If a man from Mars had landed in New York these last few weeks, he’d likely have concluded that there were only two items in the $220 billion state budget signed April 9 by Gov. Kathy Hochul.
They would be the $1.4 billion for a new Buffalo Bills stadium mainly funded with tax dollars, and changes to the state’s controversial bail policies that were enacted in recent years.
Yes, those topics got the lion’s share of attention; yes, they’re very important; and, yes, they remain controversial.
As a Catholic publication, however, our sights also were focused on a range of other issues that will have a positive impact on the archdiocesan programs and charitable agencies that serve New Yorkers on many levels.
We thank the governor and legislative leaders for recognizing and addressing these needs—especially those that benefit human service workers and Catholic schools—and we thank the New York State Catholic Conference for promoting these issues to lawmakers.
Here are some highlights:
– Funding was tripled, from $15 million to $45 million, for the health, safety and security grants that Catholic and other non-public schools have long been receiving. Just as important, the schools will now be permitted to use the money for critical repair and maintenance projects such as a new roof or boiler.
– Grants for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers was funded for $58 million, an increase of nearly 40 percent that will help pay for high school teachers in those critically important subjects.
– There’s $1.2 billion for bonuses to health care workers in the budget, and an impressive $7.4 billion to provide a $3 per hour raise for home care workers.
– $7 billion over four years is included to expand child care availability; and a 5.4 percent cost of living adjustment is included for human services and behavioral health workers.
– Funding also was increased for addiction services and agencies that serve persons with disabilities.
– Medicaid eligibility was expanded for pregnant women and covers them one year after they give birth, a benefit that also applies to undocumented women. Medicaid coverage is also included for undocumented seniors over age 65.
We could go on, listing increases or new funding for refugee services, inpatient psychiatric beds, climate change mitigation measures and sizable sums for both affordable and supportive housing development.
The housing components, in particular, are measures that we hope will survive in New York’s notoriously difficult environment for housing. They’re certainly very much needed.
There’s also a requirement that health insurance policies cover abortion, something that we certainly oppose and which is currently tied up in a court challenge brought by the Diocese of Albany.
Meanwhile, we realize that the state was relatively awash in money this year, thanks to federal pandemic relief funds and an unexpectedly healthy revenue stream from taxes, thereby enabling higher levels of funding than would otherwise be possible.
We also recognize that New York is heading into a difficult and volatile election cycle, so officeholders are likely to be more generous with their spending this time around.
We’re confident, however, that Catholic agencies and institutions in the Empire State will use their new funding wisely for the good of the people they serve.
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