Update on Spring 2017 Policy Agenda

meeting.jpgSince the kickoff of our Spring 2017 Policy Agenda with our Lobby Week and “Love Our Veterans” Rally in February, we’ve been pushing NYC Council Members to support our priorities by email, direct mail, and in-person meetings with Council Members and staff. Here’s a preliminary update on how we’re doing on each of our agenda items and how you can help:

1. Protect the Budget for NYC Department of Veterans’ Services:

Update: In FY 2017, $2.9 million was allocated for 35 staff members to launch NYC’s newest agency. The Mayor’s initial budget proposal for FY 2018 reduced that amount by one staff member and $318k. Following our community’s outrage, his office announced that the position and funding will be restored in his Executive Budget that will be released in May 2017. We have been urging NYC Council members—in our public testimonies and private meetings—to likewise protect this funding level in further budget negotiations to ensure that the budget passed this June will reflect $2.9 million for DVS. We are continuing to monitor this.

2. Pass Int. 1259-2016 to Add Veteran & Military (“Uniformed”) Status to Human Rights Law

Update: Our lobbying has added one new co-sponsor, and we are continuing to ask more Council Members to co-sponsor it as well. We need for the Civil Rights Committee to hold a hearing on this, or jointly with the Veterans Committee, or to pass it to the Veterans Committee for the hearing. We need for this to happen in April 2017 in order for it to be passed before NYC Council becomes completely focused on passing the budget. We simply cannot delay passage of this bill any longer.

What You Can Do: We have heard that key leadership within NYC government does not believe this bill will make a difference. Our stories of being discriminated against as veterans and military reservists say otherwise. Please share your comment of support and/or your story on why it matters for our city to protect veterans and military members against discrimination by employers and landlords by clicking HERE and making your comment at the bottom.

All of these comments will be presented to NYC Council Members.

3. Pass Int. 1304-2016 – Implementation of Alternative (School Tax) Exemption for Veterans

Update: Our Lobby Week meetings and rally had a show of support from Public Advocate Tish James and numerous Council Members for this bill, and it’s already had a hearing and a long list of co-sponsors. What needs to happen is for the $40 million it will cost to roll out in FY 2018 to be actually included in the budget (passage of the bill would be meaningless without funding). We’re calling for this to happen at every opportunity, but it’s up to NYC Council to ensure that this takes place during budget negotiations in May and June.

What You Can Do: All NYC Council Members need to hear from our community about why it matters for this tax exemption to be funded and passed this year. This is just one step toward making housing more affordable for veterans. Attainable housing is a promise in the GI Bill of Rights, but NYC’s housing market has made home ownership less and less possible for veterans with each passing year. It’s time to start changing this. Please share your comment of support and/or your story of why action to make home ownership more affordable for veterans must happen by clicking HERE and making your comment at the bottom.

All of these comments will be presented to NYC Council Members.

4. Amend and Pass Res. 1196-2016 to Support Passage of “Fairness for Veterans Act” by Congress

Update: The hearing held on this in November, and our meetings with Council Members thus far have been an opportunity to educate city officials on the pervasive damage done by “bad paper” discharges, especially since 2001. Since this resolution was introduced last year, some provisions of Fairness for Veterans were included in the NDAA passed by Congress in December, and the Veteran Urgent Access to Healthcare Act (a sister bill to Fairness for Veterans) has gained traction over the last 3 weeks in Congress to ensure that veterans most vulnerable to homelessness, substance abuse, and suicide are able to access lifesaving mental healthcare from the VA. Additionally, VA Secretary Shulkin announced this week that the VA will start serving veterans with bad paper—although the details of implementation are as yet unclear.

What You Can Do: This resolution should be amended to 1) call on Congress to immediately authorize the VA to provide mental healthcare services to veterans with bad paper discharges; and 2) call on Congress to pass the remaining provisions of Fairness for Veterans to ensure veterans with bad paper discharges receive a full and fair review from discharge upgrade review boards. Please share you comment of support for preventing suicide and homelessness in the most vulnerable population of veterans by having NYC Council voice support for Congressional action by clicking HERE and making your comment at the bottom.

All of these comments will be presented to NYC Council Members.

5. Amend Int. 1303-2016 to Include 15% Set-Aside for Veteran Food Vendors in Street Vendor Modernization Act

Update: As currently written, this bill only includes a set-aside of 5% for veteran food vendor permits, which does not reflect the current estimated percentage of veteran vendors. Any legislation must recognize the historical protections of veteran street vendors going back to the 1890s, and ensure that veteran vendors are able to operate with minimal restrictions as specified in New York State law. The city’s Street Vendor Modernization Act appears stalled for the immediate future, which means that current laws remain in place. Further actions to improve regulations and enforcement related to veteran vendors should be discussed in meetings with the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, and preferably jointly with the NYC Department of Veterans’ Services.

What You Can Do: We’ve heard mixed responses from veteran street vendors on whether they support the Street Vendor Modernization Act, but what we fully agree on is that veteran vendors need to be prioritized and protected in permits, licensing, and relevant local laws, as well as in the enforcement of regulations by NYPD and NYC Parks Police. Please share your comment of support for recognizing and protecting veteran food vendors by clicking HERE and making your comment at the bottom.

All of these comments will be presented to NYC Council Members.

Lobby With Us!

We are still scheduling meetings with NYC Council Members and staff to talk with them about why these priorities for NYC veterans and families matter. If you would like to join us for these meetings, please email Olivia at [email protected].