NYLPI’s Response to Governor Kathy Hochul’s State of the State Address

January 10, 2024

Climate and Energy Justice, Disability Justice, Environmental Justice, Health Justice, Immigrant Justice, Legislative, News, Transforming Mental Health Crisis Response

A glaring sun sets over the New York City skyline.

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) issues the following response to Governor Kathy Hochul’s State of the State Address on issues impacting Disability Justice, Environmental Justice, and Health Justice:

Mental Health

NYLPI commends the Governor for the emphasis on serving New Yorkers with mental health diagnoses, but we are deeply troubled by the inaccurate and dangerous linkage being made between people with mental health diagnoses and violence. Decades of research shows that people with mental health diagnoses are no more likely to be violent than those without such diagnoses, and they are eleven times more likely to be the victims of violence.

We support the Governor’s plans to enhance community-based mental health teams, access to transitional housing, youth mental health initiatives including school-based mental health clinics, diversion from the criminal justice system, insurance coverage and insurer accountability for mental health services, maternal mental health services, Olmstead planning, and access to employment.

However, we strongly object to the Governor’s proposal to develop 200 in-patient psychiatric beds. The evidence supporting voluntary, community-based mental health services, over involuntary hospitalizations could not be stronger, and we urge the Governor to forego hospital beds in favor of such services as Intensive and Sustained Engagement Teams (INSET), crisis stabilization, crisis respite, and living room drop-in services.

While her Mental Health Commissioner insightfully spearheads the Daniel’s Law Taskforce to develop a much-needed non-police response to mental health crises, the Governor sadly reverts to funding a response model whose time has passed – “Crisis Intervention Training” for police officers. Police have severely injured, extensively traumatized, and killed countless individuals experiencing mental health crises, and even with training are not appropriate first responders. New York must join cities across the globe, including Los Angeles, Denver, San Francisco, Albuquerque, New Haven, and Toronto, which have shunned mental health crisis responses by police, and replaced them with non-police responses led by health professionals and peers (individuals with lived mental health experience).

Finally, we urge the Governor to enhance successful programs that were overlooked in her 2024 proposal, including Assertive Community Treatment Teams, Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics, Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Programs, Critical Time Intervention, INSET Teams and Safe Options Supports.

Transportation

New York cannot meet its climate mandates or reduce barriers for people with disabilities without major investments in a more accessible, reliable, and sustainable transportation system.   We appreciate Governor Hochul’s commitment to securing stable funding for the MTA via the congestion pricing program.

We urge the Governor to make further commitments to improve transportation for people with disabilities by expanding on-demand paratransit services, electrifying both transit and paratransit vehicles, investing in elevators and addressing dangerous platform gaps in subway stations, eliminating onerous requirements for paratransit riders to attend in-person eligibility assessments, and ensure equal access to transit discounts for paratransit users.

Access to Health Care

We are deeply disappointed that the Governor again failed to meet her prior commitment to expand access to health insurance for low-income immigrant New Yorkers regardless of immigration status.   This could be done at no cost to the state by revising New York’s Section 1332 waiver to use federal funds to pay for new enrollment in the state’s Essential Plan. This omission is particularly glaring considering the Governor’s stated goal of “transform[ing] the health care delivery system to improve access, equity, quality, and patient outcomes, while also increasing financial sustainability.” Expanding access to healthcare would not only end the inequitable two-tier healthcare system that leaves immigrant New Yorkers behind, it would also save lives, financially strengthen our healthcare system, and provide a boost to our economy by allowing more New Yorkers to live productive and healthy lives.

New York’s Legacy as Safe Haven For LGBTQ+ and TGNCNB New Yorkers

NYLPI is encouraged to see the Governor’s proposed additional $1 million to the Lorena Borjas Transgender and Non-binary Wellness and Equity Fund (TWEF), which begins to address the historical lack of proportionate funding that the TGNCB community experiences due to cycles of criminalization, mental and physical health disparities. However, true equitable access to workforce development and safety for the TGNCNB community will require further efforts to decriminalize this community, for example, through the decriminalization of sex work. 

We also commend the proposal to remove unnecessary barriers to gender affirming care for those insured by Medicaid and commercial insurers. In addition to updating the requirements to align with the newest version of the Standards of Care for the Health of Transgender and Gender Diverse People, we urge the Governor to see the compounded barriers that TGNCNB immigrant New Yorkers face: without expanding access to health insurance for immigrant New Yorkers, TGNCNB New Yorkers will not have access to gender affirming care.

Environmental and Climate Justice

As extreme weather continues to threaten communities throughout our state, the Governor’s speech includes promising climate provisions. It does not, however, commit sufficient funding to the state’s Climate Action Fund to begin the transition to a resilient and renewable economy required by the state’s landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA)   

We are encouraged that Governor Hochul is supporting major provisions of the NY HEAT Act, which would relieve utility ratepayers from funding unnecessary fossil gas hookups in new construction and help speed the transition to all-electric buildings.

We are also encouraged by the proposal to improve the transmission and interconnection of renewable energy resources with the state’s electric grid, and to enroll more New Yorkers in a comprehensive energy demand management program which could reduce reliance on polluting and expensive peaker plants and create savings for ratepayers.

However, New York can and must commit to rapidly building and connecting enough renewable energy and storage resources to address concerns about a reliability gap cited by the state’s grid operator as a reason to override the state’s public health rules and keep operating the most polluting and expensive peaker plants.   

New York must jump-start the renewable energy transition with immediate, shovel-ready projects, and create thousands of good, green jobs by adding the $1 billion People’s Climate Budget to the state’s Climate Action Fund this year, and by implementing revenue-generating measures such as the Climate Action Superfund and a robust Cap and Invest program that require the largest climate polluters to pay for the costs of mitigation and the transition to a renewable economy.

NYLPI looks forward to working with Governor Hochul and the Legislature to enact legislative priorities to advance Disability, Environmental, and Health Justice for all New Yorkers.

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