In the State of the City Address, Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte discussed the dire need for adequate housing, immigration reform, and funding for public education in District 42, which includes Ditmas Park, Flatbush, and Midwood.
The idea of a divided America has been dominating the national conversation recently, with town hall meetings full of angry constituents happening across New York City in recent weeks.
But the message of finding solutions through civil engagement and community activism rang loud and clear as Bichotte addressed around 200 of her constituents at Brooklyn College on Monday night.
Referencing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bichotte warned that it can feel like the American dream is turning into a “nightmare” to many New Yorkers.
“A nightmare where 20 million people may soon be stripped of affordable health insurance. Where Medicare and Medicaid, which is heavily relied upon by our seniors, low-income people, and working families will be severely diminished. A women’s right to choose and reproductive freedom may be rolled back. A wall will be build to keep some of us in and immigrants out while tearing families apart through mass deportation,” Bichotte said
“How do we prepare for what’s ahead? How do we keep the dream alive? Our nation is struggling. It is struggling to overcome ignorance and hate.”
More than any other issue, Bichotte said that housing was the number one problem that she heard from her constituents this past year. Many people showed up in person at her office for help.
“Without adequate housing, it is almost impossible for individuals and families to build a stable life, and this remains one of our top priorities,” Bichotte said, adding that in the past year alone, her office handled 154 constituent cases.
Supporting public education and free college tuition for all
Bichotte broke down the projected state budget for 2017-18, which is estimated to be about $162 billion dollars — up from the proposed $142.8 billion in 2016. She contextualized that number by detailing the top expenditures last year — Medicare, Medicaid, health, and education made up around 60 percent of the budget in 2016.
But she attacked Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed education budget, and his proposal to permanently lift the cap off charter schools. “The Governor continues to shortchange our public school system, by only proposing $428 million versus the $4.3 billion that is owed to our public schools,” Bichotte said.
Another important issue for Bichotte is fighting the expansion of charter schools, which she sees as a threat to public education in her district. This idea is being pushed by the new Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, whom Bichotte called a “billionaire who’s made her career fortune rigging the system to privatize and defund our public school system.”
Bichotte mentioned her ongoing work to advance the Dream Act, helping undocumented students attend college, and the introduction last year of legislation that would make New York one of only three states to offer free tuition for all community colleges.
“Last year I introduced the New York Promise Bill, which was reintroduced this year. Now the significant financial investment proposed in this bill would create access to education for hundreds and thousands of New Yorkers.”
Bichotte said her proposal would allocate $450 to $800 million in funds to provide free tuition to community colleges and help lower-income families by offering additional grants to help offset additional costs, such as books.
But she dismissed a similar free college tuition plan proposed by Governor Cuomo, saying that he did not go far enough to help lower-income families. The governor’s plan would cover tuition for state or city university students whose families earn $125,000 or less.
Bichotte addressed the issue of immigration reform, citing four immigration bills which she co-sponsored a few weeks ago which she says will help to ensure the “fair and ethical” treatment of New Yorkers by providing clarity and certainty for state and local officials when they deal with immigrant populations.
“As we protest against the deplorable ban against Muslim immigrants and the ICE raids we are seeing and hearing about, we have to ask ourselves, how did this go so far?”
Bichotte ended the evening with a call to unite coalitions across political movements, urging her constituents to stand together in progressive causes.
“We ought to be marching side by side on all issues that affect our lives and the lives of our neighbors,” Bichotte said. “Let us remember that our liberty and our freedom are intrinsically tied to each other. We are not truly free until we are all free.”