January 7, 2009
People’s State of the State previews Paterson’s
ALBANY — As has been the tradition of the Hunger Action Network for the past two decades, the People’s State of the State address was heard on the eve of Gov. David Paterson’s speech.
“The governor’s State of the State address is always positive and we seldom hear talk about the poverty or other key issues,” said Mark Dunlea, executive director of the organization.
At least a dozen people rallied at the Capitol with signs about HIV awareness, welfare, Medicaid, investing in education, improved childcare, homelessness and eliminating corporate tax loopholes. They chanted rallying calls like: “Tax the rich, don’t starve the poor, we can’t take it anymore.”
“Let’s remember that much of our present financial crisis is due to the greed and misdeeds of Wall Street and the financial community,” continued Dunlea. “People are losing their homes, their jobs and their life savings and so far the government has focused on bailing out those who created the problem rather than the victims.”
Speakers at the event, an annual rally which dates back to Mario Cuomo’s tenure, listed fair taxation and eliminating the state’s Empire Zone program, which gives tax incentives to businesses, as ways to generate billions of dollars in revenue instead of cutting services to state residents.
The organization also proposed that the state minimum wage be increased to $10 per hour and an improvement to unemployment benefits.
Due to the faltering economy, area food pantries and soup kitchens have seen a 35 percent increase in usage over the past six months.
Citizens at the rally commended Gov. Paterson for proposing a welfare grant increase of 30 percent over the next three years and an increase in funding for feeding programs and shelters. This will be the first welfare grant hike in 18 years, officials said.
The group, however, was disappointed Gov. Paterson had not yet addressed several issues with the state’s food stamp program, including reducing the time frame the stamps are issued in an emergency. The rally also urged the governor not to cut Supplement Security Income funding, among other services.
“We must encourage our legislators to follow the governor’s lead by passing a budget that reflects care for the neediest among us,” said Rev. Debra Jameson, community outreach minister in Albany.
The Hunger Action Network has also been a strong proponent of the Bigger Better Bottle Bill, which has been proposed for several sessions and has yet to be passed. With the bill, the current 5-cent deposit would expand to also include non-carbonated beverages such as bottled water and sports drinks.
The current state law — dubbed the Bottle Bill — was passed in 1982 and allows people to return soda and beer bottles for a nickel deposit.
The Bigger Better Bottle Bill was originally included in former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposed state budget last year but was rejected by the Senate.
“(Former Senate Majority Leader) Joe Bruno was the main obstacle to the bill, and he’s gone now,” Dunlea said. “We’ve been told year after year that it will pass. But I think it is finally likely the bill will pass this year.”