As the New York State Legislature continues to make its way through the budget process, Agudath Israel’s New York office convened the second installment of this year’s Albany Day series, focusing on the Queens and Long Island areas. Agudah staff and leadership, joined by leading community advocates and school officials, spoke to an array of legislators, advocating on behalf of New York’s Orthodox Jewish community.

One of the main items on the agenda was closing a counterintuitive and harmful loophole in the Empire State Child Tax Credit. The Empire State Child Tax Credit was designed to combat child poverty, and benefits phase in as income increases beyond certain minimums; benefits phase out as income increases further. Paradoxically, the credit excludes children under the age of four, the age children are most likely to experience poverty and when parents have the most difficult time returning to work. Moreover, Agudah members pointed out that, in a 50-state survey, New York was found to be the only state in the nation to have such a limit. Senator Jeremy Cooney and Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi introduced bills (S.5866 and A.3146) that would raise the per child credit and close the loophole. Agudah advocates acknowledged that although broadening the tax credit would be costly to the state, it would assist many parents in New York State communities.

Another priority item on the agenda was the Nonpublic School Safety Equipment grant (NPSE). The NPSE program provides reimbursement for safety and security measures for nonpublic schools. Anti-Semitism is, unfortunately, a growing concern for New York State residents, as violent hate crimes against Jews skyrocket across the country. Ensuring our children’s safety when they are in school is a priority for parents in our community. Agudah advocates asked the legislators to retain the line item in the budget that would raise funding for the NPSE from $15 million to $45 million, as well as to expand eligibility for usage to include critical capital repairs that enhance building safety.

Special education has long been an important issue for the Agudah. The Agudah advocated for a revolving loan fund to be created to streamline special education services, so that special education schools would not be left rendering services that have been approved for state reimbursement while spending years awaiting reimbursement. This would be accomplished through a bill (A.9143/S.7665) introduced by Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz. Other issues discussed with the legislators included a summer food funding increase, and immunization recordkeeping reimbursements.

This installment of Albany Day was attended by Senators Joseph Addabbo, John Liu, and Toby Ann Stavisky, and Assemblymembers Andrew Hevesi, Stacey Pheffer Amato, and Nily Rozic. The Agudah team also met with staff members of Senators Leroy Comrie, Todd Kaminsky, and James Sanders, as well as Assemblymember David Weprin, in a whirlwind day of activity and impassioned advocacy.

“It was really wonderful that we were able to bring the community together to relay their concerns to their legislators,” said Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Agudah’s director of New York government relations. “The legislators were extremely receptive, and it was gratifying to see that, b’siyata diShmaya, after the meetings, multiple legislators communicated to us that they are now supporting measures that we had brought to their attention.”