RMAPI releases 2020 policy priorities

The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative on Thursday announced its policy priorities for 2020, with actions aimed specifically at the root causes of poverty.

“Implementing policies that address inequality and promote self-sufficiency is a key part of creating the systemic changes that will bring meaningful poverty reduction to our region,” said Jerome Underwood and Daan Braveman, RMAPI steering committee co-chairmen. “We plan to continue working with our partners in Rochester and harnessing the voice of community members, especially those affected by poverty, to put these priorities into action in the coming year.

RMAPI this year will prioritize:

  • Funding to improve child care access and quality;
  • Strengthen working family tax credits;
  • Support parole reform through the Less is More Act;
  • Increase funding for public transportation;
  • End driver’s license suspension for unpaid fees and fines; and
  • Improve housing access.

RMAPI plans to call on state officials to better support low-income families, children and young adults through expanded and strengthened refundable tax credits for working families. The proposed tax credits would remove the phase-in of the Empire State Child Credit in order to make it available to the state’s poorest kids and families.

It also will establish a $1,000 young child credit and expand the existing credit to $500 for children 4 and older. The tax credit would increase and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which encourages work and lessens the “benefits cliff” by increasing the state’s match to 45 percent and extends the credit to childless young workers.

RMAPI officials noted that nationwide, one-third of low-income families who pay for child care are pushed into poverty by those expenses. Fewer than 20 percent of low-income New York families eligible for child care subsidies are receiving them.

A lack of access to child care causes many parents, overwhelmingly women, to drop out of the workforce for long periods of time, pushing them into poverty, RMAPI officials said.

RMAPI supports efforts to reform the state’s parole structure and move away from “a system that reincarcerates people for technical violations like missing an appointment with a parole officer, being late for curfew or testing positive for alcohol.

The Less is More Act would:

  • Provide earned time credits. People under community supervision would be eligible to earn a 30-day “earned time credits” reduction in their community supervision period for every 30-day period in which they do not violate a condition of supervision.
  • Bolster due process by giving those under community supervision a hearing in a local criminal court before they are detained and provide for speedy hearings.
  • Restrict the use of incarceration for technical violations. Incarceration would be eliminated as a sanction for most technical violations. Certain technical violations could still result in jail time, but it would be capped at a maximum of 30 days.

RMAPI noted that statewide there are nearly 35,000 people under active parole supervision who could see their efforts to rejoin the workforce and reintegrate into their families and communities disrupted because of a “technical violation.”

RMAPI supports an increase in state funding for Regional Transit Service to implement its Reimagine RTS. The redesigned public transportation system will provide more choices and greater access to people across Monroe County, officials said.

A 10 percent increase in statewide mass transit operating assistance would better meet the growing needs of customers, RMAPI said. Officials noted that in Monroe County, the funding need for projects identified as a priority is $59.3 million and would be used to build a new paratransit facility and expand usage of electric buses.

RMAPI is calling on the state Legislature to sign the Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act.

Under the current law, thousands of New Yorkers have driver’s licenses suspended every year because they cannot afford to pay traffic fines and fees, officials said. Between January 2016 and April 2018, the state issued close to 1.7 million driver’s license suspensions for traffic debt. These license suspensions are nine times higher in the state’s 10 poorest communities compared to the 10 wealthiest, according to RMAPI.

The Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act would:

  • End driver’s license suspensions for nonpayment of traffic tickets and for not appearing at a traffic hearing;
  • Reinstate all driver’s licenses suspended for failure to pay or appear; and
  • Make affordable payment plans available for traffic debt.

RMAPI will support the work of local advocates to support efforts to increase access to housing. This will include enforcing a ban on source of income discrimination, building on RMAPI’s past efforts to end landlord discrimination against Section 8 housing vouchers.

RMAPI supports establishing a county-wide pilot project to provide legal information and assistance in housing matters, as well as preserving resources for those experiencing a housing crisis.

“I am proud to partner with RMAPI on their 2020 policy agenda to directly address many of the root causes of poverty,” said Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester, in a statement. “As someone who grew up in poverty, I watched my mother and father struggle to make ends meet for myself and my brothers and sisters. For families in poverty across Monroe County, they experience numerous barriers related to affordable and accessible childcare, public transit and housing.”

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