The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the failures of our capitalist economy and political structures. In the last decade, hospital after hospital in New York State has closed and been converted to luxury housing. Today, in the midst of COVID-19 — that housing sits vacant while 92,000 people are homeless and we sorely lack hospital beds.
These circumstances did not happen by accident. Over and over, our political leaders chose to put political gain over community and to allow corporations to put profit over people. Their choices led us to this dire situation. When we look back on this moment, we will see that thousands of deaths could have been prevented had we not seen decades of cuts to spending on vital services. Coronovirus has shown just how long there’s been a crisis for working class New Yorkers.
We need to make fundamental changes now if we are to protect working class, poor, and oppressed people across our state. Workers in essential industries will be expected to continue to work — and travel on public transportation to work — throughout the crisis, exposing themselves and others to infection. Service industry workers will be laid off and lose their income, while still being expected to meet debt repayments, rent, and the daily cost of living.
Even as existing networks of employment, housing, and critical production are being disrupted, the need for food, shelter, transportation, and infrastructure will remain. New York State and City governments must take drastic action to address this crisis and make sure that working people are protected, in both the short and long term. I stand with the New York City Democratic Socialists of America and my fellow slate members to demand that our government work for us, the working class.
Our state and local government must:
- Make COVID-19 testing and treatment free. New York State must guarantee access to COVID-19 testing and treatment, free at the point of service to all New Yorkers, including the uninsured and the undocumented.
- Protect Medicaid: New York State legislators must resist Governor Cuomo’s attempts to cut Medicaid and accept increased federal funding for the Medicaid program. Cuomo opposes this funding on the grounds that it will make it too difficult to balance the state budget. Balancing the state budget should be achieved through other means, such as wealth taxes, not cuts to essential services like Medicaid.
- Bring private hospitals in New York State into public ownership. To meet the extraordinary demands placed upon the healthcare system at this moment, including the need for a dramatic increase in hospital beds and intensive care unit (ICU) capacity, we need public control over our healthcare system. We should bring private hospitals under public control as a first step to bringing healthcare into the public domain and stemming the trend of divesting from our public hospitals.
- Immediately pass the New York Health Act. The crisis has emphasized that our current private health system is utterly unequipped to provide for an actually healthy society. Our healthcare professionals should be able to focus on providing care, not fighting corporate insurer greed. A universal, guaranteed, public health insurance system, combined with public hospitals, will save money and save lives.
- Pass universal unemployment insurance. All workers in New York need support regardless of employer size, employment type, or immigration status. As millions of people are losing jobs and/or income, New Yorkers deserve to be able to meet their basic needs.
- Protect workers. New York must provide personal protective equipment, emergency response training, breaks, and premium pay for hazard work for all workers in essential industries. Work should be reduced to truly essential tasks, allowing workers to work in smaller shifts isolated from one another to prevent unnecessary infection.
- Cancel rent and protect tenants’ homes. Millions of New Yorkers have lost their sources of income and are unable to pay housing costs — meaning that we are on track for mass evictions and foreclosures as soon as the courts reopen. Rent and mortgage payments, including commercial rents, during the COVID-19 State of Emergency should be canceled, and all rent debts accumulated during this time must be automatically forgiven. In addition, the State should immediately pass Senator Salazar’s Good Cause Eviction bill, to ensure renters whose lease expires during this time do not face displacement or price gouging, and to give tenants’ the right to organize in their homes.
- Cancel debt payments. As unemployment skyrockets, those with medical, student, and other debts will become increasingly burdened and face an increased risk of extortive collections actions. All individuals’ debt payments due during the crisis must be waived, accompanied by an end to all debt collection enforcement mechanisms such as wage garnishments, repossessions, and bank account freezes.
- House the homeless. More than 92,000 people are homeless in this crisis, living in crowded shelters where COVID-19 spreads rapidly. The State must take all steps necessary to quickly and permanently house all homeless New Yorkers during this time, by any means necessary, including using emergency rent assistance and city owned or subsidized vacant homes.
- Decarcerate for public health. Governor Cuomo must grant clemency to at-risk people in New York prisons and jails, prioritizing populations such as all people over 50, pregnant people, and others with compromised immune systems. All those currently incarcerated or detained must also be tested for COVID-19 and receive medical care. The State Legislature and the Governor must also vigorously oppose any attempt to roll back bail reform, which would increase jail populations and worsen the spread of this virus.
- Reduce policing to improve public health. To reduce the spread of disease in and out of prisons, New York should place an immediate moratorium on all low-level and non-violent arrests until after the crisis subsides. We also call for zero carceral enforcement of “New York State on PAUSE” since we know from failed policies like Stop-and-Frisk that communities of color and low income people will likely be unfairly targeted and harassed by police attempting to enforce such orders, contributing to needless incarceration.
- Ensure immigrant communities’ safety and health. To safeguard the health of our community, New York must have a system that provides for everyone in our community, regardless of citizenship status. To ensure that all New Yorkers can seek treatment and justice without fear of arrest or harassment, we must block ICE from hospitals and courthouses and ensure that state & local agencies will not share people’s immigration status with federal immigration enforcement. As COVID-19 spreads through detention centers, we also call for the release of all immigrants in detention and a moratorium on ICE detentions & deportation.
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