On Wednesday, October 26, 2016, the NYC Veterans Alliance presented testimony at the NYC Council Committee on Consumer Affairs hearing on a package of bills known as the Street Vendor Modernization Act. Below is the testimony presented by Kristen Rouse:
Below is the prepared testimony entered into record:
My name is Kristen L. Rouse. I am a veteran of the United States Army, I served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, and I live in Brooklyn. I am testifying on behalf of the more than 200 dues-paying members of the NYC Veterans Alliance, several of whom are veteran street vendors, and who have been active in advocating for reforms for NYC street vendors.
Street vending is a time-honored tradition in New York City, but our system for regulating and supporting this vibrant community of entrepreneurs must be streamlined and updated to reflect today’s economy and needs, and to minimize the costs and restrictions for hardworking people to make a living. For these reasons, we support the spirit and intent of this package of street vendor modernization legislation.
Yet we must remind this committee that veteran street vendors have been central to New York City’s street vending community going back more than a century, and veteran vendors merit both protection and preference as the city modernizes its policies and regulations. Veteran street vendors have been the heart and soul of NYC’s veteran entrepreneur community going back to 1894, when New York State established a law that assured disabled Civil War veterans free and unrestricted access to selling goods on the street. Today, NYC has more than 1,700 veteran street vendors, yet city policies, restrictions, and selective enforcement have significantly scaled back the ability of veteran vendors to make a living as intended by the original law. Street vending is a hard job, and made even harder by complicated rules and restrictions that make vendors easy targets for summonses and fines that take away profits. This hefty cost of doing business also feels like a betrayal of veterans who were once promised unrestricted access to vending on the streets.
We fully support bills that streamline regulation of street vending so that no one is unduly punished just for trying to make a living. But we remind this committee that veterans must be specified in these bills as a protected class of street vendors. We’ve heard from veteran street vendors that they feel unfairly targeted and fined by police, especially in the midtown core, while unlicensed vendors appear to operate freely. City policy has over the years eroded and restricted the freedoms of veteran vendors provided by the original state law, with their only apparent recourse being to sue the city. Our city government can and must do better to honor the service of veterans and the historic protections that New York provides our veteran street vendors. We therefore make the following recommendations:
1. Any reform legislation must make mention of veterans in order to retain and reinforce these protections. As it currently stands, Introduction 1303 makes only a mention that the law will not interfere with state law pertaining to veteran vendors. This is not enough.
2. Any raising of caps on mobile food vending permits must protect the current minority of veteran street vendors. We believe that veteran vendors make up approximately 15% of NYC’s vending population. Set-asides for veteran vendors must not fall below this 15% mark.
3. Language establishing a vending board must specify inclusion of veteran vendors on that board.
4. Veteran vendors must be exempt from waiting lists.
5. Veteran vendors must have preference in licensing.
6. Mobile vending permits for veterans (“V” permits) that are currently restricted to the boundaries of parks must be granted citywide access.
Veterans have served to protect our nation’s freedoms and way of life during wartime and peacetime, and sacrificed years of their lives and careers to this end. Many of our veterans have been injured and disabled during the course of their service to our nation. The service of our veterans is essential to protecting the freedoms we enjoy in this city. Veterans are a minority of our city’s population, and veteran vendors are a minority—albeit an important one—as well. They nevertheless deserve recognition, protection, and the preferences that were enshrined in state law decades ago.
On behalf of the NYC Veterans Alliance, I thank you for the opportunity to testify today. Pending your questions, this concludes my testimony.