Ulrich pressures de Blasio on veterans bill

The NYC Veterans Alliance was discussed in the Capital New York article listed below, written by Gloria Pazmino:

ulrich-pressures-de-blasio-veterans-billCouncilman Eric Ulrich. (William Alatriste for the New York City Council)TweetShare on Facebook Print

After slow progress by the de Blasio administration on veterans issues, Councilman Eric Ulrich says he's ready to force the issue.

Ulrich, a Republican who chairs the Council's veterans committee, is threatening to discharge out of the committee a long-stalled bill to create an independent veterans affairs department. He says he'll do it if negotiations with the administration do not move forward soon.

Ulrich introduced the measure in April of 2014, and it has the support of 40 council members and Public Advocate Letitia James. It was heard by the committee in September. If Ulrich discharges the bill out of his committee it would force the entire Council to hold a vote on the measure, and then the mayor to approve or veto it.

Ulrich made the comments on Wednesday after Kristen Rouse, founder of the NYC Veterans Alliance, which supports the proposal, requested an update on the bill during testimony at an oversight hearing with the committee on veterans.

“If negotiations don’t work, you know, I haven’t ruled out discharging the bill, but that is not the route that we want to take,” Ulrich said. “We want to work with the administration to really continue that dialogue and try to get to an outcome that everybody can support.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has not said whether he supports the creation of a city agency to handle veterans affairs.

Currently, all veteran-related matters in the city are handled through the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs, which is led by commissioner Loree Sutton, and relies heavily on coordinating with other city agencies to mitigate issues of homelessness, mental health, and unemployment in the city’s veteran population. Veteran advocates have long argued the city should create a discrete agency to handle veterans' issues, citing the growing number of military members returning to the city from Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.

Creating the agency would require significantly more funding than the office’s current budget, which falls just under half a million dollars.

In an interview with Capital earlier this month, Sutton didn't say whether she would support the creation of a larger city agency, but acknowledged she would be able to do more if she had a bigger budget.

Following the hearing on Wednesday, Sutton declined to take questions from Capital and her aides referred all questions to the mayor’s press office.

Asked for comment on the current status of the bill negotiations, the mayor’s press office referred Capital to a January transcript of a de Blasio press conference where he was asked about the issue.

“I think the intention of the bill is a good one, obviously, and as everyone knows, you know, I grew up in a household of a veteran who came back very grievously wounded from World War II, so I understand how important it is to focus on our obligations to veterans,” de Blasio said in January. “I’ve never been convinced that turning an office into a department, in any subject matter, is necessarily the way to get things done best."

During the hearing, Ulrich reiterated that although “it was not the topic of today’s hearing,” negotiations with the administration are still ongoing.

“We are engaged with the administration," he said. "It’s an ongoing conversation that we are having. There is a tremendous amount of support in the Council to establish an independent city agency to serve veterans and we’re going to continue negotiations."

De Blasio has yet to veto a bill.