Good Morning, Brooklyn: Thursday, May 5, 2022
COALITION TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: CANCEL ALL STUDENT DEBT: New York Attorney General Letitia James led a multistate coalition of eight state attorneys general in urging U.S. President Joe Biden to fully cancel federal student debt. Attorney General James and the coalition stress in their letter to Biden that, while they acknowledge his administration’s commitment to addressing the issue, they urge President Biden to immediately exercise his authority under the Higher Education Act to cancel all federal student loan debt for every borrower, totaling more than $1.7 trillion owed to the federal government.
“While I commend President Biden for giving serious consideration to forgiving $10,000 per borrower, we must take bolder, more decisive action to end this crisis and provide Americans with the tools they need to thrive,” said Attorney General James.
WITHHOLDING TRANSCRIPTS IS NOW ILLEGAL: A new state law prohibits colleges from withholding a student’s transcript because of unpaid debts or charging individuals who owe debts a higher fee to obtain their transcript. Governor Kathy Hochul signed Legislation S.5924-C/A.6938-B, which ensures that students can access their transcripts when necessary so that they may continue their education or find a job. Gov. Hochul had, in her Jan. 5, 2022 State of the State Address, made the proposal to end this practice; later that month, both the boards of SUNY and CUNY voted to end the practice.
The tactic of withholding student transcripts or overcharging for their release has been used by some colleges in the state to leverage collection of outstanding debts, which many people view as a punitive measure that penalizes students with fewer financial resources.
NEW SCHOLARSHIP ACCOUNT FOR KINDERGARTENERS: Investments in the future of New York City children will give 97 percent of kindergarteners across the city access to a New York City Scholarship Account, Mayor Adams announced on Wednesday. Families can now activate their kindergarteners’ NYC Scholarship Accounts (https://nyckidsrise.org/get-started/activate-account/) from the Save For College Program, which will also help reserve money for career training in the future.
This year, a total of $6.5 million has been invested in the 65,300 NYC Scholarship Accounts for students participating in the NYC Kids RISE Save For College Program, which provides families, schools, and communities with a way to work together to invest in children’s futures, regardless of their family’s income or immigration status.
JEWISH UMBRELLA ORGANIZATIONS RELEASE STATEMENT ON SCOTUS OPINION: Pushback from the leak of the U.S. Supreme Court draft decision has come from several religious groups, including organizations representing three major branches of Judaism: Orthodox, Reform and Conservative. They all express the consensus that the Jewish mandate to preserve life requires concern for the life of the mother, and that Jewish law prioritizes the life of the pregnant mother over the life of the fetus such that where the pregnancy critically endangers the physical health or mental health of the mother.
The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, which, as of press time, had not yet released a statement on this week’s draft opinion, had issued a 1981 document that stated babies are considered persons at birth; “that abortion is warranted, indeed required, when the fetus threatens the life of the woman,” and that “a woman’s mental anguish may be viewed as sufficient grounds for abortion.”
ORTHODOX BRANCH OPPOSES ABSOLUTE BAN: The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America’s statement on U.S. Supreme Court’s Potential Overturning of Roe v Wade, reads, in part, “The Orthodox Union is unable to either mourn or celebrate the news reports of the U.S. Supreme Court’s likely overturning of Roe v Wade. We cannot support absolute bans on abortion — at any point in a pregnancy — that would not allow access to abortion in lifesaving situations…Legislation and court rulings – federally or in any state – that absolutely ban abortion without regard for the health of the mother would literally limit our ability to live our lives in accordance with our responsibility to preserve life.”
The statement concluded, “The extreme polarization around and politicization of the abortion issue does not bode well for a much-needed nuanced result. Human life – the value of everyone created in the Divine Image – is far too important to be treated as a political football.”
REFORM JUDAISM: ABORTION BAN WOULD IMPEDE JEWS’ FREEDOM OF RELIGION: Likewise, the Union for Reform Judaism issued a joint statement regarding the draft opinion, with one of the signers being a Central Conference of American Rabbis CEO Rabbi Hara Person, who formerly served as a religious leader in Brooklyn. “All people deserve bodily autonomy and access to a full range of high-quality health care, including abortion care, free from barriers and stigma, regardless of who they are, their religious beliefs, their income, and where they live. We are proud that Jewish tradition regards abortion as essential health care, not only permitting the termination of pregnancy, but even requiring it when the life of the pregnant person is in danger. Restricting access to reproductive health care impedes the freedom of religion granted by the First Amendment, including a Jewish person’s ability to make decisions in accordance with their religious beliefs.”
Rabbi Hara Person served as Educator at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue from 1990-1996, and was the Adjunct Rabbi there from 1998-2019.
CONSERVATIVE BRANCH’S STATEMENT ON ABORTION AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative/Masorti rabbis, issued the following statement (excerpted below) following the Supreme Court’s expected attack on abortion accessibility: “The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly has affirmed the right of a pregnant person to choose an abortion in cases where ‘continuation of a pregnancy might cause severe physical or psychological harm, or where the fetus is judged by competent medical opinion as severely defective.’ Jewish tradition cherishes the sanctity of life, including the potential of life during pregnancy, but does not believe that personhood and human rights begin with conception, but rather with birth as indicated by Exodus 21:22-23.”
The Rabbinical Assembly declared, “Denying individuals access to the complete spectrum of reproductive health care, including contraception, abortion-inducing devices, and abortions, among others, on religious grounds, deprives those who need medical care of their Constitutional right to religious freedom. The RA has consistently supported these reproductive freedoms for over 50 years.”
AIR TRAVELERS WILL NEED ‘REAL ID’ WITH STAR STARTING IN MAY 2023: Travelers who want to board an airplane after next April will need a star on their driver’s license, indicating that it is a REAL ID-compliant credential. The upgraded REAL IDs will be required starting May of 2023, and the one-year count-down has begun. Travelers without a REAL ID will need to have another form of approved identification, such as a passport, to board even domestic flights or enter a secure federal facility.
New York’s REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and ID cards have a star inside a black circle, also in the upper right corner. Additionally, New York State-enhanced IDs have a flag in the upper right corner, and they are valid for boarding a flight.
$141 MILLION IN RESTITUTION TO TURBOTAX CUSTOMERS: TurboTax Intuit, Inc., a software that aids taxpayers in preparing their returns, reached a record multi-state agreement with New York Attorney General Letitia James. The tax software company, accused of deceiving millions of low-income Americans into paying for tax services that should have been free, must pay $141 million in restitution to millions of consumers across the nation who were unfairly charged. Moreover, Intuit is ordered to suspend TurboTax’s “free, free, free” ad campaign that lured customers with promises of free tax preparation services, for which only taxpayers with a limited definition of “simple returns” were actually eligible.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have signed onto the agreement, with New York set to receive $5.4 million for more than 176,000 residents who were tricked into paying to file their federal tax return.
HOME REPAIR GRANT PROGRAM AVAILABLE: The New York State Affordable Housing Corporation (AHC) has selected Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) Brooklyn CDC, Inc. to administer an Owner-Occupied Home Repair Grant Program. NHS will provide conditional loans (grants) of up to $20,000 to owners of 1- to 4-unit family homes, coops, and condos within the borough of Brooklyn to complete emergency home repairs, such as roof repair/replacements, damaged walls or ceilings, electrical repairs or rewiring, boiler replacement or handicap accessibility adjustments.
Eligibility requirements include being current on one’s mortgage and water bills. For more information, visit http://nhsbrooklyn.org/
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