Governor Hochul Made Big Equality Promises in Her First State of the State
(Bloomberg) -- When New York Governor Kathy Hochul gave her first annual state policy address on Wednesday, she acknowledged both her status as the first woman to deliver the speech in the state’s history, as well as the double standard she faces as the state’s first female governor.
In a remarkably honest assessment of women in leadership positions across government and business, Hochul said, “We know that women are always held to a higher standard. So I know that I must not just meet but exceed expectations for this to no longer be an historic achievement but rather the norm.” She pledged, like many politicians before her, to “do things differently,” but added a somewhat unique caveat -- at least in the bare-knuckle battleground of New York politics: “From now on, we will share success.”
“The days of three men in a room are clearly over,” she added, a nod to the old custom of the governor and heads of the state Assembly and Senate gathering together to pass the annual budget. Today, there’s a female governor and female Senate Majority Leader.
Hochul also promised that her policy priorities, which she will have to turn into action through a budget due in the coming weeks, wouldn’t just focus on what the state would tax and spend on, but rather how to more equitably distribute the state’s $212 billion budget.
In New York City, Black women are eight times more likely than their White peers to die from a pregnancy-related cause. Hochul is proposing a number of initiatives to improve health care for pregnant New Yorkers, including increasing reimbursement rates for midwifery services, which are linked to lower maternal mortality rates. In her speech, Hochul said she would:
- Work with the Biden administration to provide year-long Medicaid postpartum coverage for mothers, up from 60 days.
- Establish coverage for nutrition services for pregnant people, and increase the availability of dyadic therapy, in which a parent and baby are treated simultaneously.
A lack of affordable and accessible child care during the pandemic has driven women in particular out of the workforce in droves, and many are weighing whether staying out of the workforce is the more cost-efficient route. A December 2020 report by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York found that 1% of single-parent homes could afford center-based childcare, and 5% could afford in-home care, and that parents of young children can spend up to 36% of their monthly income on in-home childcare. Governor Hochul proposed to:
- Invest $75 million in better pay for child care workers
- Increase access to subsidized childcare for 100,000 families in the state, by increasing income eligibility thresholds
- Expand child care to all SUNY and CUNY campuses, including 26 that lack the service on-site
The emotional, practical, and economic ramifications of the pandemic have only exacerbated a nationwide mental health crisis. An August 2021 report found that 22.3 million Americans had sought mental health services recently, and 23.6 million said they needed mental health support but could not receive it. In New York City, one in five adults experiences a mental health disorder each year. Hochul said she would:
- Create task forces of mental health professionals to attend to various people in need rather than police. In the early stages of a New York City pilot program in Harlem, 95% of people who were attended by a mental health team rather than police accepted care, compared to 82% of people who were met by a police response.
- Establish a Mental Wellness Community Workforce, with the aims of making therapy and mental health treatment more accessible to people in need, such as those with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, or substance use disorders.
- Establish a division within the Office of Addiction Services and Supports that would focus on providing and strengthening resources to substance users and opioid users in particular. In November, New York City opened two supervised injection sites for users, which have already reported the prevention of at least nine overdoses. Though controversial, these sites have been shown to reduce overdose risks and provide supports to users who are receptive to rehabilitative treatment.
Help for People Experiencing Homelessness
The pandemic has made the housing situation for many in the state and beyond more precarious. There are 91,000 people experiencing homelessness statewide, more than half of whom reside in New York City. Hochul pledged to:
- Create 100,000 new affordable housing units along with 10,000 units for high-risk populations.
- Make technical changes to rules to allow individuals to get more from public assistance and eliminate wait times for necessary aid.
- Increase funding for runaway and youth experiencing homelessness, adding that there would be a focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth who more likely to face these conditions than their non-LGBTQ+ peers.
Less clear were her plans to deal with individuals who are living in the streets. By last count, there are about 2,000 people experiencing street homelessness in New York City. That figure is likely an undercount and the ongoing pandemic and winter months make their situation even more precarious.
Public Safety and Criminal Justice
Hochul expressed a willingness to continue support for programs that reduce the reliance on policing and incarceration for public safety. She also said she plans to:
- Keep in place state laws that eliminated cash bail and pretrial detention for certain criminal charges
- Fund pretrial services like probation departments and community based organizations that provide those services
- Provide additional funding, beyond $30 million allocated last year, to community-based violence prevention programs. It adds to local efforts like the $27 million allocated in New York City's last budget for these programs. However, that money has not been consistent, and in New York City it was buttressed by federal funds.
Collaboration was another major theme, with Hochul pledging to curb gun violence through partnerships with local leaders and police departments along with other states. That, coupled with recently passed gun legislation, would help stem the illegal guns flowing into the state, she said in her speech.
Career Opportunities for People with Criminal Records
New York boasts one of the highest unemployment rates in the U.S.; it is even harder for the millions of people living in the state with a criminal record to find work. To help those people, 80% of whom are Black and/or Latinx, and keep them out of the criminal justice system, Hochul said she plans to:
- Allow formerly incarcerated people to access tuition assistance programs, which they had been barred from since 1995
- Pass the Clean Slate Act, which would effectively wipe certain felony records after seven years and misdemeanor convictions after three years for those who qualify
As Hochul noted in her speech, incarcerated people who participate in such programs are less likely to reoffend, and 13 times more likely than their peers to obtain a job following reentry.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.