Minutes from the Westchester Economic Security Coalition Meeting 5/5

May 7, 2009

Westchester Economic Security Coalition Meeting Minutes

5/5/2009

Update on Westchester Projects:

Dennis Hanratty updated on the DSS in Mt. Vernon and the meeting they had on the administration of the Welfare grant. There were about 10-15 people at the meeting and discussed the concerns about the operation. There wasn’t as much outreach for this meeting but are looking towards having a follow up meeting- perhaps at a larger/more populated venue – Church?

Nick Mottern had a few questions on outreach and Food Stamp Issues.

The issues discussed at the Mt. Vernon DSS meeting were the chain of command – line workers tend not to keep with the policy maker decisions. They do not give out receipts although they keep the originals. The are meeting with the Dir of DSS about certain issues.

Food Stamps – used to be the majority of complaints in Mt. Vernon which is what led to the support of an inquiry about the issues with DSS. Applications were not/are not accepted after 9 am although they are supposed to accept apps all day.

Follow up meeting will take place in June.

Budget Forum: successful. Approx. 50 people in attendance most were low-income people from WestHelp residence in Greenburgh on the WCC campus. Before the event, there were educational events to help the residence members learn how to speak to their legislators and what the issues were. Low Legislator attendance but Suzi Oppenheimer and George Latimer were in attendance and spoke to the crowd. This event mobilized some to attend the Lobby Day on March 17th.  A bus of about 30 people came from Westchester.

Follow up to this event could include – why didn’t the legislators come? (perhaps because it was flurrying that evening). The issues discussed were housing, jobs, childcare, welfare grant, taxing the wealthy, lack of involvement due to financial constraints/transportation. Follow up event could include a letter writing/activist skills training or forum. (led to a larger discussion about job creation event).

Statewide Lobby Day: Veda handed out an article (the tan sheet) on the success of Lobby Day including an interview of one of the WestHelp attendees.

Update on the budget: We went over the major bullet points of the Budget overview on the back of the Agenda including the Fair Share Tax Reform, Better Bottle Bill and the issue of SSI – cuts were eliminated and the State’s portion of the Supplemental Social Security Income checks were restored. That was determined a huge plus since we thought we would lose the money as it transferred over to the Welfare Grant. The Welfare Grant will see an increase after 18 years without an increase. The increase will be 10% each year for the next 3 years resulting in a small but definite increase for the Welfare Grant.

One of the major issues regarding the statewide budget is the Federal Stimulus money and how that will be distributed among the counties in the state. Veda suggested that we lobby our county legislators or DSS (and whoever else from the county who might be able to apply) for the 15 million dollars in the state budget of federal stimulus dollars that is supposed to be designated to job creation for those on public assistance and welfare.

Some major discussion about the federal stimulus money ensued – how the money is being allocated – what money is there for job creation – that there is no money to help the lowest income bracket and that the money is most likely to help curb the cuts that have already happened. It was suggested that we meet as a group with the County reps who are able to apply for the money. The group also wanted to know what this money is called/who it has been designated to/how to apply so that we can stand firm in our knowledge.

Housing update: There was a speculation that homelessness is growing in White Plains which was quickly disputed by showing that the numbers for families have not gone up but homelessness for singles has started to increase. The Rental assistance program and double shelter allowance has balanced it out a bit. A discussion surrounding those in shelters ensued describing how people who are in shelters are forced to pay the income that they receive directly to the shelter, therefore not giving them a way out of the shelter. If they go for cash income (under the table) they risk being kicked out of the shelter or forced into programming that will not allow them to work.

Dennis Hanratty discussed a meeting that MVUT will be having about the bill that will be raised to the Westchester County Board of Legislators – “Source of Income” Non-Discrimination Ordinance. This will be a public hearing on the bill on Monday, May 11th at 7:00 pm at the County Office Building in White Plains. It was suggested that County support of this bill could potentially show that they are against discrimination of any kind and help them in their current lawsuit with metro-anti-discrimination. It is widely encouraged for any and all to attend the public hearing.

State Legislative Agenda – Veda discussed how hard it is for those on public assistance and the welfare grant to get a 2 year and 4 year college degree. The push right now is to allow people to remain on public assistance while they are getting their first year of their 4 year degree to allow people an opportunity to get a better job in the future.

Health Care – Andrea Stewart-Cousins has agreed to sign a statewide single payer bill! John Hall is on the fence and we will have another meeting with him in the end of May.  He may have changed his position but he may still be open to signing on. There will be a Health Care Town Hall Meeting on May 14th at 730 pm at the Greenburgh Town Hall. This will be a meeting directed at Health Care Reform in general but strong single payer support is encouraged to attend.  Also, May 27th will be the statewide Single Payer lobby day.  Please contact Veda if you would like information on a car pooling.

What can we work on locally? These were topics we touched on throughout the meeting. When we spoke earlier about the Budget Forum follow up we spoke about Job Creation. We are listening to people and hearing what they want and need but it may be time to give low-income people some kind of programming giving them the chance to attend whatever the workshop on skill training and then also give them an opportunity to say what they might like to see in the next event rather than asking them to come to a session where they only tell us what they want to see happen. Discussion on creating an info session for what kinds of access there is to stimulus money. We also spoke about job creation in community gardens and the initiation of a CSA with a subsidized sliding scale payment option based on income level. These ideas already mirror and will continue to base themselves off of already implemented and successful CSA and community gardens in NYC (some initiated and supported by HAN). There will be a meeting on May 18th about Community Gardening at the WESPAC white plains space. Anyone interested is encouraged to attend. Surya brought out a seasoning as a testimonial to a low-income person creating his own business by creating his own seasoning, finding a bottling company and labeling it himself and employs himself. This could be used as an inspiration for a job creation workshop. There is also government funding currently coming out to support community gardening and job creation.

The meeting was small but thoroughly thoughtful and successful! Thank you to all who attended!

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