Call to Approve Budget that Improves NY Immigrants’ Lives

Make the Road NY wants immigrants to be covered by the State budgets currently being negotiated in Albany. (Photo via El Diario)

Make the Road NY wants immigrants to be covered by the state budget currently being negotiated in Albany. (Photo via El Diario)

Aracelly Cantos arrived in New York from Ecuador four years ago with a business management degree. Today, she is working two part-time jobs at different companies ‒ one as an administrative assistant and another as a customer service representative ‒ all to make $540 per week.

“I cannot make ends meet. I make the $9 minimum wage and I must pay for rent, transportation, last-minute expenses and what I send back to my country,” said the 28-year-old, who lives with her mother. To make it to the end of the month, they rent a room in their house to strangers, which make Cantos uneasy.

Her financial difficulties are part of everyday life for immigrant families in a city where the “American dream” is thwarted by reality. Make the Road NY (MRNY), one of the city’s largest community organizations, wants the state budget currently being negotiated in Albany to cover immigrants too.

According to the group, for these numbers to add up, “more resources are needed: a minimum wage of $15 per hour, $2.9 billion for new schools, and increased funding for adult literacy and workers’ programs, among other things.”

Assemblymember Nily Rozic (D-Queens) told El Diario that “a budget is needed which reflects the reality of the state’s labor force, helps all workers and allows for a better standard of living for all.” Foreign-born people represent 23 percent of the population living in New York state and 27 percent of all workers and small business owners. The group is facing myriad challenges.

Rozic believes that raising the minimum wage is an attainable goal within the budget, which must be approved by April 1. Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself is campaigning for the cause, saying that it will reduce economic stress on the state, as fewer low-income workers will depend on social assistance.

Cantos also trusts that a wage increase will become reality soon. MRNY’s proposal requests a raise to $15 per hour; the disappearance of a subminimum wage; more resources to end wage theft, which is currently estimated at $3.2 billion annually; and a 12-week paid leave family insurance so that parents can take care of their children or sick relatives. The U.S. is the only industrialized country lacking this type of benefit for maternity cases and one of the few that does not allow fathers to benefit from it. Some states, such as California and New Jersey, have passed laws to that effect.

Cantos said that she understands why small businesses are concerned about having to spend more on personnel. “I live in Jackson Heights and I know that they are already desperate with the rents they’re paying, but it’s time to raise salaries or there will be a social revolution. I know that everything costs money, but the situation will stabilize once things change.”

MRNY wants a budget three times larger than the current one, as well as the approval of a proposal for adult education ‒ totaling $17.2 billion ‒ to help immigrants integrate. According to the New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy, the funds presently allocated for that purpose only provide education to 6,500 adults, while more than 2 million people in the state still have limited English proficiency. Citing the same goal of social integration, the demands include issuing driver’s licenses to all qualified New Yorkers regardless of their immigration status.

Regarding education, one of the most critical topics in the organization’s view, the requests call for more investments in schools to finance teaching programs and for people learning English, as well as an expansion of the pre-K program to last all day.

The state owes $4.8 billion to the Department of Education for its failure to come up with enough funding to comply with its constitutional obligation to provide basic educational resources for all schools. Assemblymember Rozic says that, just in her district, schools are owed $43 million in back payments. Evelyn Ayarza, MRNY member and the mother of a student attending P.S. 148 in Jackson Heights, says that the state owes $2,000 per student to the school. “Our children deserve a good education, and we must make sure that all schools have the necessary programs to allow them to learn,” says Ayarza.

Other items that need strengthening

  • Approving the Dream Act with a budget of at least $27 million to ensure a balance in educational assistance
  • Expanding the state’s investment in the CUNY system to make it free and open again
  • Investing $50 million in restorative justice and initiatives to end school desertion and imprisonment
  • Progressive taxation in which the one percent of New Yorkers with the highest income pay more. Also, closing the carried interest loophole for hedge fund managers. MRNY says that this would earn the state around $2.3 billion.
  • Broadening health coverage for undocumented immigrants over 18 who do not have access to Medicaid or the health insurance marketplace, and assistance to navigate the complex health system for this population
  • Allocating more money to the Immigrant Family Unity Project throughout the state and increasing funding for civil legal aid
  • (…) Duplicating the Tenant Support Unit, which investigates and prevents abuse and fraud cases in affordable housing. Also, ending the “vacancy bonus,” which accelerates the deregulation of rent-stabilized units, increasing the amounts families must pay to stay in their homes.

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