CSS Applauds the Governor for Recognizing Medical Debt in Her `State of the State’

Posted May 10, 2023 by Amanda Dunker

Recommends passage of legislation strengthening tenant protections and expanding rental assistance to meet New York’s housing crisis

Governor Kathy Hochul delivered her `State of the State’ address yesterday, touching on several issues of importance to New Yorkers including public safety, the need for increased mental health services, more affordable housing production, expanding access to affordable child care costs, indexing the minimum wage to inflation and more.

As we eagerly await more details on her proposals in the coming executive budget, the Community Service Society of New York (CSS) commends the governor for recognizing medical debt as a profound problem for New Yorkers requiring urgent attention in the coming year. Her proposal to reform hospital financial assistance applications to require hospitals to use a uniform application form is a nod to legislation CSS has advocated for as part of the `End Medical Debt’ coalition – a consortium of 55 statewide organizations that worked in partnership with state lawmakers to enact legislation prohibiting liens and wage garnishments arising from debt collection actions by hospitals and health care professionals, as well as banning hidden facilities fees for preventative care. Governor Hochul signed the bills into law last year.

We are also pleased to see Governor Hochul recognize the need to address health care costs and quality while signaling support for the Commission on the Future of Health Care. The time is now to establish cost controls and quality measures so that New Yorkers get value out of our extraordinarily expensive health care system.  CSS looks forward to working with the Hochul Administration on ways to incentivize and improve access to primary care. And though she did not cover it in her State of the State, CSS also hopes to work with the governor on an equally pressing health care issue in the state made all the more urgent by the current migrant crisis – ensuring that immigrants are able to access quality affordable health coverage that is available to other New Yorkers.

Finally, the governor also used her State of the State address to reiterate the dire need for New York to produce more affordable housing to meet the need. Under her announced “New York Housing Compact” she proposed building 800,000 new homes over the next decade. According to our latest Unheard Third survey, affordable housing is far and away the number one concern of low-income New Yorkers. The survey showed that for the majority of New York City renters – 57 percent – housing expenses increased in 2022.

New York’s housing crisis is driven by skyrocketing rents and a dearth of affordable housing for working-class and low-income people who are being priced out of the housing market. It’s therefore hard to see how the newly announced New York Housing Compact will help in any meaningful way to alleviate the immediate distress of households burdened by unsustainable rents, facing evictions, or experiencing homelessness. To be sure, the new units subsidized by the Compact will not be built for years and will most likely exceed the affordability range for most tenants across the state.

To stimulate housing construction the governor called for enactment of a “successor to the 421a tax incentive that can yield further affordable housing in New York City.” Let’s be clear: the 421a tax exemption mostly subsidized luxury housing. The affordable housing it did produce was unaffordable to three-quarters of New York households. Resurrecting a tax abatement for real estate developers that underperformed as an affordable housing production strategy will not help the vast majority of New Yorkers in need of housing.

We strongly urge the governor and state legislature to tackle the current housing crisis by supporting stronger tenant protections in the form of `Good Cause’, anti-eviction measures like statewide Right to Counsel, and rental assistance, like the Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP). Low-income people represent the majority of New York City’s population and face the most severe housing hardships. We need a housing strategy that acknowledges this fact, and is centered on producing truly affordable housing.