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17 Wins in 2017: Nonprofits Driving Policy Change

A rally organized by the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice to make City schools more culturally responsive.

As 2017 comes to a close, The New York Community Trust takes a moment to celebrate the policy wins we’ve helped our grantees achieve this year. The nonprofits we support have influenced the laws and institutions that affect New Yorkers daily, while shaping the city for years to come.

Some of these victories have been decades in the making; others took several months of hard work. We have included a wide range of policy wins—from passage of significant legislation to commitments for future funding. We applaud the efforts of the advocates who make New York a better place to live and work.

Here are 17 victories our grants helped make possible in 2017:

#1: Raised New York’s age of criminal responsibility

For four years, with Trust support, the Citizens Committee for Children’s Raise the Age NY campaign waged a tough legislative battle to end New York’s five-decade-old practice of routinely prosecuting 16- and 17-year olds as adults in criminal court, one of only 2 states to do so. This policy affects 27,000 young people each year. The campaign ensured that this issue remained a priority for legislators through earned media, grassroots advocacy (particularly in upstate counties), and lobbying. This year, the persistence paid off. In April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Raise the Age into law, dramatically changing the way New York deals with 16- and 17-year-old defendants—diverting the majority of the cases directly to Family Court or to judges with access to social services. 

#2: Secured a mayoral commitment to close Rikers

JustLeadershipUSA, supported by The Trust, reached a milestone this year. Its advocacy campaign to close Rikers Island helped persuade Mayor Bill de Blasio to outline a 10-year plan to close the city’s notorious jail complex, known for violence, abuse, and overcrowding. But until recently, many thought New York would refuse to close one of the nation’s largest prison complexes. JustLeadership and its partners organized New Yorkers from all backgrounds who marched, signed petitions, and spoke out in favor of closing Rikers. The coalition also produced reports that made the case to policymakers for closure (not just reform), and JustLeadershipUSA President Glenn Martin was on the City Council speaker’s independent commission on criminal justice reform. The commission’s April 2017 recommendation to close Rikers also helped convince the mayor to act.

#3: Introduced universal free school lunch

For years, advocates have pressed New York City officials to support free lunch for ALL public school children. While about 75 percent of the city’s public school students are eligible for free school lunches, many students chose not to eat their free meals because of the stigma. This is why Trust grantee Community Food Advocates launched the Lunch 4 Learning campaign to make free and healthy school meals available to all public school students regardless of income. The advocates’ work paid off this September when Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced that all 1.1 million students in city schools would receive free lunch beginning in the 2017-18 school year.

#4: Advanced tenant protections through local laws

Advocates earned victories in the City Council this year through several rounds of legislation that will strengthen protections for tenants against harassment. For two years, The Trust supported Cooper Square Community Development to coordinate the Stand for Tenant Safety coalition, which developed a package of legislation mostly aimed at improving the Department of Building’s ability to monitor construction (and enforce penalties when appropriate) in buildings occupied by tenants. This year, all 12 bills in that package were passed by City Council. Also, affordable housing advocates supported by The Trust have been organizing citywide for a Certificate of No Harassment policy, so that property owners must prove that they have not harassed tenants before they can get permits to renovate or demolish buildings. In early December, the City Council voted to launch a pilot program that will require proof of no harassment for five years before landlords can carry out renovations.

#5: Ensured that low-income New Yorkers are enrolled in state health insurance

The centerpiece of the New York State health insurance exchange is a website that allows consumers and small businesses to compare benefits and prices for approved insurance plans in the State. The Trust joined forces with the New York State Health Foundation to help low-income and eligible immigrant New Yorkers navigate this complex system, enroll, and receive federal subsidies to pay for the insurance. The effort enrolled 20,000 people.

#6: Reached a milestone in promoting culturally-responsive education in New York State

Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, states are required to submit “accountability plans” to access federal funding to close the achievement gap in elementary and secondary public education. Thanks to organizing by Trust grantee NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, the largest parent-led city coalition, and others, New York is one of the first states to make a public commitment to widespread emphasis on “cultural responsiveness” in its accountability plan. Students receiving a culturally responsive education have school administrators and teachers who account for cultural differences when designing curricula, communicating with families, and teaching. New York’s accountability plan is an important step towards more diverse and inclusive classrooms in the state.

#7: Curtailed child marriage in New York State

Between 2000 and 2010, more than 3,850 children as young as 14 were married in New York State, including 1,440 in New York City. Many of these marriages were forced and involved minor girls who were wed to adult men. State law allowed minors under the minimum marriage age of 18 years to wed with parental consent for those ages 16 and 17 years, or with judicial approval for 14- and 15-year-olds. The law provided no process to prevent coercion and forced marriages from taking place through these two exceptions. Founded by a coerced marriage survivor, Trust grantee Unchained at Last has been advocating since 2011 for a statewide bill to raise the age of consent. The efforts came to fruition in June 2017 when Governor Cuomo signed legislation that outlawed marriage for those 16 and younger and mandated legal steps for 17-year-olds who want to wed.

#8: Sounded the alarm about flame retardants in consumer products

Environmental advocates won a major victory this year when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission took several steps to protect the public from products that contain a class of toxic chemicals used as flame retardants known as organohalogens. In September, the Commission granted a petition to regulate products with these chemicals submitted by the Green Science Policy Institute, the Consumer Federation of America, and Earthjustice on behalf of a larger coalition. The Commission also made moves to begin banning the sale of four categories of products containing organohalogens and warning the public of the hazards posed by these chemicals. Since 2013, The Trust has been supporting the Green Science Policy Institute and others in their efforts to eliminate the use of toxic flame retardants in our economy.

#9: Secured $22.8 million in city funds for older New Yorkers

Advocates were successful this year in getting the biggest budgetary win for senior services in 15 years: $22.8 million additional dollars in the FY18 budget. This funding will support senior centers, homecare services, case management, weekend meals, and caregiver services throughout the five boroughs. Trust grantee LiveOn NYand its members played a key role in securing this victory. They sent 21,000 letters to elected City officials and organized a Senior Advocacy Day, where more than 300 seniors descended upon City Hall to demand their fair share of the municipal budget. This win is a testament to the strength of the city’s aging network of older New Yorkers and their advocates, and it brings important recognition to the need for seniors to have access to programs and services that allow them to thrive in their communities.

#10: Pushed for school policy on how to respond to ICE agents

Throughout 2017, immigrants across the nation have faced threats of deportation and discrimination from Washington. In New York City, many of our grantee partners have been working to make sure the city’s schools are safe places for young immigrants. Advocates for Children received support earlier this year to push for the City Department of Education to prevent United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from entering school buildings or accessing student records. Other long-time Trust grantees including the New York Immigration Coalition and Make the Road New York have been pressing city officials to ensure widespread protections for immigrant families. These efforts produced tangible results when the Mayor announced that the city was sharing a detailed protocol for schools on how to respond to law enforcement requests from ICE authorities. The protocol is one of many local policies aimed at supporting New York City’s immigrant communities in the wake of heightened discrimination.

#11: Convinced the Mayor to revise his affordable housing plan

Mayor de Blasio’s revised affordable housing plan—Housing New York 2.0—reflects many changes that Trust grantees have advocated for. These include stepped up monitoring and assistance for Mitchell-Lama buildings; revised guidelines the Department of Housing Preservation and Development uses to spell out subsidy options for developers looking to qualify for inclusionary zoning consideration; and a commitment to develop anti-displacement plans in specific neighborhoods. The Trust’s ongoing support to the Neighborhoods First Fund, MHANY Housing, and New York State Tenants + Neighbors all supported efforts leading to these changes.

#12: Ensured the city’s first-ever cultural plan promoted equity in arts education

This year New York City released its first-ever cultural plan—CreateNYC—that used policy recommendations based on evidence, and informed by work funded by The Trust. The Center for Urban Research created a graduate-level cultural policy research fellowship in 2015 with seed funding from the New York City Cultural Agenda Fund at The New York Community Trust. The Center’s fellow worked in partnership with the City Department of Cultural Affairs to study the distribution of city-funded arts education programs that used data from a variety of government agencies, including the Department of Education. Through her research, the fellow found that lower amounts of arts education correlated more strongly with higher percentages of English-language learners than with other likely factors, such as poverty rates. Her research directly shaped arts education policy recommendations that focus on the city’s English-language learners in CreateNYC.

#13: Prevented single-ride fare hikes for subway and Access-A-Ride users

Referred to by many as “Stress-A-Ride,” the city’s Access-A-Ride program is supposed to provide door-to-door transportation for disabled riders who are unable to use New York City’s bus and subway system. With a total cost of $468 million in 2016, the service costs an average of $70 per person per ride and is inefficient for riders and for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Almost 70 percent of the 150,000 current riders are older adults, and the length and unpredictability of rides makes Access-A-Ride an untenable form of transportation for people with disabilities. That is why The Trust supported a coalition led by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest to start a coordinated, multi-year advocacy campaign to improve Access-A-Ride. In its first public act, the lawyers’ group and its partners rallied against a proposed single-ride fare increase (from $2.75 to $3.00), which would have disproportionately impacted Access-A-Ride users. After reversing its position, Metropolitan Transit Authority Chair Tom Prendergast cited advocacy from the “Access-A-Ride community” as the major reason for the agency’s change in plans.

#14: Advanced participatory budgeting to receive full funding from City Council

Participatory budgeting is a process in which government representatives give constituents a role in determining how the municipal capital budget is spent. While participatory budgeting has been in vogue for several years in New York City, 2017 was the first year in which City Council adopted it with full funding (that is, no need for private philanthropic support). In 2012, The Trust was the first funder to provide a series of grants to Community Voices Heard, which coordinated the city’s first participatory budgeting project and developed and expanded the program. At the time of The Trust’s first grant, there were four participating City Council representatives and 7,700 New Yorkers engaged in the voting process. This year, 102,800 New Yorkers votedfor their favorite projects across 31 Council Districts (out of a total of 51), allocating over $40 million for projects ranging from refurbished school computer labs to new playground equipment.

#15: Brought needed attention to immigrant workers’ rights

In March, a group of 25 immigrant workers lost their jobs at Tom Cat Bakery, following an audit by ICE. Although the bakery received word of the impending audit months in advance, it gave many employees just 10 days to produce I-9 forms documenting their ability to work legally in the United States. With the support of Trust-grantee Brandworkers, the workers decided to fight back. Within days, Brandworkers and its members were protesting outside the bakery’s Queens facility and raising emergency funds for the workers. By the end of the month, the group’s efforts began to pay off: Tom Cat asked for and received a three-week extension from ICE. Since then, the bakery workers have continued to press Tom Cat for immediate notice of audits, fair severance pay, and a promise that it will not allow ICE into its facilities without a warrant. Brandworkers has attracted widespread media to this issue.

#16: Released a visionary plan for the tri-state region

For more than 90 years, the Regional Plan Association has been serving the tri-state region through research, planning, and advocacy efforts. Known for its once-in-a-generation regional plans, which help elected officials, policymakers, and advocates address the region’s infrastructure and quality of life, Regional Plan Association helps drive consensus needed to tackle large-scale regional concerns in transportation, sustainability, and affordability. Since 2012, The Trust has supported the group in developing its Fourth Regional Plan, which was released in November. Of the 61 recommendations, key priorities include reforming the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Port Authority, modernizing subways and the regional rail line network, preserving and creating affordable housing in all communities, establishing a regional commission on coastal resilience, and pricing greenhouse-gas emissions using California as a model.

#17: Campaigned for the re-design of the Sheridan Expressway

For more than 19 years, community activists have been campaigning to remove the Sheridan Expressway, a 1.25-mile elevated highway spur connecting the Bruckner and Cross Bronx expressways. Built by Robert Moses in the 1960s, the Sheridan runs along the southern Bronx River, limiting access to the waterfront. Since 2007, The Trust has backed the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, a coalition of local organizations and citywide groups that has addressed the negative impact of this highway. In 2012, the Alliance supported proposals to transform the expressway into a mostly at-grade boulevard. Partly in response to this multi-year advocacy effort, Governor Cuomo announced in March that the State would undertake a $1.7 billion project to re-vamp the Sheridan Expressway corridor. Since then, advocates have moved quickly to coordinate a community response that makes sure Cuomo’s plan includes the priorities of local residents.
 
Compiled by Michele Kumi Baer, Program Associate, The New York Community Trust






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