2015-04-29 / Political Page

Crowley Unveils Plan To Help Americans Save

In a major policy speech last week, Congressman Joseph Crowley unveiled his plan to tackle the savings and retirement security crisis in America by giving American families the ability “to better save for the future and retire with dignity.”

Addressing the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Crowley pointed out, “With nearly half of US households having insufficient savings for an emergency, and one-third of workers saying they are not saving for retirement at all, the savings and retirement security crisis in the US threatens the financial well-being of the middle class and those working to join the middle class.”

Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx) said his Building Better Savings, Building Brighter Futures plan will make Americans more financially secure throughout their lifetimes by creating new financial options that encourage personal saving, expanding employer-provided retirement plans, and strengthening Social Security. Crowley also released a detailed blueprint for the plan.

Crowley, the Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House, stated, “We know that savings are the path for middle-class families to achieve the American Dream, yet that dream is increasingly being put at risk. Too many Americans say that they want to save for the future, and they know they should be saving for the future – but it’s easier said than actually done.” Crowley, the Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House, stated, “We know that savings are the path for middle-class families to achieve the American Dream, yet that dream is increasingly being put at risk. Too many Americans say that they want to save for the future, and they know they should be saving for the future – but it’s easier said than actually done.” Crowley, the Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House, stated, “We know that savings are the path for middle-class families to achieve the American Dream, yet that dream is increasingly being put at risk. Too many Americans say that they want to save for the future, and they know they should be saving for the future – but it’s easier said than actually done.”

But, he says, his plan “makes saving not just a priority, but a possibility for every American. The time to act is now.”

Crowley said his plan will establish USAccounts, a long-term savings account to help every American child start their financial future on the right foot. Upon the birth of a child, a USAccount will be established in the child’s name, and the federal government will contribute $500. in seed money the first year. As families contribute to the child’s account, the government will match a portion of future yearly contributions, based on family income.

The proposal also authorizes, Crowley said, a corresponding increase to the successful Child Tax Credit for those who save through their child’s account, giving low-income families the opportunity to contribute to the savings account. Crowley said the plan also promotes financial know-how and a greater understanding of saving options, and calls for an established partnership between all stakeholders to improve financial understanding among all Americans.

Crowley says the next step of the plan is making President Obama’s myRA program a permanent part of the plan, giving American workers a safe, stable, and portable saving option that relieves some of the common barriers workers face to saving in the first place, such as high minimum contributions and early withdrawal penalties.

Next in the plan, says Crowley, is establishing universal pension accounts, called “Secure, Accessible, Valuable, Efficient, Universal, Pensions, (SAVE UP), so every American worker has this vital asset after a lifetime of hard work. “SAVE UP accounts will be funded through shared efforts between employers and employees, Crowley said.

For the following step, Crowley calls for ensuring Social Security, “the program that has served as a lifeline to millions of Americans for close to a century, remains strong in the 21st century by strengthening funding, standing firm against changes to the Cost of Living Allowance (“Chained CPI”), and fighting efforts to slash Social Security Disability payments to 11 million Americans.

“For the past century,” Crowley states, “Democrats have been at the forefront of putting forward big, bold ideas to bring security and peace of mind to working families. And so it will be the Democratic Party that again leads the charge to address the looming savings and retirement crisis.”

Crowley’s plan incorporates key ideas that have been praised by The Aspen Institute, Asset Building Program, New America; Center for American Progress; Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED); National Institute on Retirement Security; and Third Way.

MALONEY URGES ‘FAIR TAXES FOR SMALL BUSINESS’: Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, the Ranking Democrat on the Joint Economic Committee, called upon the panel to shape tax policy that is favorable to small business and that encourages growth.

Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) noted that small businesses “are the backbone” of the United States economy and have led the economic recovery through the creation of 6 million jobs over 17 straight quarters.

“Today,” she declared, “Small businesses have added more than 6 million jobs over 17 straight quarters of small business job growth, and the share of small businesses planning to add jobs is back near its pre-recession average.”

The lawmaker added, “While this reflects major progress, there is more that should be done to support small business growth. As President Obama has proposed, Congress should simplify and cut taxes for America’s small businesses to increase investments and reduce costs.”

Maloney said she supports additional tax relief for small business, as long as it benefits legitimate small businesses, and she endorsed the Obama administration’s tax reform plan, which would simplify and cut taxes for small businesses, including by expanding expensing provisions and allowing more small businesses to take advantage of simpler cash accounting rules.

“We must make sure that any tax reform benefits the small firms,” Maloney said. “For reform to work, it must be comprehensive and it must be bipartisan. There is no other path forward.”

VALLONE TO STATE: ‘EXPAND PROPERTY TAX CAP TO ALL CO-OPS, CONDOS’: Councilman Paul Vallone introduced a resolution at last week’s City Council meeting calling upon the State Legislature to pass legislation which would expand an existing property tax cap to all cooperatives and condominiums.

Vallone (D–Bayside) stated in a news release to this newspaper that: “Currently, there are four different property tax classes in the city and co-ops and condos fall into Class 2. However, property taxes are assessed differently for co-ops and condos with 10 or fewer units and those with 11 units or more, despite them all falling under Class 2.

“For those with 10 or fewer units, their assessed value cannot increase more than eight percent in one year or 30 percent in any five years. Those with 11 or more units are not provided with this cap, resulting in an annual onslaught of runaway assessments for many co-op and condo owners.”

Vallone pointed out, “Should the legislation be passed in the state, it would ensure that all co-ops and condos are treated equally for property tax purposes by making property tax Class 2 consist of only co-ops and condos and extending the assessment caps of eight percent in one year or 30 percent in any five years to all Class 2 properties, including co-ops and condos with 11 or more units.

Vallone added: “This tax cap will finally bring relief to a large part of the over half-million families residing in Class 2 properties, many of whom are in my district. Those hit hardest by the uncapped property tax raises are our middle class and seniors who have no other affordable housing options.”

The lawmaker urged the State and Governor Cuomo “to act on this legislation so that all co-ops and condos stop seeing dramatic increases in their property taxes from year to year.”

“The cooperative and condominium community has fought for equal tax equity such as that afforded to private homeowners,” said Warren Schreiber, Co-President of the President’s Co-op and Condo Council. “Thanks to the efforts of Councilmember Vallone and his resolution, we are one step closer to that goal.”

KATZ ISSUES IMMIGRANT SERVICES DIRECTORY: In honor of New York City Immigrant Heritage Week, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz released the Queens Immigration Task Force Directory of Services, which was prepared by the Task Force in conjunction with her Office of Immigrant and Intercultural Affairs.

Katz stated, “The character of the great Borough of Queens has always been shaped by the tremendous economic, social, cultural and civic contributions from immigrants hailing from all over the world.

“The members of my Immigration Task Force advocate on behalf of tens of thousands of immigrants each year. I am grateful for their tireless work and for their efforts in creating the Directory. Queens is committed to enhancing access to services that are available to all New Yorkers and their families, and I encourage everyone to utilize these resources.”

Katz said the Directory contains listings for 65 non-profit organizations and agencies that provide assistance to immigrants living in Queens. It features listings for organizations represented on Borough President Katz’ Immigration Task Force, a network of reputable social service providers and government agencies committed to promoting immigrant integration in Queens and New York City. It also includes listings for all the elected officials representing Queens.

Each immigrant services organization entry in the Directory provides contact information for the organization, along with types of programs and services offered by the organization, and a list of the languages spoken by its staff.

Organizations in the Directory can be searched by languages spoken in the Directory’s index and by organization name in the table of contents.

The organizations and agencies listed in the Directory offer a wide variety of programs and services, including ESL and civics classes, citizenship assistance and legal advice, public benefits and health insurance access, employment training and job placement, youth activities and senior centers, and immigrant rights and civic engagement projects.

The Borough President’s Directory of Immigration Services is available online at www.queensbp.org/policy/immigrant-affairs-intercultural-relations. Printed copies may be obtained by calling Borough President Melinda Katz’ office at 718-286-2741 or by writing the office at 120-55 Queens Boulevard, Kew Gardens, NY 11424.

GIANARIS: MTA NOTES RAPID RIDERSHIP GROWTH IN LIC: State Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Western Queens) responding to news reports that the MTA acknowledged rapid ridership growth in Long Island City, stated:

“It’s nice the MTA is finally acknowledging skyrocketing train ridership in Long Island City, but the idea that this growth is due to more reliable 7 train service is laughable,” said Senator Gianaris. “The 7 line is plagued by legendary service disruptions and weekend closures, and in recent months overall service has been the bane of Western Queens’ existence. The MTA’s inadequate solutions when it comes to improving mass transit in Western Queens are why I will always continue fighting for better service in our communities.”

MENG MOVE TO INCREASE DOCTORS IN USA: Legislation that would direct the State Department to speed up the visa approval process for international physicians who are slated to work at US hospitals was introduced last week by Congresswoman Grace Meng.

The Flushing lawmaker was joined by Congressman Tom Emmer, a Minnesota Republican, to make their effort bipartisan. Both are members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who said that the “current approval process [of visas] by the State Department are mired in delays.” The resulting holdups are “negatively impacting foreign doctors and American hospitals at which they are set to work.”

Meng (D–Flushing) declared: Currently, foreign physicians scheduled to serve their residencies at American hospitals are encountering extremely long delays in obtaining J-1 visas from US Embassies in their countries, said Meng. The J-1 is a temporary, non-immigrant visa that international physicians use to work in US medical residency programs.

Continuing, Meng said, The holdups have resulted in major dilemmas for those doctors and the US hospitals – many in rural and underserved communities – at which the physicians are set to work. In many instances, the delays have forced hospitals to withdraw offers [to] foreign physicians who had already accepted.”

The lawmaker explained, “This ineffective approval process must be improved so that these doctors can enter the US as planned, and provide the critical medical care needed in many communities throughout the country. Not resolving this dilemma would be extremely unfair to all and a disservice to the millions of Americans who seek treatment from these hospitals, especially in areas where there is a shortage of doctors. Our bill would finally fix this problem and that’s why Congress needs to pass it.”

Emmer stated: “As American hospitals face doctor shortages, this important legislation will increase healthcare access across the country by eliminating the persistent backlog of J-1 Visas. “He said he was proud to have introduced the GRAD (Grant Residency For Additional Doctors) Act with Meng because it will benefit the patients of underserved hospitals by giving them access to medical care when they need it most.”

CROWLEY BILL EXTENDS ACCESS TO STEM: Noting that “STEM skills are critical for our country to compete in a global economy,” Congressman Joseph Crowley and two associates have introduced legislation that requires the National Science Foundation to establish a grant program to support undergraduate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI).

In 2007, Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx) inserted language in the America COMPETES Act to allow the National Science Foundation to establish a program focused on Hispanic Serving Institutions. But despite having this authority, the NSF has yet to establish such a program, until now, and so Crowley and Congressmembers Jose Serrano (D–Bronx) and Ben Ray Lujan (D–NM) joined forces to introduce the Hispanic Opportunity Program in Education and Science (HOPES Act).

Crowley explained, “The HOPES Act will require the agency [National Science Foundation] to establish a dedicated stream of funding for students attending HSIs [Hispanic Serving Institutions].

Crowley stated, “Our HOPES Act builds upon efforts I have made over the past eight years to urge the NSF to establish a separate STEM education grant for Hispanic Serving Institutions of higher education. By creating a dedicated grants program, we can help Hispanic students reach their rightful place in the STEM fields.”

Serrano declared, “STEM education is crucial for the United States in order to maintain the lead in cutting-edge technology and competitiveness, to create well-paid jobs, and to provide opportunities for all. Unfortunately, we are not doing enough to attract Americans from all walks of life to these important and vital fields of study. The HOPES Act will increase the number of Hispanic students pursuing STEM degrees by creating dedicated funding to help students attending HSIs succeed in these fields of study. This bill will help expand opportunities for all students, and will help ensure that our workforce in the STEM fields is as diverse as our nation as a whole.”

Lujan said, “The STEM fields offer a world of opportunities in growing sectors that create good jobs, and it is important that we engage students from every community. Young people need access to quality STEM education that will prepare them with the skills and knowledge they need to get ahead.”

MALONEY HAILS LYNCH’S CONFIRMATION AS AG: Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) released the following statement last Thursday following the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as Attorney General:

“Loretta Lynch has been one of America’s most accomplished and respected US Attorneys, and she will now make history by becoming the first African American woman ever to serve as Attorney General. After an inexcusably long wait, Loretta Lynch will take over for Attorney General Eric Holder as our nation’s highest ranking law enforcement official. I am confident that she will build on her exemplary record, enforce the laws of our country and pursue justice for every American.

“Ms. Lynch’s record is exemplary. She has been highly effective in her role as a US Attorney, prosecuting political corruption, terrorism, narcotics, gang and Mafia cases, and sex trafficking. In her highest-profile case, she won a 30-year conviction of a police officer who had sodomized plaintiff Abner Louima with a broomstick at a police station, causing injuries that defense attorneys falsely attributed to homosexual sex. She won the case in part by breaking through the Blue Wall of Silence and persuading two officers to testify against the defendant.

“I also thank Attorney General Holder for his many years of leading the Justice Department. He has had a remarkable run and our country has benefited from his leadership.”

MALONEY’S STATEMENT ON YOM HA’ATZMAUT: Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) released the following statement last week to mark the 67th anniversary of Israel’s Independence Day:

“Together we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, and recognize the important bond our two nations share. Our commitment to maintaining our friendship and protecting Israel’s security cannot be questioned.

“Israel’s creation is a fulfillment of the right of self-determination of the Jewish people in the historic land of their ancestors. Although Israel has never known a day of peace, it has managed to build one of the strongest economies in the world. It is the only stable democracy in the Middle East and America’s strongest ally in the region.

“It is a great honor to stand firm for Israel in the United States Congress, and to share in the joy all Israelis feel on this important national day of celebration.”

ELECTED OFFICIALS URGE FCC, VERIZON; ‘CLEAN UP THIS MESS’: Recently, hundreds of seniors from throughout New York City complained to their local lawmakers that their benefits under the Verizon Lifeline program of reduced telephone discounts had been stopped without notice. And many other, non- English-speaking members, couldn’t reapply to get back in due to the language barrier.

Thankfully, their complaints to local elected officials did not go unheard, and in short order, letters were on their way to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Verizon Lifeline and a second company, Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), with demands that the whole mess be cleaned up.

Leading the rescue mission were Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D–Fresh Meadows), state Senator Daniel Squadron and Councilwoman Margaret Chin, both Manhattan Democrats. Adding their weight was a contingent from Queens including state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Assemblyman Ed Braunstein, and Councilmembers Paul Vallone, Jimmy Van Bramer, Daniel Dromm, Peter Koo, Mark Weprin, and Rory Lancman. Also on the list is former Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Overseen by the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, the federal agency was asked to revise Verizon’s Lifeline program to include multi-lingual notices to inform subscribers of recertification and service changes. The program provides seniors – many of whom struggle financially due to fixed incomes – with vital discounts to their landline phone service.

The program was working smoothly, the lawmakers said, until 2014, when Verizon opted to work with USAC on the recertification process, in which forms are only offered in English. When asked about the possibility of providing multi-lingual service for recertification, representatives from USAC indicated that a directive must come from the FCC and its Wireline Competition Bureau. So, the lawmakers included such a request in their communication to the FCC.

The electeds noted: “Thirty-seven percent of New York City’s population is foreign-born and over 48 percent of the population speaks a language other than English at home. Yet the recertification form is only available in English… This is why we request that the FCC and the Bureau work with USAC to revise the recertification process,” the lawmakers said.

CONGRESSMEMBER MALONEY’S STATEMENT ON 45TH ANNIVERSARY OF EARTH DAY: Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) released the following statement commemorating the 45th Anniversary of Earth Day:

“We all share a responsibility to protect our planet from environmental devastation that can limit the hopes and dreams of future generations. From the Clean Air Act to the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, we’ve made great strides in the past 45 years, but so much more must be done. I am proud that the Obama administration has worked to limit carbon emissions that harm our environment. But Congress must also take action and pass a comprehensive bill that gives us a fighting chance against climate change.

“This year’s Earth Day theme is ‘It’s Our Turn to Lead’. That slogan rings true for the United States Congress, which has failed so far in this regard. I hope that Americans will continue working to ensure their representatives in Washington get the message.”

STATEMENT FROM NYC LIBRARIES ON ONE NYC: “Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library and Queens Library applaud Mayor de Blasio’s OneNYC for acknowledging the ever increasing role our libraries play in building a strong, sustainable, resilient, and equitable city. That’s why it’s all the more important to invest in our libraries.

After years of cuts that have slashed hours, reduced staff, and allowed branches to sink into disrepair, the library system needs its operational budgets restored by $65 million, and a 10-year capital plan to address over $1 billion of unaddressed infrastructure needs. We look forward to working with the City Council and the Mayor to protect these vital services for New Yorkers.”

Background: OneNYC on Importance of NYC Libraries

OneNYC highlights the essential role libraries play in the lives of everyday New Yorkers and how libraries work in increasingly close partnership with the City to support the changing needs of our neighborhoods and residents, including:

 Offering free quality services to students, families, job-seekers, seniors, and anyone in need of information or assistance, as centers of learning and civic engagement.

Assisting new immigrants by providing English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, citizenship education, and support for immigrant small business owners and entrepreneurs in coordination with the Department of Small Business Services.

Serving as critical partners for the Department of Education in supporting students and families through early education services, after school programming, and homework support.

 Closing the digital divide by offering internet access and training in their libraries and lending Wi-Fi hotspots and other mobile devices for families to use at home.

 Strengthening our communities by offering cultural and recreational programming for neighborhoods, and serving as resident service centers in times of emergency.

 Partnering in major citywide initiatives including IDNYC, Pre-K for All, and OneNYC. “Together, we are ensuring that all people have access to the many resources and opportunities our city has to offer.

ADDABBO, SENATE COLLEAGUES CELEBRATE EARTH DAY: On the 45th Anniversary of Earth Day, state Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr. joined with his Senate colleagues in approving several pieces of legislation aimed at protecting the environment, encouraging energy conservation and providing disabled veterans with expanded opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.

Addabbo (D–Howard Beach), who co-sponsored a number of these bills, was appointed this year to serve as a member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. During the Senate’s Earth Day session, Addabbo voted to approve the following pieces of legislation, which he co-sponsors:

S.1804, which would exempt the purchase of Energy Star appliances from state sales tax and compensating use taxes, while providing municipalities with the option of exempting these energyefficient items from local sales and other taxes. These appliances, including washers, dishwashers, refrigerators, fans and freezers, are manufactured to meet strict energy efficiency standards under a joint program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

S.2543, which would continue a moratorium, first enacted in 1978, on the issuance of environmental safety certificates for liquefied natural or petroleum gas facilities and transportation routes in New York City. The moratorium was first adopted in response to a 1973 explosion and subsequent roof collapse at a liquefied natural gas facility on Staten Island that ultimately cost 40 people their lives.

S.3025, which would provide $20 lifetime sporting licenses for honorably discharged veterans who are certified with service-connected disabilities of 40 percent or more. These licenses, which provide lifetime hunting and fishing privileges, now cost $765 for New Yorkers aged 12 through 69. Renewable sportsman licenses are already available to disabled veterans for a reduced annual fee of $5.

In addition, Addabbo gave his support to legislation (S.2905) that would provide a tax credit to people who purchase and install geothermal energy systems in their homes.

These systems use solar thermal energy stored in the earth or in bodies of water to produce energy. Another bill, (S.3060), approved by Addabbo, would require the State Department of Environmental Conservation to develop regulations to screen hydrofracking waste at conventional landfills for radioactivity, dispose of it safely and ensure potentially radioactive landfill leachate is not able to travel and contaminate land and water sources.

In a related effort to celebrate the Earth, Addabbo noted he, together with Assemblyman Mike Miller (D–Woodhaven) and community sponsor TD Bank, held yet another free community recycling event in his Senate district on Sunday, April 26 in the bandshell of Forest Park in Woodhaven.

Addabbo noted the event enabled people who have trouble traveling to far-flung e-waste disposal sites to drop off their old and unwanted electronics in a convenient and accessible location. Constituents who want to learn more about the recycling day event are invited to call his office at 718-738-1111 for information.

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