On Jan. 10, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul made her first State of the State address as an elected official. She promised more housing and mental health support for New Yorkers, but coming up short on addressing surging crime in the Empire State.
“The pervasive unease that wormed its way into our day-to-day lives, the social isolation and the economic distress, led to a nationwide rise in crime and gun violence that we are now combating,” Hochul said, placing the bulk of the blame for rising crime rates in the state at the feet of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her comments appear to ignore the fact that crime began to surge in the state following the implementation of New York’s 2018 bail laws, long before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.
According to a report by the Manhattan Institute entitled, “More Criminals, More Crime: Measuring the Public Safety Impact of New York’s 2018 Bail Law” which was published in July last year, the period between March 15, 2019 and March 15, 2020 saw burglaries in the state rise by 26.5 percent while robberies rose by an astounding 33.9 percent. Shooting incidents rose by 22.9 percent during the same period as well as grand larceny which increased by 15.8 percent. Car thefts increased by an astounding 68 percent in the same period.
Many argue that a lack of discretion afforded judges when issuing bail terms and a revolving door criminal justice system that allows criminals back on the street to reoffend is driving the crisis.
Hochul said the state has been addressing the surge by developing new strategies and investing in new programs, including more restrictive gun laws on top of the divisive NY SAFE Act that banned “assault weapons.”
Hochul said the state is addressing the crisis by “strengthening our gun violence prevention laws by passing even stronger ones and closing loopholes. Banning ghost guns and expanding bail eligibility for gun crimes. Tougher prosecutions of gun trafficking. Mandating the use of Red Flag law leading to more than 5,000 cases where we kept guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them and kept innocent people from being hurt.”
The state also raised the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic firearms to 21 and launched a “first-in-the-nation 9 state task force on illegal guns which took more than 10,000 illegal guns off our streets this past year,” while promising to triple investments in “gun violence interruption” programs.
She added that New York has taken action by “putting more cops on the subways” while claiming that last year the state experienced “a double-digit decrease in both homicides and shootings.”
Defending the controversial bail laws, she said that “the size of someone’s bank account should not determine whether they sit in jail, or return home, before they have even been convicted of a crime,” adding that, “That was the goal of bail reform. It was a righteous one, and I stand by it.”
She further argued that bail reform was “not the primary driver of a national crime wave created by a convergence of factors, including the pandemic,” again appearing to blame the pandemic for the surging crime, not her administration’s policies.
She applauded the state’s Gun Involved Violence Elimination Initiative (GIVE) which she says is responsible for a decrease in shooting incidents. “Shootings in Buffalo are down 32 percent. In Long Island, they’re down 29 percent. In Westchester, 27 percent – all GIVE jurisdictions,” she said while promising to give State Police a more direct role in combating violent crime. “So we’re going to expand State Police Community Stabilization Units to 25 communities across the state,” she promised.
Mental health a top concern
“When it comes to keeping people safe and protecting their well-being, fixing New York’s mental health care system is essential — and long overdue,” Hochul said.
The number of New Yorkers struggling with a mental illness was increasing before the pandemic and its emergence only drove these numbers further up, with more than one in three New Yorkers seeking mental health care, or who know someone who has, she said.
“Today marks a reversal in our state’s approach to mental health care,” she said, promising to invest $1 billion to address the crisis while making “critical policy changes” to finally and fully meet the mental health needs of New Yorkers.
In addition she promised to add 1,000 inpatient psychiatric beds, funding 150 new beds in State facilities and bringing an additional 850 psych beds in hospitals back online.
“So, we will now insist that these beds be brought online, and seek greater authority for the Office of Mental Health to ensure full cooperation in meeting these objectives. This is a moral imperative, and it is a public safety imperative,” Hochul said while also promising to invest in services which will allow patients to begin to re-integrate into the community to ensure inpatient beds “don’t get backed up.”
Further to this, she announced that her plan includes building more than 3,500 residential units, supported by intensive mental health services, to provide stable housing for people experiencing both homeless and poor mental health. “No one gets left behind,” she said.
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800,000 new homes
“Over the last ten years, our state has created 1.2 million jobs – but only 400,000 new homes,” she said before blaming the lack of housing development in the state on restrictive local land use policies and zoning bylaws.
“Between full-on bans of multi-family homes, and onerous zoning and approvals processes, they make it difficult – even impossible – to build new homes,” she said.
She lauded her administration’s record on housing referencing last year’s budget which included a five-year, $25 billion plan to create and preserve 100,000 affordable homes in addition to a $25 million “Eviction Prevention Legal Assistance Program” and another investment of $539 million in the Homeowner Assistance Fund. This was in addition to another $100 million made available in rent supplements.
She introduced a new program entitled the “New York Housing Compact” which she called a “groundbreaking strategy to catalyze the housing development” the state needs to thrive and for the economy to grow and prosper.
“The Compact pulls together a broad menu of policy changes that will collectively achieve the ambitious goal of 800,000 new homes over the next decade,” she said.
Climate action and cost-of-living initiatives
Hochul laid out ambitious climate goals including a “Cap-and-invest” scheme that aims to “cap greenhouse emissions, invest in the clean energy economy, and prioritize the health and economic well-being of our families.”
Large emitters will need to purchase permits to sell polluting fuels, “The dirtier the fuel – the bigger the price tag,” she said.
She plans to accelerate the clean energy transition to include a universal Climate Action rebate that aims to allocate $1 billion in revenues to help cover utility bills, transportation costs, and de-carbonization efforts, promising that the scheme will impact big polluters the most while ensuring families, farms and small businesses aren’t “crushed by costs.”
To combat the cost-of-living crisis Hochul referred again to last year’s budget which earmarked $7 billion over four years for affordable childcare.
“I loved my job, but there were no affordable child care options available to me. So I had to put my career on hold to raise my children,” she said.
She said that less than 10 percent of families who are eligible for child care assistance are actually enrolled, saying that this performance is “the legacy of a system that is difficult to navigate – by design,” and that “that has to change.”
The state’s plan is to streamline and centralize the child care application process and expand access for the most vulnerable families while increasing income eligibility, lowering co-pays, and supporting child care providers.
Acknowledging that the average monthly cost of goods and energy for low-income households has surged by more than 13 percent over the past two years, Hochul proposed a plan to peg the minimum wage to inflation.
“If costs go up, so will wages. Like other states that have implemented this policy, we will put guardrails in place to make increases predictable for employers, and create flexibility in the event of a recession,” she said.
The plan will impact an estimated 900,000 minimum-wage workers in the state, primarily “women, many of whom are single moms, and they are more likely to be people of color.”
“My goals are straightforward and clear. We will make New York safer. We will make New York more affordable. We will create more jobs and opportunities for the New Yorkers of today and tomorrow,” she said.