This Year in Albany 2020

April 23, 2020 - Albany, NY - The Corning Tower is lit up with NY Tough at the Empire State Plaza in Albany. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

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

In solidarity,


This page covers a recap of 2020 events through the lens of their impact on the purview of CSEA's Legislative & Political Action Department.


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)


State Budget

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.
From L to R: CSEA Region 3 President Anthony Adamo joins state legislators at a press conference opposing a proposed merger of the Bridge Authority and Thruway Authority; CSEA Region 1 President Jerry Laricchiuta meets with State Senator Jim Gaughran about the proposed state budget


COVID Begins to Take Over

State Response

In early March, the state legislature voted to provide $40 million to help combat the virus and to expand the authority for Governor Cuomo in responding to the crisis. The Governor quickly acted on this authority, declaring a State of Emergency, issuing Executive Orders of gradually increasing severity over the course of March to limit in-person work, restrict gatherings, require social distancing, close schools and colleges, change election dates and procedures, and much more

In mid-March, the Governor issued an Executive Order closing school buildings for two weeks. School closures would eventually be extended through the end of the academic year. Similarly, classes at SUNY campuses and private colleges were moved entirely online.

Many state and local government workers were directed to work remotely, though thousands of essential workers continued to work in person throughout the crisis.

As businesses were closed to limit the spread of the disease, millions of New Yorkers lost their jobs, sales tax revenues dropped by hundreds of millions of dollars, and economic activity took a major hit. The stock market officially entered "bear market" territory and saw some of the worst single-day drops in decades. This uncertainty was the first blip on the radar that the state budget would be more complicated than usual.

The Governor's daily briefings would soon become nationally broadcast events.

From @NYGovCuomo on Twitter

Additionally, the state legislature passed, and Governor Cuomo signed, legislation to establish a paid sick leave program for those New Yorkers exposed to COVID.

This law provided paid sick leave when an employee is subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation.

The law provided that a public employee subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine be paid their regular rate of pay for at least 14 days without using accrued sick leave. For private sector workers, the law was structured to ensure that most workers would be kept financially whole.

Federal Actions

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.

Top: CSEA members from Region 4, including Region President Ron Briggs and Statewide PAC Chair Cindy Stiles hold a car rally outside of Congresswoman Elise Stefanik's office to advocate for federal aid to the state; Bottom: CSEA members from Regions 1 and 5 join similar rallies

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.

COVID Session

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.
CSEA members and officers across the state honoring the work of essential workers, including (in photo order) Statewide President Mary Sullivan, Region 5 President Ken Greenleaf, Region 6 President Steve Healy, Statewide Secretary Richard Bebo, Statewide Executive Vice President Denise Berkley, and Statewide Treasurer Nicole Meeks.

"Heroes Act"

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.


Racial Injustice

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

CSEA members across the state in solidarity for justice for all

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.

Primary Elections

Primary Elections for the state legislature and Congress were held in late June. Due to COVID, any eligible voter wishing to vote by absentee ballot had that option. As a result, absentee turnout was drastically increased.

The Primaries saw the defeat of multiple sitting lawmakers, including a long-time member of Congress and several members of the state legislature. These results were similar to 2018 when we saw progressive challenges to incumbent moderates. The results were the defeat of many sitting Democratic lawmakers by Primary opponents challenging them from the left.


Another Session

The state legislature returned to session once again in July. Much of this session was focused on routine business. Legislation of note passed during this session included:

  • Legislation to require all public employers, except for schools, to have a plan detailing: what employees are essential; protocols to enable all non-essential employees to work remotely; how PPE will be acquired and work shifts staggered for essential employees; and protocols for when an employee is exposed to a communicable disease. Employees will be represented in the development of these plans through their union.
  • A bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday.
  • Bills to allow for voters to use absentee ballots in the General Election due to COVID, and to establish a system of "automatic voter registration" when applying for services at certain state and local agencies beginning in 2023.

Other Issues

  • The legislature introduced several bills that would have provided an early retirement incentive to certain state employees and local government employees whose employer opted in. While these bills gained significant coverage in the press and on social media, these proposals were not realistic at the time. These bills did not advance
  • CSEA advocated against legislation that would have prohibited Peace Officers from carrying firearms. This bill did not advance
  • CSEA advocated against bills that would have repealed the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law. These bills did not advance

Left Unfinished

Understandably, the state legislature's focus in 2020 was on responding to the Coronavirus and social unrest. This unfortunately took attention away from several issues that CSEA was hoping to advance this year. CSEA will continue to advance these issues throughout the remainder of the year and into 2021.

Work Zone Safety

Throughout 2020, CSEA worked hard to advance legislation to help protect workers in highway work zones. Our advocacy led to Senate passage early in the year of legislation that would have increased fines for endangering a highway worker and increased public awareness of work zone safety. Unfortunately, the advance of this legislation was stymied with the Coronavirus pandemic.

When the legislature returned to Albany in July, CSEA continued to advocate for highway worker safety, pushing for the passage of legislation that would have established speed cameras in highway work zones. This legislation did not advance before the end of the session.

Over the years, dozens of CSEA members have been killed or injured in work zones. It has been over a decade since meaningful work zone safety legislation was passed in New York. CSEA continues to prioritize this issue and will advocate for this important legislation in 2021.


Federal Inaction

Even as New York appeared to have COVID under control, cases were rising in the rest of the country throughout the summer. As more and more states started dealing with the crisis that New York faced in April and May, the need for additional federal aid to states and local governments became even more clear.

However, the Republican-controlled White House and Senate, and the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives entered negotiations far apart what a final package required.

In early August, President Trump issued a series of Executive Orders after negotiations between the Legislature and Executive came to a standstill. The orders did nothing to address CSEA's concerns, and actually made a bad situation even worse.

1. Defunding Social Security and Medicare

President Trump announced that Social Security payroll taxes for most workers wouldn't be collected from September 1 through December 31 at their employer's option. This order was hugely problematic for several reasons:

  • While this sounds like most workers will receive a tax cut, that isn't true. These taxes still must be paid when you file your taxes.
  • The President claims that if he is re-elected, he will permanently repeal and/or cut payroll taxes. This could eliminate the major source of funding for both Social Security and Medicare.
  • At best, this order would provide a few months of relief to some workers, which will have to be repaid later. At worst, it puts the financial stability of two fundamental government programs unnecessarily at risk.

2. Maybe (But Maybe Not) Extending Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits

This Executive Order called for an additional $400 in unemployment benefits per week (down from the previous $600 available until July 31st). States were initially required to pay 25% of the additional benefits, however states pushed back saying they were unable to cover the cost. As a result the President waived the requirement and simply lowered benefits to $300 in additional unemployment benefits until Dec. 31.

3. Maybe (But Definitely Not) Extending Eviction Protections

This Executive order directed federal agencies to "consider" whether an eviction ban is needed, but did not actually extend the federal eviction ban which had expired in July.

4. Deferring Student Loan Payments

The President's final Executive Order waived all interest on student loans through the end of the year and allows borrowers to delay payments until December 31. This applied only to student loans held by the federal government. This order is a good thing that will provide relief to borrowers.

CSEA continued to pressure Congress to provide a real response to the crisis.


Region 2 President Lester Crockett addresses the importance of the 2020 Census

In the midst of the overwhelming financial crisis caused by the Coronavirus, the importance of New York getting its fair share of federal aid has never been more clear.

The U.S. Census bureau was tasked with completing the decennial Census in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak. The Census is vitally important in determining the level of support states get from the federal government for health care, education, housing,transportation, and other services, but New York typically under performs in Census completion relative to other states.

Recognizing the unique access CSEA members have to hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations, we worked hard to highlight to all New Yorkers the importance of completing the 2020 U.S. Census.

What's Next?

Budget Cuts?

It became clear that the state could only hold off making devastating budget cuts for so long. Without additional federal aid, these cuts will be unavoidable. Dealing with the continued economic fallout from the COVID pandemic will likely be the major focus of the remainder of 2020 and throughout next year.

An August report from the Division of the Budget (DOB) made clear how dire New York's financial situation really was.

According to the report:

  • The State's budget deficit has increased to $14.5 billion for this year, and $62 billion through FY2024;
  • All funds tax receipts have decreased by 10.2%;
  • The updated financial plan includes nearly $10 billion in budget reductions between Executive agencies, the Judiciary, elected officials, and local governments;
  • State agencies have been directed to reduce operating expenditures by 10%; and
  • From June - July, DOB witheld $1.9 billion in local government payments. These will be converted to permanent reductions without federal aid.


No Excuse Not to Vote This Year

With all of the options New Yorkers have to vote this year, there is no excuse to not vote even with all of the uncertainty in our daily lives.

Eligible voters in New York can:

  • Vote in person on November 3;
  • Vote in person during the early voting period of October 24 - November 1 (check with your local Board of Elections for Early Voting locations and times); or
  • Vote via absentee ballot. Absentee ballots are now available and can be returned by mail or at drop boxes available at local Boards of Elections, at early voting locations, or at any polling location on Election Day.

Legislation Expanding Voting Access

  • Expand Processing Time for Absentee Ballots Chapter 138 of 2020 (A.10807 – Taylor / S.8783A – Myrie), Effective August 20, 2020: This law allowed people to immediately apply for an absentee ballot.
  • Expand Absentee Eligibility due to COVID Chapter 139 of 2020 (S.8015D – Biaggi / A.10833 – Dinowitz), Effective August 20, 2020, Repealed January 1, 2022: This law expands the term “illness” to include instances where a voter is unable to appear personally at the polling place due to a risk of contracting or spreading a disease. This allows all New Yorkers to apply for an absentee ballot during the COVID pandemic.
  • Allow Absentee Ballots to be Counted Without Dated Postmark Chapter 140 of 2020 (S.8799A – Gianaris / A.10808A – Bichotte), Effective August 20, 2020: This law allows absentee ballots received without a dated postmark to be presumed to be timely if the ballot bears a time stamp indicating receipt by the BOE the day after the election.
  • Allow Voters to Cure Absentee Errors Chapter 141 of 2020 (S.8370B – Myrie / A.10830 – Lavine), Effective August 20, 2020: This law requires that voters be given the opportunity to correct errors with absentee ballot envelopes and signatures. It also requires the BOE to notify a voter when their ballot has been invalidated and the error is not curable.


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"