By the time you read this issue of the newsletter, writing 2012 will be almost second nature.
During our extraordinary session of the legislature, held on December 8th, we achieved several goals. By restructuring the state’s tax code we were able to reduce our budget deficit from $3.25 billion to $1.7 billion. This new tax code adds new brackets to the income tax and creates a fairer system. Starting this year households with a yearly income of $40,000 will not be taxed at the same rates as households earning $500,000 a year. These new provisions will be applicable for 2012, 2013, and 2014. Thanks to all of you who completed our millionaire tax postcards and returned them to my Brooklyn office.
We also removed the MTA payroll tax from all private elementary and secondary schools. We also exempted self-employed individuals who earn less than $50,000 a year. Previously, the threshold number was $10,000. To protect the MTA from this shortfall in revenue, the state will reimburse the Transit Authority. We also provided funds for higher education opportunity programs which were designed to meet the needs of disadvantaged students by funding summer programs, counseling, and financial assistance. These programs help prepare and sustain individuals so they will be ready to enter the workforce. We also created a tax incentive program for small businesses to employ at-risk or disadvantaged youth. I believe it was an extremely productive session.
As the new Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Aging, I hosted a roundtable discussion on the issue of elder abuse. After listening to and questioning experts from across the state, several ideas emerged which may lead to legislation. The topic of financial abuse was discussed by many, and unlike child abuse, New York State has no system in place to report such cases. I co-chaired a hearing on the topic of SCRIE and the witnesses all reported the difficulty of completing forms (currently only permitted in English) and the delay in receiving benefits. I also chaired my first budget hearing which focused on programs that support seniors in the community. Witness after witness testified that by providing less intensive, non-medical community-based services we can help seniors remain in their homes, enjoy a better quality of life, and prevent institutionalization. The organizations which testified are committed to providing essential services in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
The holidays are behind us, but it is never too late to wish everyone a joyful and peaceful New Year.
Joan L. Millman
Member of Assembly
On November 22, 2011, I co-chaired an Assembly Hearing on the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption program (SCRIE). Many knowledgeable advocates and city officials testified at the hearing, which examined the effects of changes in the program’s administration and solutions to ongoing problems.
Under the SCRIE program, seniors who are aged 62 or above, live in a rent-regulated apartment, have a yearly income of $29,000 or below and pay at least one-third of monthly income to rent, can have their rent frozen at current levels. Landlords are given tax credits by the City to make up the difference between legal rent increases and what the senior is paying. The program is vital to keep New York City seniors in housing.
Until 2009, the SCRIE program was administered by the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA). The program was then transferred to the Department of Finance (DOF), which many advocates and elected officials believe has led to a less efficient and sensitive program for New York City’s senior citizens. Though the stated reason for the transfer from DFTA to Finance was to streamline administration and make it easier for seniors to apply for the program, witnesses testified that just the opposite has happened.
Both elected officials and advocates reported that seniors have experienced long delays and increasing difficulties in applying for the program, recertifying, and getting resolutions to problems. There is no way to contact DOF staff when problems arise. This contrasts with DFTA’s administration of the program, where seniors waited an average of a month to hear back regarding their applications and where there was a hotline number which applicants could contact directly. Currently, application forms and information guides are only in English and applicants can only call 311 with questions about SCRIE. This new system does not take into account the language needs and comfort level of seniors. Furthermore, 311 operators cannot answer more detailed questions about the process.
In addition, very serious problems with SCRIE have surfaced in just the past year which have major financial consequences for the City: a city audit revealed that, in the past year DOF paid $8.3 million on behalf of more than 2,000 SCRIE tenants who had died, and a computer glitch caused thousands of landlords to receive incorrect tax bills because DOF failed to accurately calculate SCRIE tax credits.
During the hearing, and in subsequent discussions between agencies and elected officials, important reforms have been proposed that would help maintain SCRIE’s effectiveness. These include:
DOF and community organizations should create a plan for outreach and education efforts which would make seniors aware of the SCRIE program. Application centers could be established at community organizations or senior centers so that seniors can receive applications and assistance in their communities by trained workers. A hotline should be established where DOF could be reached directly by seniors and advocates for assistance with applications. SCRIE application forms and information sheets should be translated into different languages.
Establishing a simple pre-screening for SCRIE to determine “presumptive eligibility” for seniors based on the basic criteria. Trained community workers could certify an applicant as eligible based on simple documentation, and forward paperwork to DOF for a final determination.
Training in Assisting Seniors
Staff at DOF and in the community should be trained to assess the needs of seniors in a sensitive manner, which takes into account health issues, etiquette, and limitations.
Using Technology Effectively
The DOF website should be updated so that applicants and advocates can fill in and submit paperwork online, including software that would accommodate seniors who are visually impaired. Once the application is submitted, seniors or their advocates could forward paperwork separately, but the online application could get the ball rolling.
The problems in the SCRIE program that have arisen in the past few years have made it unnecessarily difficult for seniors to establish eligibility and enrollment. Programs exist for people to use and should never utilize onerous and cumbersome processes that keep people out who otherwise would be eligible. I fully agree with these recommendations and will continue to work to maintain the program’s effectiveness.
Change is afoot on Fourth Avenue. And it is in part due to a coalition of civic associations and the leadership of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s office. The Borough President’s Senior Advisor, Carlo Scissura, has been leading the charge as chairman of the Task Force and subcommittees. There are three subcommittees that cover various aspects of this dynamic thoroughfare. The Medians, Beautification, and Co-Naming subcommittees, chaired by Park Slope Civic Council President Michael Cairl, are responsible for sprucing up Fourth Avenue’s sidewalks and medians in an effort to create a more visually-appealing environment for the commercial corridor. Furthermore, the subcommittee will explore a co-naming effort for an avenue that stretches from Atlantic Avenue to the Atlantic Ocean.
The Traffic and Safety Committee, chaired by Community Board 7 Board Member Ryan Lynch, has been tasked with the most important responsibility of making Fourth Avenue safe for all road users. Currently, Fourth Avenue is the fourth most dangerous road in Brooklyn, based on pedestrian fatalities. Creating larger pedestrian islands and slowing traffic down are some of the key safety tools that the Traffic and Safety Committee can deploy. Currently, cars and trucks are regularly speeding over 50 miles per hour, creating highway-like speeds.
The third subcommittee covers the re-design of Times Plaza, the triangular parcel at the junction of Atlantic, Flatbush, and Fourth Avenues. Currently, the old Atlantic Avenue subway station house occupies this intersection but with the closing of the northbound traffic lane of Fourth Avenue, a new public plaza has been created. Leading this design effort is John Dew, Chairman of Community Board 2.
Complementing the efforts of the Task Force is a recently passed zoning text amendment along Fourth Avenue from Atlantic Avenue to 24th Street. On November 29th, 2011 the City Council passed a Special Fourth Avenue Enhanced Commercial District text amendment that legally requires developers to provide more engaging and pedestrian friendly commercial and community facilities on the ground floor of new developments. The regulation prohibits the placement of parking garage entrances and vents as well as blank walls that create unwelcoming and unsafe pedestrian spaces. This effort was spearheaded by the Park Slope Civic Council on Fourth Committee. To join the Task Force contact Luke DePalma (firstname.lastname@example.org) from the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office.
In this newsletter I am highlighting the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, which has worked for over 25 years to bring Brooklyn Bridge Park to life. Starting out as grassroots advocates, the Conservancy worked to bring together residents, elected officials, and local supporters to transform an abandoned and inaccessible waterfront into a world class park. Today, more than 20 acres are open and the momentum to keep bringing new amenities and programs to the park are strong, thanks to the outpouring of support from the Brooklyn community.
The Conservancy works closely with the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, the group building and operating the park, to ensure that Brooklyn Bridge Park reaches its full potential as a dynamic and vibrant public space for our borough, our city, and beyond. The Conservancy produces diverse and innovative programming for park visitors and cultivates volunteer and philanthropic support of this special place on our Brooklyn waterfront.
I am certain that many of you have enjoyed the wonderful free programming that the Conservancy offers – I have a fond recollection of addressing the enormous crowd at the park’s Syfy Movies with a View. And there is so much more all year round in the park: boating, music, environmental education, family festivals, theater, stargazing and more. Over the past decade, more than 700,000 visitors have enjoyed the Conservancy’s free events and activities as Brooklyn Bridge Park continues to develop, thrive and flourish.
In 2011, more than 70,000 visitors came to the more than 325 free cultural, educational, and recreational events in the park. Conservancy education programs drew over 5,000 students from 50 New York City schools and free day camps. Playground associates offered arts and education enrichment every weekend through the summer and fall. Volleyball instructors taught skills clinics and workshops, and park visitors of all ages enjoyed bird watching, fitness programs, chess lessons, history tours, concerts, historic boat tours, and many more free activities.
The Conservancy encourages everyone in the community to get involved in Brooklyn Bridge Park. With the opening of the first sections of the park and as several park segments complete construction, Brooklyn Bridge Park relies on your help to program, maintain, and complete this remarkable 85-acre public amenity. The Conservancy’s Green Team, which is comprised of volunteers, logs over 1,500 hours per year helping to keep the park beautiful and clean. We need your support to bring all the free activities and events that make Brooklyn Bridge Park a dynamic urban space. Enjoy. Come visit us at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Find out more at the Brooklyn Bridge Park’s website.
I joined parents, education leaders and elected officials to speak out against the Department of Education’s proposal to create a Charter school within I.S. 293, in Cobble Hill. Parents, community leaders and educators have stated that they need a public Early Childhood Center for the growing number of young families in the district.
The Charter Success Network’s (CSN) original proposal was for an elementary school in Districts 13 or 14. After submitting the proposal, CSN announced new plans to co-locate within the school building in District 15. Under the Charter Success Network plan, the Cobble Hill School— which is home to Brooklyn School for Global Studies, and the School for International Studies and a District 75 program — would house a new Charter elementary school.
I object to this charter school proposal because it would impede the growth of the existing schools in the building. The Brooklyn School for Global Studies is undergoing a federal school improvement plan that I hope will increase student achievement and thus increase enrollment.
The neighborhood elementary schools are high achieving and their pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes are overcrowded with too many youngsters denied an opportunity for a quality pre-kindergarten and kindergarten experience. And because the Early Childhood Center would only serve children in two grades and would not expand, it would not threaten the growth of the existing schools.
My opposition and plans come from the 100+ emails I received opposing the co-location of a charter school. What is most important in this fight are the needs of the students at I.S. 293 whose educational needs must not be overlooked.
If you would like to receive a copy of the 2012 New York City Parking Calendar, fill out this coupon and send it to Assemblywoman Millman’s office at 341 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231, call 718-246-4889, email email@example.com or download it on my website by clicking here.Name: __________________________________________________________
New York State residents may qualify to receive assistance with their heat and energy bills this winter. My office is a Brooklyn center for processing applications for the Neighborhood Heating Fund, a program sponsored by National Grid and administered by HeartShare Human Services. Under this program, qualified applicants may receive a one-time grant for up to $200 off their National Grid bill. (Households may only apply for one grant per season). The program is first come, first serve and will end when the funds run out. Applicants will need to show identification for themselves and all household members, income information for everyone in their household AND a current National Grid bill. HeartShare will verify all of the information.
HEAP – the Home Energy Assistance Program, is a federally-funded financial assistance program designed to help eligible low-income households pay energy bills. HEAP is now accepting applications. There are two kinds of HEAP grants: regular and emergency grants. Depending on your financial situation you may qualify for both grants. Income guidelines for 2012 are as follows:
I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this program. Please call my office at 718-246-4889 to pick up applications for HEAP and the Neighborhood Heating Fund.
This year, my office participated in the Park Slope Civic Council’s (PSCC) 17th Annual Toys for Tots drive. Throughout the holiday season, my office was a drop-off spot for unwrapped toys.
We collected new toys for children ages 12 and under which were then distributed by the Park Slope Civic Council to local organizations that work with families in need.
Last year’s program resulted in a record-breaking 1,100 toys, almost twice the amount of any year past. The Civic Council’s goal for this year was to match or exceed that total. It was a pleasure to be able to lend a helping to those in need. The holidays are traditionally a time for charity and I want to thank the PSCC for organizing this event which remembers those in our community who are less fortunate. One small toy can bring a world of joy to a child and provide them with a gift they might not have been able to receive without the generosity of those that gave this holiday season.