New York Must Focus on Children and Families
New York’s 2015 legislative session came to a close, after much fanfare and negotiation, with very little to show in terms of policy change to better support children and families. The Legislature chose not to support the Governor’s proposal to increase the minimum wage, both the Legislature and the Governor failed to act on promising legislation to make Paid Family Leave state policy, and, perhaps most surprising and disappointing, the Legislature and Governor failed to reach an agreement on raising the age of criminal responsibility for juvenile offenders, one of the Governor’s key issues this year. While some successes were achieved in the budget, including funding for an initiative for foster youth attending college, the continuing lack of focus by NY policymakers on children, and especially those in the child welfare system, is increasingly disturbing. New York continues to score at or near the bottom on national assessments of permanency and child wellbeing in foster care, and income inequality continues to grow across the state. Child poverty rates in our cities are astounding. And policymakers continue to miss opportunities to bring the necessary attention and resources to these important issues.
While the legislative session had little to offer vulnerable children and families, we know that more can be done. We remain hopeful that, in the coming weeks, the Wage Board empaneled by the Governor will look beyond fast food and make a recommendation to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour for all workers and link it to inflation. We are also hopeful that our Governor, recognizing the strain under which minimum wage earners live across sectors, will act upon the recommendations of his wage board and step up as a champion for the working poor.
We have tools to address poverty and the welfare of our children; we need leaders with the political will to use and advance them. We need an intentional focus and we need to measure our results over the long term. The biggest challenge is that most solutions are not short-term fixes; many will take longer than an election cycle to bear fruit. They will certainly take more than a one-year budget cycle to reap savings. This is a significant barrier in today’s political environment. Our job as residents of this great state is to convince our leaders to make tough choices and serious investments now that generate outcomes that they may not be able to claim in time for the next election.