De Blasio unveils benefits for NYC’s least wealthy in State of the City speech
Low-income workers and immigrants come out ahead
Mayor Bill de Blasio let his progressive flag fly on Thursday as he announced a number of new worker- and immigrant-friendly initiatives in his State of the City Speech.
His theme was Fairest Big City, and by fair, the mayor meant fair for the lower 99 percent. “There’s plenty of money in this city,” de Blasio said. “It’s just in the wrong hands.”
De Blasio said he would be working with the City Council to pass a local law that makes it mandatory for employers to provide a paid two-week vacation for all workers, “just like paid sick leave and overtime pay.”
“And those things have not stopped us from having a booming economy, have they? It’s the right thing to do,” he declared.
He also touted his guaranteed health care for all program, which he pre-announced two days ago. The program would improve NYC’s public health insurance option, MetroPlus, and also guarantee that anyone ineligible for insurance has direct access to NYC Health + Hospitals’ physicians, pharmacies and mental health services. All services will be available on a sliding scale and will cover roughly the 600,000 city residents without insurance, roughly half of whom are undocumented immigrants. No new taxes are going towards the program.
“I don’t think there’s a passage in the Bible that says, deny health care to your neighbor because they’re undocumented,” he said.
The health program is sure to have a large impact in Brooklyn, which is home to nearly 950,000 foreign-born residents, or nearly 40 percent of the borough’s population, according to the Brooklyn Community Foundation. Of these, roughly 164,000 are undocumented, accounting for 7 percent of Brooklyn’s total population.
The mayor is also changing the name and mandate of the Department of Consumer Affairs, which will expand to become the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. It will enforce New York City laws including paid sick leave and will help workers like nannies and drivers get paid when their employers give them trouble.
New Ferry Stops, More ‘3-K’
The city will be expanding NYC Ferry service from Coney Island to Lower Manhattan (2021) and will be adding a new stop at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2019. Service will also be expanding from Staten Island to Lower Manhattan and the West Side of Manhattan; and adding a new landing at Ferry Point in the Bronx.
De Blasio said the city would also expand “3-K” (pre-K for 3-year-olds) to about a third of the city’s school districts, legalize marijuana “the right way,” and get Albany to fix the subways.
De Blasio said the city would be cracking down on bad landlords with the new Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants. This office will spearhead the city’s anti-harassment initiatives program and “root out the worst landlord abuse.” If a landlord makes a home unlivable in order to drive a tenant out, de Blasio said, the city will impose fines, or even seize buildings and turn them over to a community nonprofit.
To help people save for their retirement, the mayor intends to work with the City Council to require all employers with at least five employees to either offer access to a retirement plan or auto-enroll their employees into the city plan, with a default contribution out of the employees’ own earnings of 5 percent (which could then be increased or reduced by the employee).
The city’s Department of Transportation will increase the pace of bus lane installation and add high-priority green lights for buses, and the city will expand its partnership with Warby Parker to provide free eyeglasses to all city kindergartners and first graders.
De Blasio said his programs would increase happiness in the city.
“It is in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence. It’s what this nation was founded for.”
Councilmember Jumaane Williams said he was optimistic about de Blasio’s progressive tone.
“It’s been encouraging to see the mayor put his support behind a number of progressive plans to address the state of our city. What we need now is to hold the administration to account for these bold promises and ensure that they deliver for New Yorkers,” he said in a statement, adding, “What’s also clear is that we need to continue a push to make sure that people and issues are not left behind.”
Council Member Espinal, chair of the City Council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs, said he was encouraged that the Consumer Protection agency would be expanded to include worker protections.
The Brooklyn Eagle has reached out to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and business leaders for their views on the mayor’s worker-friendly initiatives, but did not hear back by press time.
Locations of New 3-K Programs in NYC
Beginning Fall 2019, 3-K For All will be rolled out in District 8 (Country Club, Pelham Bay, Throgs Neck, Castle Hill, Soundview, Hunts Point), District 32 (Bushwick), District 6 (Washington Heights), District 9 (South Bronx), District 19 (East New York) and District 31 (Staten Island). Currently, the following districts have 3K: District 4 (East Harlem), District 5 (Harlem), District 7 (South Bronx), District 16 (Bedford-Stuyvesant), District 23 (Brownsville), District 27 (Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Rockaways). In Fall 2020, District 12 (Central Bronx) and District 29 (Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens, St. Albans) will get 3-K for All.