as possible,” Deputy Unit Director Kristie Ortiz-Lam said.
In addition, she reminded viewers that her organization offers services in deed theft, tax issues, tenant advocacy and commercial lease assistance and that they can reach out if they need help with those issues.
Other speakers discussed kosher and halal options at food pantries, including City Harvest’s representative Jerome Nathaniel, who said that his organization does in fact offer a kosher food route.
Persaud also mentioned that public schools have been contacting her office saying that they are in need of assistance when it comes to feeding all of the people that show up for their free lunch program.
“Social services is extremely important,” Persaud said. “Many people may think it’s just giving a handout. It’s not a handout. It’s we’re helping people — we’re giving them a hand-up.”
Anyone who missed the town hall and who would like to watch it can do so by going onto the senator’s Facebook page and scroll down about 10 posts.