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Tasks for 2012
El Diario

January 3, 2012
View the Original Article

Despite the steep economic and political challenges for Latinos, 2011 delivered some victories: the suspension of the state’s participation in the controversial Secure Communities program; a city policy that puts checks on unfair deportations from Rikers Island; a mandate for translation and interpretation services at state agencies; and legislation that will expand business opportunities for livery cab drivers, among other changes.

But there is lot more to do in 2012 to ensure that New Yorkers are receiving the services they need to succeed. Here are a few of the tasks:

Pass a state Dream Act: Elected officials and Governor Cuomo should work to push through legislation that would give undocumented college students access to state financial aid. Currently, there are two legislative bills that seek to help those students. But they may face resistance from the Republican-controlled senate. Cuomo, who has yet to issue a position on the proposals, must make these students a priority. This would also send a strong message to D.C. on the importance of passing the federal Dream Act, which would give eligible undocumented students a path to legalization.

Establish a living wage: Far too many Latino families survive with a meager minimum wage of $7.50 an hour, while the cost of living keeps going up. This is why the City Council, under the leadership of Speaker Christine Quinn, must approve a long overdue living wage bill. This would $reasonable requirements for large scale businesses receiving tax breaks and public subsidies to pay workers a minimum of $10 per hour with benefits, or $11.50 per hour without benefits.

Make paid sick days mandatory: This legislation would help 1.3 million workers gain this basic benefit. There is sufficient evidence that this measure wouldn’t hurt jobs and, instead, can help reduce healthcare costs of preventable illnesses.

Protect commercial bikers: Every day thousands of delivery workers, many of them immigrants without health insurance, risk their lives by riding outside of the permitted lanes and without appropriate gear and lights. Any measures around bike lanes and safety must include the real-life needs of working bicyclists.

Eliminate finger-imaging requirement for food stamps: The City Council must approve legislation to eliminate Bloomberg’s bad policy requiring that food stamp beneficiaries be finger printed. The administration has failed to justify the measure. If the City Council does not immediately legislate on this matter, Governor Cuomo should issue an executive order prohibiting the requirement.

Strengthen rent regulation laws: In the last 15 years, New York City has lost 300,000 rent regulated apartments, and every year we lose 15,000 more. Last year, state legislation was introduced to close loopholes in rent regulation laws that allow for the significant reduction of our affordable housing. The legislation did not gain enough traction. Governor Cuomo –who said he would reform the laws—must make this issue a priority in the new legislative session and use his political muscle to sway senate Republicans and make 2012 the year Albany truly works to protect affordable housing.

Increase Latino representation: New York is set to lose two Congressional seats next year due to a slow growth in the state population. Latinos in New York, however, grew by 19.2%, from 2.9 million to 3.4 million people. A state special committee is currently reviewing proposals to readjust our electoral map and reflect the state’s new demographic reality. They should take this as an opportunity to bring Latinos closer to fair representation in Congress.

Commit to a fair city budget: With the City facing an estimated $2 billion deficit for 2013, the Mayor Bloomberg will have to make tough decisions. Those decisions should not undermine the effort to combat poverty. Instead of cutting away at the bottom rungs of the municipal workforce and low-income New Yorkers, the Mayor should find new ways to save money including a thorough review of contracts that may be bloated.