Press Statements

VOCAL-NY Launches 2021 Legislative Platform, Calls on NYS Legislature to Take Care of ‘Unfinished Business’

April 26, 2021


Monday, April 26, 2021


Mariah McGough, 203 470-9979, 

Kim Smith, 585 978-5375,


Lawmakers Joined VOCAL-NY at Press Conference on Monday, Together Demanding Legislation to Support New Yorkers Left Out of Final State Budget 

ALBANY, N.Y. — Today, lawmakers joined VOCAL-NY in demanding the state legislature take care of “unfinished business,” and pass legislation that will address the growing crises of homelessness, overdose deaths, and injustices within prisons and jails. VOCAL-NY also launched its 2021 State Legislative Platform, which includes key priorities to end homelessness and overdose deaths, that failed to be included in the budget.

“While we saw many victories for New Yorkers in the budget, many people were left behind. The clock starts now for lawmakers to ensure the needs of New York’s most marginalized communities are met,” said Kim Smith, Deputy Political Director at VOCAL-NY. “The consequences of inaction are dire: Tens of thousands New Yorkers will continue to live in shelters and on the streets. More New Yorkers are dying from overdoses than ever before. And the State has failed to adequately respond to the urgent needs of incarcerated people during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s time for the legislature to make good on their promises, and pass policies that address these pressing public health crises.”

“Our work is not finished. We’ve got to get these bills passed now while we have the opportunity,” said Jovada Senhouse, VOCAL-NY Board Member and Civil Rights Union Leader. “We’re working on legislation to fight wrongful convictions, releasing our elders in prison. We know our prisons are filled with low income individuals and people of color. That’s not right, and this is why we’re fighting for change.”

Senate Deputy Leader Gianaris said, “New York is in the midst of a decades-long affordable housing crunch exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic and ensuing economic devastation. The HONDA legislation is a good way to tackle the dual problems of distressed properties and lack of affordable housing. I am glad our recently-enacted state budget put a $100 million down payment on this program, but now we must get the details right and deliver on the transformative potential this program would offer.” 

“New York has been a national leader in syringe access going back to the law I wrote with Senator Velmanette Montgomery creating syringe exchange programs in 2000,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair and bill sponsor Richard Gottfried. “Syringe exchange programs are a critical tool in the fight to reduce HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C transmission and protect drug user health.  As the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated funding for these programs and increased risk of overdose for so many, it’s even more important than ever that New Yorkers can access syringes without being criminalized.  I hope the increased urgency of the issue will help us get it done this year.”

“It is truly unfair that residents who are enrolled in Medicaid need prior authorization for medicine-assisted treatment (MAT) of substance use disorder while those with private healthcare insurance do not,” said Senator Pete Harckham, chair of the Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. “Worse, waiting for a physician’s authorization often becomes a life or death matter. If we are to put up a real fight against opioid overdoses, all our residents will need the same access to MAT.”

“The budget we passed, including $5.3 billion for housing and related costs, is a huge step forward in our efforts to mitigate the hardships New Yorkers have endured during the COVID-19 pandemic and a downpayment on our long-term commitment to ensuring that no New Yorker is denied the right to a secure, stable, affordable home,” said Senator Brian Kavanagh, Chair of the Senate Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development. “But we need to do much more, and I’m proud to have VOCAL’s continuing support for our Housing Access Voucher Program legislation (S2804A/A3701A), which is even more critical today than it was when we first proposed it last February before the pandemic. I also join VOCAL and Senator Michael Gianaris in strong support of creating a new program to convert underused hotels to affordable and supportive housing for homeless and low-income New Yorkers.”

“Although significant funding was allocated to a general emergency rent relief fund in response to COVID, it is absolutely essential that we pass the Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP) and the Housing Our Neighbors With Dignity Act (HONDA) to ensure that the funds are truly targeted to help homeless New Yorkers find stable housing and addresses the significant deficit that exists in the state for truly affordable housing. We cannot afford to repeat the travesty of last year’s emergency rent relief program that left more than $65 million unspent while the numbers of those experiencing homelessness rose exponentially,” said Assemblymember Anna Kelles.

“New York is among the worst states when it comes to wrongful convictions,” said Senator Zellnor Myrie. “It is almost impossible under existing law to challenge a wrongful conviction—and this does not serve the interests of justice or the accused. I’m proud to sponsor legislation that would ease the path toward records clearance for the wrongly convicted. It is simply the right thing to do.”

“The Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act (HONDA) would create a multi-faceted recovery plan for New York State. The conversion of distressed commercial units into affordable housing units addresses the needs of our businesses and of our housing crisis. During the pandemic, it has been made abundantly clear that the housing crisis is a public health crisis. HONDA would provide the state with the tools it needs to assist New Yorkers as we continue our recovery through the pandemic,” said Assemblymember Karines Reyes.

“With this year’s historic budget behind us, the Legislature must shift gears and take on the many issues we’ve left unfinished,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “I am committed to continue working to pass my Fair and Timely Parole Act and my bill to decriminalize syringes and expand access. These measures will ensure that our prison and parole systems focus on rehabilitation not just on punishment, and that we adequately address the overdose crisis, which has only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“During the first half of this legislative session, the Senate and the Assembly were able to pass transformative bills, such as the HALT Solitary Confinement bill and the MRTA to legalize recreational use of cannabis, to combat racial injustice that has long targeted Black and brown New Yorkers. As a legislature, we must continue our fight for social justice in the second half of this session by legislating boldly to address the harms of mass incarceration, homelessness, and the criminalization of substance use. It is our responsibility to ensure that we take action in every one of these policy areas in the final weeks of this session,” said State Senator Julia Salazar.

“As Correction Committee Chair, I sponsored the bill on Fair & Timely Parole in the NYS Assembly. The denial of parole to applicants with a low risk of recidivism is both expensive and detrimental for New York State,” said Assemblyman David Weprin. “Middle-aged and elderly incarcerated individuals who pose no threat to themselves or others, should have the opportunity to be reunited with their family. Releasing incarcerated individuals on parole once their minimum sentence is completed is both humane and cost effective.”  


Read VOCAL-NY’s 2021 State Legislative Platform here.

The New York state Legislature has unfinished business. The recent passage of the New York state budget saw many major victories for New Yorkers, thanks to a weakened Governor Cuomo and a movement determined to win transformational change. But many people were left behind. The budget provided no meaningful relief to the over 92,000 New Yorkers living in shelters or on the streets across the state, nor did it make critical investments to reverse record high overdose deaths. 

As the legislative session begins again, 92,000 New Yorkers are living in shelters or on the streets and all predictions say that our state had the worst year on record for overdose deaths. Meanwhile, the state has failed to adequately respond to the urgent needs of its incarcerated constituents during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the historic injustices of mass incarceration. The New York state legislature must stand up to Governor Cuomo, use their veto-proof supermajority to pass critical interventions that were left out of the budget, and acknowledge the humanity of incarcerated people by enacting immediate reforms.


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