Expanding Health Insurance Enrollment Will Help Heal New Yorkers and Our Public Hospitals

Copy_of_Gotham_Gazette.pngBy Council Members Mark Levine and Carlina Rivera

Even in an era of relentless attack on health care by the Trump administration and its allies in Congress, New York City is continuing to reap enormous benefits from the Affordable Care Act. This year alone another 80,000 city residents enrolled in health coverage through our state’s Obamacare exchange.

But a huge number are still being left behind: an estimated 962,000 adults in the five boroughs remain uninsured. These New Yorkers -- many of whom are living in poverty -- often receive no health care until their conditions are severe enough to land them in the emergency room.

The trend is not good for those New Yorkers’ health, as they should have access to preventive care, regular check-ups, and other aspects of quality health care. What’s more, the current situation is also dealing a serious financial blow to our struggling public hospital system (known as Health + Hospitals), whose vital mission it is to serve those in need, including the uninsured. For H+H to avoid financial disaster we need to close the health insurance gap in New York City.

H+H serves over a million patients per year in a network of 11 acute care hospitals and dozens of other facilities throughout the five boroughs. These institutions are by far our city’s largest provider of care to Medicaid recipients, mental health patients, and -- critically -- those who are uninsured.

For decades our public hospitals -- Bellevue, Kings County, Harlem, Elmhurst and others -- have been the ultimate safety net for New Yorkers with nowhere else to turn. H+H’s diverse and committed staff, its proximity to low-income communities, and its sliding-scale fees have helped establish it as second-to-none in serving the neediest New Yorkers.

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A constitutional convention would be a grave risk for progressives

CityandState.pngBy Council Member Mark Levine

The most consequential vote New Yorkers have on Nov. 7 might not be for a political candidate, but rather a “yes” or “no” answer to a 13-word question:

“Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?”

It’s a question required by the state constitution to appear before voters every 20 years. Should a majority choose “yes,” it will kick off a multiyear process, starting with election of delegates in 2018, followed by a convention in which changes to our state’s foundational document would be drafted.

There is no doubt that our constitution is in need of some improvements. Enshrining a woman’s right to choose, enacting true campaign finance reform and making voting more accessible are just some of the badly needed changes to our state government.

But the arcane rules that would govern the selection of delegates for a convention pose a grave risk for progressives. The vast majority of delegates would be selected along the lines of existing state Senate districts – a hypergerrymandered map drawn to the advantage of conservative candidates. And the election process would be highly vulnerable to a flood of outside funding from big money interests around the nation – groups likely to have a far right-wing agenda.

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Buses can ease New York City's transit crisis. Yes, buses

Crains.pngBy Council Member Mark Levine

New York City's "summer of hell" will be remembered for the subway system's delays, overcrowding and derailments. But there's another transit crisis that has been playing out in slow motion (literally), and it involves the buses.

As beleaguered straphangers look for alternatives, the 2.5 million New Yorkers who already rely on buses are suffering slower speeds and longer travel times. On dozens of routes, buses now move at less than the pace of walking. Reliability is a growing problem as well, as anyone who has waited interminably—only to have three buses finally show up at once—knows. Not surprisingly, bus ridership is down 16% since 2002, even as the city's population has grown to record levels.

Many who no longer take buses are instead using private cars or taxis. This only adds to congestion, making buses even slower, in turn pushing more people into cars. It's a downward spiral.

We urgently need to address this crisis. The good news is that fixes for our bus system are faster, easier and cheaper than the solutions being weighed for the subway. Significant improvements to bus speed and reliability can be achieved at costs in the millions of dollars, not billions.

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An island of graves, yearning to be free: Let the public visit Hart Island

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By NYC Council Members Mark Levine & Elizabeth Crowley

Thanks to a recent agreement between the City Council and Mayor de Blasio, New York City is on a path to make history with the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. This momentous step would end the Department of Corrections’ nearly century-long hold on the Island, freeing it up for a variety of imaginative uses once more modern and humane jails are built elsewhere.

But, likely unbeknownst to many New Yorkers, Rikers is not the only island controlled by the Department of Correction. In the Long Island Sound off the coast of the Bronx lies Hart Island, a mile-long strip of land which is also under the department’s auspices.

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Investing in the Parks System New York City Deserves

Copy_of_Gotham_Gazette.pngBy Council Member Mark Levine

The numbers are startling: 42 million visitors per year in Central Park -- double the number of visitors to Disney World. Over 7 million people visit the High Line annually and 5 million visit Bryant Park. On a peak summer weekend 127,000 visit Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Park use in New York City is surging. And with the population in the five boroughs continuing to grow and tourism booming, this trend will surely continue.

But the story is not the same everywhere in our city. The marquee parks that are increasingly overwhelmed with visitors fortunately have the benefit of millions of dollars in private contributions to help them manage the onslaught. These funds enable them to provide the extra staffing needed to keep their parks looking beautiful despite the record levels of trampling.

Read the full piece here.

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A City Hungry for More Opportunity: Food Vending Licenses Are Too Hard to Get

New_York_Daily_News_logo.pngBy Council Member Mark Levine

It seems every day in New York City brings fresh news of a beloved neighborhood business shutting its doors — too often replaced by a generic chain.

Happily, the ultimate mom-and-pop businesses, street vendors, are still adding life and character to neighborhoods across the city. But the system for regulating this vital sector is decades out of date, and vendors and communities alike are paying the price.

It’s time to bring street vending into the 21st century.

Read the full piece here.

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15-year stump backlog, and other tree problems, need fixing

Published in the Staten Island Advance

by Steven Matteo, New York City Council Minority Leader, and Mark Levine, Chair of the City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation

Are you trying to find out when the dead tree branch dangerously dangling over your roof will be removed, or whether the cratered sidewalk in front of your home is ever going to be fixed? 

Sorry, you're out of luck. The City doesn't share that information with the public. In some cases, it doesn't even know itself.

New York City's 650,000-plus street trees need to be pruned to thrive, and to ensure that precariously hanging branches do not injure people or damage property. The Parks Department Forestry Service sets a goal of pruning every street tree once every seven years, with urgent pruning completed immediately. But Parks doesn't always have the resources to meet this goal.

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How to Fight Homelessness

NYTimes.pngBy Council Member Mark Levine and Mary Brosnahan

WITH over 58,000 people in our shelter system every night, and thousands more sleeping on the streets, concern about homelessness in New York City has reached a fever pitch. We must attack this challenge on every front: through construction of more housing with on-site services, expanded federal support for homeless families and improvements in city-run shelters.

But the best solution to homelessness is preventing it before it even occurs.

More than two-thirds of the people in our shelters are families with vulnerable children, and the most common cause of their homelessness isn’t drug dependency or mental illness. It’s eviction. If we can slow the pace of evictions, we will make a major dent in the homelessness crisis.

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Help city kids speak Mandarin, Arabic and more: Foreign language education is shamefully bad in this global city

New_York_Daily_News_logo.pngBy Council Members Mark Levine and Daniel Dromm 

Mayor de Blasio’s announcement that within 10 years all New York City public school students will take computer science classes is welcome news. But Java, Python and C++ are not the only languages critical for 21st century success. Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic and French are vital, too.

STEM TRAINING GETS $6M BOOST AS SUPPORTERS FUND FUTURE

Learning human languages other than English is not only a major career asset, it opens the door to cross-cultural understanding, boosts self-esteem and expands horizons in so many ways.

Sadly, in the nation’s most diverse and global city, home to the United Nations, the benefits that come with learning a foreign language are being acquired by far too few public school students.

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Compassionate Treatment for All / Tratamiento Compasivo Para Todos

By Council Member Mark Levine, published in the Manhattan Times

Medical marijuana will finally be available in New York. But where will it accessible?

It is welcome news that five licenses were awarded to organizations that will be able to manufacture and distribute this treatment throughout New York State. It’s also encouraging that two of the dispensaries will be placed right here in Manhattan.

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