Agudath Israel of America was one of the first groups statewide to be back in Albany for lobbying last week, just days after the Legislative Office Building opened to the public.
While Zoom advocacy has become accepted over the past two years (and certainly is more convenient than six hours of driving!) it is just not the same as face-to-face meetings. So, as soon as the Agudah received the go-ahead, the race was on to put together a delegation to relay the concerns of New York’s Orthodox Jewish community in person before the state budget was released. The delegation of Agudah staff and leadership was joined by leading community advocates and school officials.
During the busy day, the delegation met with Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, Senators Anna Kaplan, Simcha Felder, and Diane Savino, as well as Assemblymembers Michael Benedetto, Robert Carroll, Michael Cusick, Steven Cymbrowitz, Simcha Eichenstein, Daniel Rosenthal, Amy Paulin, and Helene Weinstein. There were also meetings with staff from Assemblymember Emily Gallagher’s office.
Additionally, the delegation met with staff of Governor Hochul, including Dan Fuller, Deputy Secretary for Education; Terrence O’Leary, Executive Deputy Commissioner, NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES); and Chattod Floyd, Deputy Secretary for Legislative Affairs. These meetings were coordinated by Jake Adler, Director of Jewish Affairs, and Eva Wyner, Deputy Director of Jewish Affairs.
Safety for Our Children:
Antisemitic violence continues to rise across the country. From the high-profile cases like attacks targeting Jews in Pittsburgh, PA; Poway, CA; Jersey City, NJ; Monsey, NY; and the recent hostage crisis in Colleyville, Texas, to the swastikas and senseless beatings in the streets. Ensuring our children’s safety in school by raising the level of funding for the Nonpublic School Safety Equipment grant (NPSE), is therefore one of the highest priorities for the Agudah. The NPSE program provides reimbursement for safety and security measures for nonpublic schools, and Agudah advocates asked the legislators to retain the line item in the budget which would raise NPSE funding from $15 million to $45 million, as well as to expand eligibility for usage to include critical capital repairs that enhance building safety.
This item was also raised extensively in the meetings with executive staff of the governor. Members of the delegation expressed appreciation to the governor for putting this item in her version of the budget, as Agudah had lobbied for several months ago, and stressed the importance of this funding being included in the final budget.
Fight Child Poverty for the State’s Youngest:
The Empire State Child Tax Credit was designed to combat child poverty for low- and middle-income parents. Paradoxically, the credit excludes children under the age of four, the age children are most likely to experience poverty; when the impact of child poverty is most egregious and can impede long-term development; and when parents have the most difficult time returning to work. A 50-state survey of child tax credits did not find a single other state that denied the benefit specifically to parents of younger children. Agudah delegates asked legislators to close this critical under-four loophole.
Other issues discussed with the legislators included a summer food funding increase, a revolving loan fund for special education providers, and immunization recordkeeping reimbursements.
“There is no substitute for the human connection, and with almost no one yet in Albany, we really got a lot of quality time with the legislators. Kudos to our advocacy team for mobilizing on a dime,” said Avrohom Weinstock, Agudah’s chief of staff. “It was great to be back in the person, walking the halls of the Capitol in Albany,” said Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Agudah’s director of New York government relations. “While we won’t know if we succeeded in accomplishing all of the items on the agenda, we already received positive feedback from multiple legislators, and have seen concrete results in the One House Budget released over the weekend after our visit.”
Photo Credits: Cindy Schultz