City Council Pushes Its Priorities at First Hearing on De Blasio's Executive Budget

By Samar Khurshid

The New York City Council and budget officials from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration engaged in a familiar push-and-pull on Monday, at the first hearing on the $92.5 billion executive budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year that begins July 1.

The Council, disappointed that many of its priorities were not included in the latest spending plan presented by the mayor, pushed for more funding and pointed to hundreds of millions in revenue available to the city, but officials from the Office of Management and Budget urged restraint as they emphasized the dangers of a slowing economy and insisted the Council’s revenue estimate was far rosier than their own.

De Blasio presented his executive budget last month with $300 million more in proposed spending than his preliminary plan released in February. The $92.5 billion proposal would mark yet another record high in city spending, up nearly $3.4 billion from the current fiscal year and about $20 billion from the budget that de Blasio inherited from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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Councilman Funds Security Cameras On Harlem Block After Shootings

By Brendan Krisel

Following a recent rash of shooting on a West Harlem block, the area's local city council representative is allocating funds for NYPD security cameras.

City Councilman Mark Levine is allocating $80,000 in capital funding to the NYPD's 30th Precinct to install security cameras on West 134th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway, the councilman announced this week. Three shootings occurred on the mainly-residential block in early March with two occurring within hours on the same day, police said.

"In response to the alarming crime statistics on West 134th Street, including multiple shootings this year already, I'm proud to be allocating this money to help the NYPD keep that street safe," Levine said in a statement.

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Interview: NYU Doctor Explains The Best Way To Consume CBD

By Ben Yakas

In February, the Department of Health announced that it had begun ordering all restaurants and bars in the city to stop selling CBD-infused products, citing an FDA ruling from December saying that it is "unlawful to add CBD to food or drink." The embargo was postponed until this summer, and City Council member (and Health Committee chair) Mark Levine tells Gothamist he is working on legislation to prevent the ban from going through. But it is unclear whether it will be ready by the June 30th deadline, and local businesse owners are still wondering whether their CBD products fall under the new rules, and how they can adapt to the changing CBD landscape.

It's not like things are much clearer for CBD users as well. CBD, a.k.a. cannabidiol, is one of more than 80 naturally occurring active compounds found in cannabis plants. But it lacks the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol, a.k.a. THC, the compound which gives weed its extra oomph. Since it doesn't get you high, the applications for CBD are seemingly limitless.

Two years ago you probably wouldn't have found many people who had even heard of CBD; now, it's an ubiquitous product available in corner bodegas. Even now, you'd still be hard-pressed to find anyone who could explain what CBD does exactly.

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Some local patients pay 10 times more than others for a common blood test

By Jonathan Lamantia

Patients in the metro area can pay as little as $20 for a comprehensive metabolic panel, one of the most common blood tests, at one facility and as much as $200 at another. That's the finding of an analysis of commercial health insurance data released Tuesday by the Health Care Cost Institute.

The choice of hospital where a woman gives birth could cause the price to almost double, according to data provided to Crain's by HCCI. In the New York–Newark–Jersey City region, a provider on the low end of the spectrum received $9,415, and a more expensive hospital got $18,595 in 2016. Those prices reflect costs at the 10th percentile and the 90th percentile, meaning the first is more expensive than 10% of all claims, and the higher number is more expensive than 90% of all claims. The median price was $13,830.

The same was true for a vaginal delivery, with prices ranging from $6,910 at the 10th percentile and $14,177 at the 90th percentile, with a $9,875 median price in 2016.

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And the Participatory Budgeting Winners Are…

Two local council members have announced the projects that won financing through participatory budgeting, a community-driven process to allocate $1 million in taxpayer money for each council district.

For Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who represents much of the Upper West Side south of 96th Street, the winning projects included school improvements, waste management and tree planting.

  • Technology Upgrade for 4 U.W.S. Schools (2,852 votes) Purchase of needed technology — computers, smart boards, and other equipment — for P.S. 199, P.S. 84, M.S. 245/The Computer School, and P.S. 87. Cost: $400,000 (each school will receive $100,000)
  • Bathroom Upgrades at 2 U.W.S. Elementary Schools (2,530 votes) Upgrades to four bathrooms in P.S. 452 and P.S. 199 that are in serious disrepair and no longer fully usable by students. Cost: $400,000
  • New Waste Management System for NYCHA Buildings (2,266 votes) Purchase of compactors and rat proof garbage bins for NYCHA buildings in the northern part of District 6. Cost: $150,000
  • Neighborhood Tree Planting and Tree Guards (2,072 votes) Planting of new trees and installation of tree guards in eligible areas throughout District 6. Cost: $110,000

Council Member Mark Levine, who represents parts of the UWS, Morningside Heights and Washington Heights, also listed the winners in his district.

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Panel examines healthcare affordability issues

By Greg McQueen

Healthcare premiums in New York are the third highest in the nation, with the average cost of a family plan placed at more than $21,000.

Industry leaders, immigrant advocates and city lawmakers called for enhanced city and state action to address the crisis of affordability of healthcare during a panel discussion on Mon., Apr. 30th.

Hosted by Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the discussion was inspired by a recent CSS survey that found that 59 percent of New York City residents had a financial burden related to health care within the past year.

The study also revealed that 54 percent of uninsured New Yorkers cited high costs as their reason for their uninsured status, and 46 percent of adults in the city struggled to pay medical bills.

“There are people with insurance who are forgoing care, because they can’t navigate it, or they’re hit with huge bills. People are declaring bankruptcy due to medical bills,” said City Councilmember Mark Levine, Chair of the Health Committee. “We have to solve this problem.”

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Yiddish could be taught in New York schools home page Yiddish could be taught in New York schools

By Jenni Frazer

A New York City Council member has proposed opening a dual-language Yiddish-English programme in a city public school.

Mark Levine, who represents parts of upper Manhattan and is the chair of the City Council’s Jewish Caucus, is working to open the programme in a kindergarten classroom in autumn 2020, according to the Forward.

The secular Yiddish-language programme would be the only one of its kind in the United States.

Levine told the Forward: “I’ve been inspired by young activists who are looking to keep this language alive, and keep its literature and theatre and culture alive by passing it on to the next generation”.

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DOT will implement Amsterdam Avenue safety improvements despite community objections

By Dave Colon and Amy Plitt

New York City’s Department of Transportation announced that it will implement much-needed safety improvements along Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem, following the March hit-and-run death of pedestrian Erica Imbasciani on West 141st Street.

The news comes after a trio of Manhattan elected officials asked the DOT to overrule the veto that Community Board 9 gave to a street safety redesign that’s been pitched for two years.

Council Member Mark Levine (who represents the street in question), Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and state Senator Robert Jackson all signed a letter obtained by Curbed that expressed the trio’s “unequivocal support of the Department of Transportation’s proposed street redesign on Amsterdam Avenue between 110th Street and 155th Street, and request that the Department immediately move forward with implementing this proposal.”

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Uptown Pols Want Amtrak Billboard Torn Down

By Brendan Krisel

A trio of Uptown Manhattan politicians are calling on Amtrak to tear down a recently-installed billboard that has "fundamentally altered the skyline" of the Washington Heights neighborhood.

City Councilman Mark Levine, Congressman Adriano Espaillat and Borough President Gale Brewer sent aletter to Amtrak President and CEO Richard H. Anderson demanding that the transit agency demolish a billboard over the tracks at West 155th Street between Riverside Drive and the West Side Highway.

Politicians and residents have criticized Amtrak since the first signs of the billboard appeared in February, saying that the transit agency performed zero outreach in the community before going forward with construction. Levine, Espaillat and Brewer want an immediate teardown of the structure, according to the letter sent to Anderson.

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Lawmakers unveil bill to strengthen Right to Counsel

By Greg McQueen

Now they’re playing hardball too.

Yarisme Guilamo, a tenant leader with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC), and her neighbors have been busy.

In 2017, the city passed its landmark Right to Counsel law, which helps low-income residents thwart eviction by guaranteeing them an attorney in housing court.

Guilamo said the legislation has certainly created a change.

“We went from a building full of people who feared losing their home and living in unhealthy living conditions, to a tenant association filled with motivated leaders ready for battle to demand the conditions we deserve,” remarked Guilamo, who said she and her neighbors began an organized rent strike despite ongoing threats of retaliation from their landlord.

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