State legislators are leaving Albany for the long Easter weekend and will return Monday for the final week of budget negotiations and compromises that need to be made early in the week for budget bills to be printed and voted on by midnight Thursday, March 31. Discussions have centered on the push to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour. That issue remains a key to budget negotiations with discussions about exemptions swirling. Governor Cuomo hinted he could support an exemption for agricultural workers. Meanwhile there are some who want a minimum wage below $15 for upstate but that is a especially because the $15 amount is not scheduled to be fully phased in until 2021 upstate. Faith leaders are planning three events at the Capitol on Monday and Tuesday in favor of the minimum wage and paid family leave.
Human service organizations rallied in favor of the minimum wage on Tuesday but said that they need funds from the state to pay for it. The Assembly included $200 million in its one house budget to cover costs for the sector. Meanwhile, negotiations also continue on paid family leave, though the sides are much closer on that. The program proposed by the Governor and the Assembly may pass largely intact with perhaps some breaks to make it easier for small businesses. A press conference was held in the Legislative Office Building today with several business leaders speaking in favor of paid family leave programs that they offer.
Later this afternoon, the health and aging subcommittee of the Budget conference committee met after learning it was given only $25 million in addition funds to allocate. Some of the legislators complained and said that this amount was a lot less than other “tables” or issue areas received. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, chair of the Health committee noted that this funding is outside of Medicaid so it does not account for the entire health budget. However, Senator Kemp Hannon, chair of the Health committee in his house said the budget subcommittee had identified over $60 million it wanted to add to the budget for important services, some of which he cited would pay themselves by keeping people out of nursing homes.
On aging issues, several legislators mentioned the need to restore the cut and add $2 million in the NORCs (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities) program – a cut in the budget that was proposed by the State Office for the Aging. Senator Martin Golden, former Chair of the Aging Committee spoke in favor of NORCs. The Assembly Aging Chair Stephen Cybrowitz is also on the subcommittee and supports the restoration of funds which the Assembly added in its budget.
On another note, State Office for the Aging Director Corinda Crossdale will be leaving her position this spring to take a position as Commissioner of the Department of Social Services in Monroe County where she is from. She formerly ran the office for the aging in that county and then came to Albany as Deputy Director at the State Office. She then worked in the Governor’s office as an assistant secretary to the Governor on human services programs. She has been a great professional in the field of aging and we wish her well.