A message from csea president mary sullivan
Sisters and brothers,
The year 2020 was, in many ways, unprecedented. The number of issues facing CSEA members this year were, and continue to be, immense.
The struggles of this year showed the importance of union members staying involved in legislative and political action at all levels of government, especially when times are hardest.
CSEA members went above and beyond during the Coronavirus crisis. Not only did you continue to work, providing the essential services that our communities depend on, but so many of you also participated in our campaigns for federal aid, the Census, and various other legislative and political actions.
I want you to know that CSEA will continue to fight for you in Albany, Washington, and in your local governments, just as you all fight on the front lines for our communities.
However, CSEA is nothing without you. As we climb out of the hole created by the COVID-19 pandemic, your continued involvement will be more important than ever.
I extend my thanks to each and every one of you for your efforts this year
So it Begins...
What would become a year for the history books started like almost any other in Albany.
2020 marked Governor Andrew Cuomo's tenth year in Albany.
The Governor gave his "State of the State" address and released his 2020-21 Executive Budget proposal before the seriousness of the Coronavirus was known.
The year kicked off with the state facing a $6 billion deficit, largely due to increased Medicaid spending. As we all quickly learned, this shortfall would be the least of the problems facing the state over the coming months.
Photo: January 21, 2020- Albany, NY- Governor Andrew M. Cuomo presents his fiscal year 2021Executive Budget in Albany (Darren McGee- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)
There were many issues to work on with the state legislature and Governor prior to the Coronavirus overshadowing everything.
CSEA worked closely with the state legislature and Executive throughout the state budget process to advance proposals that would benefit CSEA members.
We also were not quiet about our opposition to bad proposals, including:
- The closure of OCFS and DOCCS facilities;
- Merging the Bridge Authority into the Thruway Authority;
- Restructuring the court system;
- Increasing health insurance costs for retirees;
- Cutting local government aid; and
- Cutting Medicaid.
In March, Congress passed and President Trump signed a series of bills to help combat the growing Coronavirus outbreak.
The first bill, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations (CARES) Act, provided just over $8 billion in funding for treating and preventing the spread of the Coronavirus.
Following quickly on the heels of the first bill, Congress passed a second federal stimulus bill, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This bill provided paid sick and family leave for some workers impacted by the virus, expanded unemployment assistance, and expanded federal support for state Medicaid programs.
In late March, Congress passed the largest stimulus bill in United States history, providing $2 trillion to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. The bill, known as the Cares Act provided:
- Direct cash payments to individuals and families;
- $100 billion for hospitals;
- Expanded unemployment insurance, including an additional $600 per week on top of state unemployment;
- $30 billion for education;
- $3.5 billion for child care; and
- Various programs for businesses.
Importantly, all of the funding in the CARES Act for states, local governments, and school districts was restricted only to COVID-19 related efforts.
On paper, the enacted 2020 - 21 state budget looked like a normal state budget. However, due to plummeting state revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the budget contained language to allow the Director of the Division of the Budget (DOB) to make mid-year cuts to appropriations in the event that the budget was out of balance. The potential for these devastating cuts would hang over the rest of the year.
CSEA successfully fought back several harmful proposals included in the Executive Budget proposal, including:
- The elimination of aid to municipalities hosting a video lottery gaming facility;
- A proposal to overhaul the state's court system that would have had potentially negative impacts on court employees; and
- Proposals to increase health insurance costs for NYSHIP retirees; and
- A proposal to merge the New York State Bridge Authority into the Thruway Authority.
The following is a brief summary of provisions that were included in the enacted budget:
- Billions in additional bonding authority for the state to cover short-term cash flow issues as the result of the economic shutdown;
- Allowing for the closure of state correctional facilities with only 90-days' notice and requiring that the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision transfer adolescent offenders from its facilities to Office of Children and Family Services facilities by October 1, 2020;
- $250 million for counties and New York City for costs associated with raising the age of criminal responsibility;
- An increase in the threshold for local road and bridge projects to allow municipalities to use their own workforce to perform work;
- Flat funding for school districts thanks to an infusion of federal funding;
- A reduction in library aid and library construction aid;
- A $250 million annual fund for distressed hospitals and nursing home facilities beginning in 2021, funded by New York City ($200 million) and the remaining 57 counties ($50 million);
- A $2.5 billion reduction in Medicaid payments. In addition, Medicaid payments were uniformly reduced by 1.875%; and
- Sick leave for all private sector employers outside of New York City.
The budget did not include:
- Authority for SUNY to raise tuition beyond the 2020-21 academic year;
- Funding for community colleges to offset enrollment declines; or
- CSEA's priority legislation on work zone safety and child protective services caseloads.
Almost immediately after the state budget was enacted, all interested parties began asking one question: When will the cuts come?
Announcements that the State's deficit was approaching $15 billion and that pay raises for State employees would be delayed made the situation clear: without additional federal aid, New York would be in serious trouble.
Campaign for Federal Aid Ramps Up
The state budget situation became clearer in May. In the absence of more federal aid, it was projected that the State would be forced to make cuts of up to 20% for most local government programs, including school aid. State agencies would be facing a 10% cut.
CSEA members and activists from across the state participated in car rallies outside the offices of our Congressional Representatives to raise awareness of the problem and call on the support of their elected officials. While the New York Congressional delegation was largely supportive of these efforts, the need had to be impressed on Congress as a whole. All told, five car rallies had over 100 cars participate and was well covered by local media.
From the beginning of the crisis, the Legislative & Political Action Department held numerous Zoom meetings to talk with members about COVID and its impact. We also encouraged members to be active in contacting their federal representatives for federal aid to help New York and our local governments. Several NY Congressional members joined CSEA members in Zoom meetings to talk about their support for federal aid.
Over the course of several months, Political Action reached out to thousands of members. Members heard the message and took action. CSEA members sent nearly 5,000 emails and letters to our congressional representatives. We also held a coordinated Facebook campaign that was seen hundreds of thousands of times and resulted in over 7,000 emails to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The legislature returned to Albany in late May. Through a mix of in-person and virtual participation, the legislature returned to pass a package of legislation to help New Yorkers respond to the pandemic. The bills passed included:
- A new accidental death benefit for the families of public employees that reported to work and died as a result of COVID-19. This is a death benefit for families. If the family of a member who died prior to this took a pension survivors benefit they can go back and see which situation might be better for them. The only requirement is a death certificate listing COVID-19 or a letter from a doctor or other health care practitioner stating that COVID-19 was a contributing factor. This new benefit will be effective from March 1, 2020 until December 31, 2020;
- Ensuring that school districts wouldn't lose state aid for not being in session for enough days because of the pandemic; and
- Protections for renters and homeowners by establishing a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.
In May, the House of Representatives passed a massive $3 trillion stimulus package to respond to the growing economic crisis. The bill would have provided roughly $1 trillion to states and local governments to fill the holes in their budgets, increased Medicaid spending, another round of stimulus checks to families, money for hazard pay, funding for child care, continued unemployment assistance, and much more.
However, the U.S. Senate, lead by Senator Mitch McConnell, refused to even entertain the legislation. The Senate was not in support of state and local government funding.
The killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota in late May led to historic protests and demonstrations across the country.
CSEA and our members stood in solidarity with our brothers and sisters fighting for justice for all.
“As a union, we have an obligation to stand up and make our collective voices heard for causes we believe in. Especially when those causes involve bringing together the collective voices of people who lack power but seek equality and change. That’s what the union movement is all about… bringing individuals together to build power.”
CSEA President Mary Sullivan
Legislature Returns Again for Law Enforcement Reforms
The legislature returned to Albany again in June to pass a series of law enforcement reform bills:
- Repealing section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law, which prohibited the release of disciplinary records of certain police and peace officers. Disciplinary records were made subject to release under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Disciplinary records of most public employees were already subject to FOIL. This law impacted police and fire, corrections, and probation; and
- Bills to criminalize the use of chokeholds by police and peace officers, require that persons receive needed medical and mental heath while in custody, require reporting when a firearm is discharged, require reporting from courts on misdemeanor offenses and from law enforcement on arrest-related deaths, and require State Police troopers to wear body cameras.
In addition, Governor Cuomo issued an Executive Order declaring Juneteenth (June 19, 2020) a state holiday.
Created with images by Andy Feliciotti - "United States Capitol on Sunny Day" • Tiffany Tertipes - "Election mail envelopes with face masks" • Darren Halstead - "The Capital, Washington DC"