NEW YORK – Three news items in my inbox today paint a grim picture about the prospects for working-class families in the Big Apple.
The first was something that might have appeared in The Onion.
Turns out that New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to charge rent at the city’s homeless shelters. (That’s right: they are homeless because they can’t afford rent, and the city wants to charge them … rent!)
This would include families with children, who make up 70-plus percent of the shelter population, which adds up to thousands of homeless kids.
The second article was about the fight to retain the student MetroCard program (for subway and bus rides).
This program provides more than half a million students with free or half-fare passes. If it is eliminated, a family of four could end up paying an extra $2,300 a year to send their kids to school.
Although the proposal to eliminate student MetroCards originally came from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Gov. David Paterson, at this point it’s the Bloomberg administration that is refusing to pay the city’s share of the cost – a share that it has not increased in 15 years.
According to the Working Families Party, “When asked if he would do his part to help students, the mayor’s response was, ‘It’s the state’s fault.'” WFP is running two online petition campaigns, one calling on the State Senate to prevent the city from charging rent at the shelters, and the other, aimed at the City Council, calling for funding the MetroCard program.
The third article that caught my eye concerned a report that 43 percent of Manhattan’s elementary and middle schools face severe – and growing – space shortages. Just one example illustrates the seriousness of the problem: P.S. 199, which has three fifth grade classes and eight kindergarten classes.
Meanwhile, school construction is frozen, and both the city and state budgets contain cuts in funding for education.
Are there solutions to the budget crises? One idea that’s been around forever – raising taxes on the rich – is coming up, in all kinds of quarters.
Last week, City Comptroller John Liu said that Gov. Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg were wrong to rule out tax increases on bonuses to employees of banks and financial companies that received federal bailout funds.
Ranked third or fourth richest city in the world, New York has a choice: will it tell its young generation that it cannot provide shelter, or classrooms, or even transportation to school? Or will it tell the high rollers, whose bonuses in 2009 reached $20.3 billion (a 17 percent increase over 2008), to pay a larger share?