I On Politics | Queens Gazette

2021-12-23 08:00:45 By : Mr. Guanglin Wang

MASK PROTOCOL NOW IN EF­FECT: Governor Kathy Hochul announced on Dec. 13 that the mask protocol for all in­door public places announced on Dec. 10 is now in effect, as well as a new Frequently Asked Questions resource for business owners and the general public.

Masks are now required to be worn in all indoor public places unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement. As noted on the Frequently Asked Ques­tions webpage, an indoor public place is de­fined as any indoor space that is not a private residence – businesses and venues New Yorkers frequent that are publicly owned or owned by private business. These entities include indoor entertainment ven­ues, concert halls, indoor sports stadiums, recreational spaces, restaurants, office buildings, shopping centers, grocery stores, pharmacies, houses of worship and com­mon areas in residential buildings. Posters encouraging people to wear masks and get vaccinated are available for businesses to use.

“As Governor, my top priority is to pro­tect the health of New Yorkers and the health of our economy, and these temporary measures will help us get through the holi­day season safely,” Governor Hochul said. “I share everyone’s frustration that we have gotten to this point, especially with the vac­cine at our disposal. I want to thank the mil­lions of New Yorkers who have done the right thing to get fully vaccinated. We are all in this together and if others will follow suit, these measures will no longer be nec­essary.”

This major action to address the winter surge and concern over upcoming holiday gatherings comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise statewide to be in alignment with the CDC’s recommenda­tions for communities with substantial and high transmission. The State Health Com­missioner issued a determination solidify­ing the requirement.

This measure is effective until Jan. 15, 2022, after which the State will re-evaluate based on current conditions, and brings added layers of mitigation during the holi­day season when more time is spent indoors shopping, gathering and visiting holiday-themed destinations.

Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said, “Taking this action now is critical to slowing the COVID-19 winter surge during the holidays. Each of you can contribute: get vaccinated, get boosted if you are already vaccinated, and wear a mask. We urge the public to support these new requirements in indoor public places by cooperating with the venues. We need everyone to do their part to get through this together.”

For information how businesses and venues can implement a proof of vaccina­tion requirement or a mask wearing require­ment, see the Frequently Asked Questions.

COVID-19 vaccines and booster doses are free and widely available statewide. New Yorkers can visit vaccines.gov, text their ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find nearby locations. To schedule an appointment at a state-run mass vaccination site, New Yorkers can visit the Am-I-Eligible site. New Yorkers can also contact their health care provider, county health departments, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), rural health cen­ters, or pharmacies.

New Yorkers can retrieve their Excelsior Pass or Excelsior Pass Plus at bit.ly/3F4uJV2. Businesses and ven­ues can download the Excelsior Pass Scan­ner app—free for any business nationwide and available in more than ten languages.

ADAMS WINS CITY COUNCIL SPEAKERSHIP: On Dec. 17 Council Member Adrienne Adams clinched victory in the race for City Council Speaker, as 33 members of the 51-member City Council committed their support or released state­ments backing her Speaker candidacy. The broad support for Council Member Adams from legislative leaders across the five bor­oughs comes on the heels of a coalition of labor unions, including 32BJ SEIU, DC 37, CWA District 1, and NYSNA declaring their support for her campaign for Speaker. Incoming Speaker Adams will lead a his­tory making City Council, with a majority of women serving on the Council for the first time.

An inclusive and diverse coalition, with members from across the City and across the political spectrum, is supporting Adri­enne Adams. She will assume the office on Wednesday, January 5th, 2022 at the first Stated Meeting in the next session of the City Council.

Council Member Adams said: “I am honored to have earned the support and the trust of my colleagues to be their Speaker. Our coalition reflects the best of our city. We are ready to come together to solve the enormous challenges we face in order to not just recover from Covid but to build a bet­ter, fairer City that works for everyone. I want to thank the Council members, labor and party leaders, women’s groups, and everyone in our broad coalition for their support. The City Council will be a collab­orative and effective legislative body that incorporates what makes New York City great and focuses on the needs of our com­munities.”

Adams was first elected to represent the neighborhoods of Jamaica, Rochdale Vil­lage, Richmond Hill, and South Ozone Park in November 2017. A lifelong resident of Southeast Queens and longtime community activist, supporters note that Adams has been a leader for public safety, education equity, and economic development. Her as­cension to the Speakership is the culmina­tion of decades of public service and community organizing. She has previously served as a Community Board member and Chairperson, a member of the Community District Council, and the NAACP, among other community and advocacy groups.

Council Member Adams’ campaign for Speaker received support from the follow­ing Council Members in Queens: Council Member-elect Sandra Ung, District 20, Tiffany Cabán, District 22, Council Mem­ber elect Linda Lee, District 23, Jim Gen­naro, District 24, Council Member-elect Shekar Krishnan, District 25, Council Member-elect Julie Won, District 26, Coun­cil Member-elect Nantasha Williams, Dis­trict 27, Council Member-elect Lynn Schulman, District 29, Selvena Brooks-Powers, District 31; and 23 other Council Members in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

NYC DOT TO HOLD 21 STREET BUS LANE HEARING: The NYC DOT is proposing putting bus lanes on 21st Street between Hoyt Avenue and Queensboro Plaza. NYC DOT is holding virtual public hearing on the 21st Street bus lanes on Wednesday, January 12. (They previously held a meeting on Monday, December 20.)

The Old Astoria Neighborhood Associ­ation has been actively disseminating infor­mation about the plans, has taken a survey, and announced the meeting to its members and all concerned. OANA urges everyone to attend and “make their concerns known.”

To virtually attend the meeting on Wednesday, January 12th from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., you can register at bit.ly/303teqW

For information on the DOT’s proposal, the 21st Street Public Meetings, OANA’s survey and their position statement, you can visit oana-ny.org/news/21st-street-improvement-project-public-meetings/

‘MORTGAGE SERVICERS MUST ASSIST HOMEOWNERS W/COVID- 19 RELIEF’: New York Attorney General Letitia James took action to provide support to New Yorkers still recovering from the fi­nancial effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In a letter to mortgage servicers operating in New York and mortgage industry trade associations, Attorney General James reiterates her ex­pectation that they participate in New York’s recovery from the COVID-19 pan­demic by providing long-term relief to homeowners in accordance with New York state law, as well as with federal regulations and guidelines. Attorney General James also lays out, in her letter, that the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) Mortgage Enforcement Unit (MEU) will be helping to oversee the distribution of New York state’s Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) announced last week by New York Gover­nor Kathy Hochul.

“While the support provided by the Homeowner Assistance Fund is substantial, the number of homeowners facing COVID-related distress is far greater,” said Attorney General James. “To help the greatest num­ber of homeowners and ensure that the fam­ily home stays in the family, HAF funds must supplement rather than replace the mortgage industry’s own efforts. My office will continue to ensure that mortgage ser­vicers comply with their legal obligations as we work to protect New York families and their homes. If we plan to rebuild our economy, we must ensure that homeowners are granted the relief they need.”

The letter follows Attorney General James’ warning at the onset of the pan­demic, in April 2020, when she called on mortgage servicers to quickly provide for­bearances to COVID-impacted homeown­ers and to prepare for the day when those forbearances would expire by establishing seamless transitions into affordable and sus­tainable modifications. Since then, the OAG has monitored compliance with COVID-related relief requirements im­posed by state and federal laws and regula­tions, including investigating whether servicers have offered homeowners the for­bearance relief and post-forbearance modi­fications required by New York Banking Law § 9-x.

Additionally, Attorney General James’ letter outlines expectations for mortgage servicers as forbearance plans expire, in­cluding that servicers comply with stream­lined modification programs now required by various federal agencies and govern­ment sponsored enterprises (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) and provide comparable relief (pursuant to New York state Banking Law § 9-x and New York’s mortgage serv­icing regulations) to homeowners whose mortgages are owned by private investors through private label securities or by banks in their own portfolios. Attorney General James emphasizes that servicers must in­vest in adequate staffing and improve their customer communications, so that they can handle any surge in requests for assistance. Servicers’ failure to prepare for this mo­ment will be taken into account by the OAG.

Attorney General James also announced that the OAG’s MEU will be helping to oversee the distribution of New York state’s Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF), by ensuring that mortgage servicers play their part by offering homeowners all available loss mitigation options before that home­owner seeks an outside HAF grant, in order to help the program save as many homes as possible.

In the weeks to come, the MEU will be reaching out to the mortgage industry, as well as the legal services and housing coun­seling agencies that assist New York home­owners, to further explain its role in the HAF application process and how to coor­dinate with MEU.

PROTECTS CREDIT AND GIFT CARD HOLDERS: Governor Kathy Hochul signed a package of legislation to protect consumers from exploitative credit and gift card practices in New York. Legis­lation S.133-B/A.5698-B protects credit card holders by creating a grace period for the use of reward points after the closing of an account. Legislation S.3467-B/A.4629- C prohibits fees and expiration dates on gift cards and gift certificates.

“As we enter the holiday season of giv­ing and New Yorkers buy gifts for their friends and family, it’s more important than ever that we protect them from unfair prac­tices that have a real impact on consumers’ bottom line,” Governor Hochul said. “This legislation will guarantee a season of good cheer in New York State by making sure that no New Yorker unfairly loses their ac­cumulated credit card rewards or is short­changed when buying a gift card for a loved one.”

Legislation S.133-B/A.5698-B protects credit card holders by creating a grace pe­riod for the use of reward points after the closing of an account so they do not fall victim to rewards programs that are often governed by agreements that are not trans­parent to consumers. One particular provi­sion in many credit card agreements allows the credit card issuer to cancel all accumu­lated rewards points or other rewards ben­efits upon the closure of the credit card account, without affording the credit card holder any opportunity to use accumulated points. This becomes a consumer protection issue when the issuer unilaterally closes an account for reasons such as a holder failing to make a payment, or for unspecified rea­sons that fall under catch-all clauses such as if the issuer believes the holder may be unwilling or unable to pay their debts on time.

Legislation S.3467-B/A.4629-C pro­hibits fees and expiration dates on gift cards and gift certificates. Many gift cards are sold with a variety of fees attached that can significantly reduce their value. These in­clude fees paid at the time of purchase and dormancy fees for failing to use a gift card for a certain period of time. The Federal Credit CARD Act of 2009 placed some re­strictions on gift card fees by prohibiting dormancy fees unless a gift card is dormant for at least twelve months and by limiting the frequency of periodic fees to no more than once a month. The CARD Act also prohibits expiration dates prior to five years after issuance. However, permitted fees on gift cards can still be substantial. This bill protects consumers by prohibiting all fees on gift cards and prohibiting gift cards that decline in value over time. In addition, to further eliminate loss of value to con­sumers, this bill prohibits expiration dates on gift cards and gift certificates that occur earlier than nine years from the date of is­suance and allows for redemption when the remaining balance is less than five dollars.

Assemblymember Nily Rozic said, “New York consumers deserve access to the credit card rewards points they earned and transparency about how they are governed. Thank you to Governor Hochul for signing this common sense legislation to protect consumers.”

LIU STATEMENT ON NYC CHAN­CELLOR APPOINTMENT: New York State Senator John Liu, Chairperson of the Senate’s NYC Education Committee, stated the following regarding the appointment of David Banks to Chancellor of the NYC DOE by Mayor-elect Eric Adams.

“Congratulations and best wishes to David Banks on being named Chancellor of New York City’s public school system. The incoming Adams administration has a long and bumpy road ahead that must include correcting many of the missteps and mis­guided 11th hour policy changes of the out­going administration – from the blatant disregard for special needs students to dogged refusal to consider remote learning option in an ongoing pandemic to sudden elimination of longstanding G&T pro­grams. New Yorkers eagerly await plans for our kids that are inclusive of all voices and communities, particularly those within the Asian-American community who have been shut out of the conversation by the ex­iting administration.

“Of particular importance is the expira­tion of mayoral control in June 2022, a topic that will come before the state legis­lature for reauthorization in short time. I look forward to discussions with our new Chancellor on ways to move the NYC edu­cational system forward in a way that gets us back on track and addresses the many unmet needs of New York City schoolkids.”

GEOGRAPHIC PRIORITY FOR HIGH SCHOOLS UPHELD: State Sen­ator John C. Liu, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on NYC Education, and Assem­bly Member Ed Braunstein stated the fol­lowing regarding the Department of Education announcement that the city will continue to uphold geographic priority for high schools next year. The state legislators have been echoing concerns of parents in Queens and calling for the administration to keep geographic priority for high school admissions.

“The decision to uphold geographic pri­ority is a victory for all students who wish to attend high school in their own commu­nities, and not be forced to travel for hours across the city on overcrowded subways and buses. We remain convinced that geo­graphic priority should remain indefinitely until such a time that there exists adequate school capacity and transportation infra­structure, especially in the outer boroughs. It is fitting that the DOE has finally awoken to the very reasonable concerns of parents and students, and at least for now, parents and students can rest a little easier knowing that this latest attempt at a last-minute change in enrollment policy has been thwarted.”

JAMES FIGHTS TO PROTECT DREAMERS: New York Attorney General Letitia James on Dec. 16 continued her fight to protect hundreds of thousands of Dreamers across New York and the rest of the nation. Co-leading a coalition of 23 at­torneys general from around the nation, At­torney General James filed an amicus brief in support of the Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA) policy in Texas v. United States, where the coalition high­lights the critical contributions of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients to public health efforts, the economy, and communi­ties across the country — and pushes back on the Texas-led efforts to end DACA. Since 2012, DACA has provided access to work authorization and protected from re­moval approximately 825,000 individuals who grew up in this country, most of whom have known no home other than the United States.

“Home is here for hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who know no other home but the United States, and that has never been more evident than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Dreamers stepped up and served on the frontlines to save millions,” said Attorney General James. “Despite Texas’ false and bigoted claims, DACA re­cipients are vital to our economy, vital to our communities, and vital to our way of life. We will continue to fight against these immoral threats of deportation, but the court has the opportunity here to preserve DACA and send a message that Dreamers are valued, that they are loved, and that they are crucial members of our society. Si se puede!”

James noted that DACA has allowed re­cipients to live, study, and work across the United States, free from the fear of being forcibly separated from their families and communities. The policy has enabled hun­dreds of thousands of grantees to enroll in colleges and universities, complete their ed­ucation, start businesses that help improve the economy, and give back to communities as teachers, medical professionals, and en­trepreneurs. These contributions became es­pecially evident as the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic began to sweep through the nation and thousands of DACA recipients served on the frontlines as essential workers. As of November 2021, an estimated 34,000 health care workers and support staff depend on DACA for their authorization to work in the United States, including nurses, dentists, pharmacists, physician assistants, home health aides, technicians, and others.

DACA also plays a vital role in support­ing economies at the national, state, and local level. For instance, DACA recipients and their households pay an estimated $9.5 billion in federal, state, and local taxes each year. Allowing new initial DACA requests would lead to an estimated increase of $2.5 billion in state and local tax revenue over the next 20 years. Additionally, DACA re­cipients’ estimated spending power — $25.3 billion — is important to the overall economic health of the amici states. With­out DACA, national economic growth over the course of a decade is projected to fall by $280 billion. Such a scenario would also lead to an estimated loss of $33.1 billion in Social Security contributions and $7.7 bil­lion in Medicare contributions — funds that are critical to ensuring the financial health of national programs upon which Americans across the country rely.

‘SBA MUST COMBAT FRAUD, PROTECT DISADVANTAGED SMALL BIZ’: Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform Carolyn B. Maloney and Ranking Member James Comer sent a letter to Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA) Isabella Casillas Guzman requesting documents and infor­mation about SBA’s efforts to mitigate the longstanding problem of fraud in small busi­ness set-aside contracting programs and to improve the certification process of eligible businesses.

“Congress established set-aside pro­grams to help eligible small businesses com­pete for federal contracts against larger and more established companies. Set-aside con­tracts also provide the government with a more diverse source of goods and services and help create jobs, raise wages, and dis­tribute income more widely. Federal agen­cies awarded over $100 billion through set-aside programs in fiscal year 2020, which amounts to over 10% of the $665 bil­lion spent on federal contracts that year,” wrote Chairwoman Maloney and Ranking Member Comer.

The bipartisan letter addresses longstand­ing concerns about fraud in small business set-asides, including the 8(a) Business De­velopment, Women-Owned, Service-Dis­abled Veteran-Owned, and Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) programs.

Bad actors have falsified information provided to the SBA, including using an el­igible figurehead to conceal the entities or individuals who control a business and using “straw-owners” to pose as female, African-American, or service-disabled vet­eran business-owners. This fraud comes at the expense of taxpayers and disadvantaged small businesses who are unfairly deprived of the opportunity to participate in these programs.

“The extent of set-aside fraud and its fis­cal impact government-wide is difficult to estimate because programs can incur finan­cial losses from fraud that are never identi­fied,” the Chairwoman and Ranking Member continued. “Extrapolating from the prevalence of set-aside fraud in the small number of cases reviewed in these studies, the extent of set-aside fraud governmen­twide may be in the billions of dollars.”

SBA’s information technology system that manages set-asides, called Certify, has had significant problems. SBA has struggled to develop Certify for eight years, relying on labor-intensive workarounds because the system lacks key functionalities and tools. The SBA Inspector General found that SBA’s manual processes to compensate for system failures doubled the time it took to review and process applications.

While SBA has recently required formal certification requirements for all set-aside programs, the continued concerns about fraud and weaknesses in the Certify system highlight the need for SBA to implement a comprehensive fraud risk program to com­bat set-aside contracting fraud.

—With contributions by Annette Hanze Alberts

This column was originated by John A. Toscano

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