Rep. Carolyn Maloney on Post Office, PPP Loans, Environment and Serving Brooklyn – A Conversation

Rep. Carolyn Maloney on Post Office, PPP Loans, Environment and Serving Brooklyn – A Conversation
Rep. Carolyn Maloney led a rally at Foley Square last year calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Todd Maisel/Bklyner

When we caught up with North Brooklyn Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney on Tuesday, August 18, she was in high spirits. We talked about all things Brooklyn, from post office and primary to plans for next term. Rep. Maloney won the June primary essentially guaranteeing reelection in the heavily Democratic district in November. Rep. Maloney represents Greenpoint, as well as parts of Queens and Manhattan, and is the chair of the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Reform and a senior committee member of Financial Services and Joint Economic Committee and a member of the Committee on Financial Services.

Bklyner: I don’t think we can start with anything other than talking about the post office.

Maloney: We had a huge win today. We had a day of action across the country to encourage the administration to drop their changes to the post office. That was really leading to voter suppression, really slowing down the mail, making it more difficult for people to vote by mail.

Last Thursday, the president went on national television and said he was opposed to funding the post office because he didn’t support mail-in ballots. I mean, that’s an astonishing thing to say. Think about it. He said that he didn’t support mail-in ballots when it’s in the middle of a coronavirus epidemic. And a lot of people have no other choice but to vote by mail. So I put in a bill to reverse all of the slowdown tactics that the postmaster general Dejoy has put in place and to reverse them. And Nancy Pelosi called an emergency meeting to come back into Congress to pass my bill and the funding for the post office this coming Saturday. And then I had a hearing on Monday with the postmaster general, DeJoy, and she just called me about an hour ago.

And DeJoy sent out a statement saying that he would, you know, dismantle all of the changes that he was trying to put forward that would slow down the mail. That was a stunning win. Stunning win, I would say. So I’m absolutely thrilled.

Carolyn Maloney addresses the press on 8/18/2020 at Foley Square regarding USPS. Via Maloney’s office.

Bklyner: That’s good news regarding the post office. Northern Brooklyn has been plagued by post office issues going back some time. Your office, along with the local elected officials, asked for an audit last year, which found undelivered mail dating back to 2016. Do you think that that kind of systemic problem that we have with the post office can be rectified in time for the election?

Maloney:  Well, I can say that my job on the federal level is to get them funded adequately. And the Board of Governors that is appointed by President Trump, they unanimously voted that the post office was entitled to twenty-five billion dollars. Just to make up with the problems from the Coronavirus and the, you know, the additional costs because of that. So I will be working to get that. Twenty-five billion.

And to stop the postmaster general, I put in legislation to stop him from putting forward management changes. He’s now saying that because he now agrees with us, we shouldn’t pass the legislation. But I don’t trust him. I still want to pass my legislation. I want the reality of a law enforcing it. Now, as you know, the running of the board of Elections is both a state and city issue. Right. And I know that they have held numerous hearings and a package of reform bills have passed the legislature and are now on the governor’s desk. And I support those reforms.

Flying Squirrel in Greenpoint closed this spring – pandemic was the last straw. Courtesy of Kate Schmitz.

Bklyner: When were you last in Brooklyn?

I was in Brooklyn last week. Thursday, I think it was, we met with local businesses on their PPP loans and other things that they were concerned about. A number of people came in and we met in person. Other people, we met via Zoom. I also have been on several Zoom calls with the Chamber of Commerce and have helped businesses secure their PPP loans in the first place.

Bklyner: Is your office hearing a lot about the PPP loans?

Oh, absolutely. When the PPP first came out – 350 billion – within one, two weeks, all the money was gone. So a lot of people in Brooklyn did not get the money the first time around. And so then we did another distribution of PPP loans and my office worked closely with many of the businesses helping them get the PPP along, which is very important. And, you know, they’re helping, you know, technical assistance with it.

And then we had problems. Some of the banks were not processing the loans for the Main Street gentlemen and women who were applying for PPP. We changed the law and said that CDFIs [Community Development Financial Institutions] could be part of handing money out. And in addition to these big banks and others that were part of it. So we helped fund the CDFIs so that they could help process the loans.

And very importantly, we took twenty-five billion and did a set aside that these would be for small loans – under ten thousand dollars. A lot of businesses were wanting small loans. So this was important.

Newtown Creek meets East River. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

Bklyner: Do you think it’s going to be sufficient to help the local Main Street businesses?

Maloney: I think that when we started out, we did the program for two months and then we extended it for another two months and then it expired on August 8. And so I believe personally, I believe we should extend and allow the businesses to reapply for the PPP loans. And they as you know, they’re really grants if you meet the criteria.

I think that they should be extended until the coronavirus is over. Because as we know, a lot of these small businesses – I talked to quite a few restaurants and Greenpoint, Williamsburg – they can have the outside dining now, but what are they going to do when it gets cold? They’re going to be out of business if the Coronavirus is still around. So these businesses need help. They really do need help to get the PPP loans.

Bklyner:  You had a very close primary. How does that change the way that you’re thinking about the next term and what you want to accomplish and what you think you can do so that that doesn’t repeat again?

Maloney: Well, I will continue working on the things that are priorities. It was over 4000 votes. I think I will continue working on the things that I’ve already been working on.

When I was first elected to Congress in ‘92, my district included Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. And one of the first accomplishments I had that was big was in Brooklyn. Greenpoint had an incinerator that had been spewing out fumes and people complained about dust in their homes and this sat in the other. So I arranged for the first federal hearing ever in Greenpoint with Ed Towns, who was then the chairman of the Environmental Committee of the Oversight and Reform Committee that I now chair. And we closed down the incinerator. That was just a huge thing.

The hearing was on whether or not it violated federal standards, and they closed the incinerator down before the hearing because they knew they violated federal standards. So I was very pleased about that.

We also closed down the notorious Greenpoint Marine Transfer Station, which blew trash throughout the neighborhood on windy days.

I’m just telling you that I started out on environmental work and I’m continuing to do it.

Greenpoint waterfront. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

Then I was redistricted out of Brooklyn, then I came back in 2012. And one of the things that I had asked for when I was first elected in ‘92 was to designate Newtown Creek a superfund. Back in 2012, President Obama was the president. So I re-initiated it and met with him and his people and they designated Newtown Creek a Superfund site.

So I will continue to work with the communities and the Newtown Creek Alliance, Lisa Bloodgood, you know, on the remediation and cleanup that they are required to do. Now, she has also embarked on several beautification projects. And I’ve joined her at some of her cleanups and everything that she’s doing and beautification work that she’s doing. So I will continue working on Newtown Creek and the remediation and environmental justice.

Bushwick Inlet Park

I would say for the community when we came back in 2012, one of the biggest concerns was that Mayor Bloomberg had upzoned the area, and many, many buildings were coming in and there was not enough green space. And he had promised the neighborhood a park, the new Bushwick Inlet Park. And along with all of the electeds, we rallied, we marched, we wrote letters. And I was successful in arranging several meetings with the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, on the deal. And he kept the promise of the former mayor. And I believe it was $125 million that he gave our community to buy 27.8 acres for the new Bushwick Inlet Park. And it’s almost unheard of because it’s right on the water. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Bushwick Inlet Park, via NYC Parks.

A lot of times neighborhoods want to do housing or whatever on the waterfront because everybody wants to live on the waterfront. But we were successful in getting that park designated for the people. It was extremely thrilling to me because I know that for generations to come, families will be able to enjoy that beautiful, beautiful park.

And one of the things that we did and I did, we were having like a demonstration every day. And then we finally decided we were going to sleep in the park. And it was a rainy night and we had tents and all of that. And we slept in the park.

And since that, I have started a task force, a community task force? Parks Department with Senator Kavanaugh. And we are working to beautify that area. If you remember, there were these huge tanks, oil tanks there. That was a big deal. We got that removed. There have been some improvements in the area and we’re still working on it. So when you are talking about what I want to do in the next term, I want to see the work and continue working on the Bushwick Inlet Park area by the waterfront that the community has enjoyed so much.

Now, the community also told me that they are advocating for MTA property at 40 Quay Street next to the park. So I have written letters, made meetings on that, and we’re trying to secure that for the Bushwick Inlet Park. So we’ve got to move forward with the beautification of the park.

The new Kosciuszko bridge at night, October 2018. By Edom31 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Kosciuszko Bridge

When I first came back in 2012, the worst bridge in the whole city, the whole state, was the Kosciuszko Bridge. It had the most accidents. It had the most delays. It was really a terrible bridge. I mean, it was a good bridge in that it served a purpose, it literally connected the Queens and Brooklyn areas of my district. And it was a beautiful bridge to go over, but it was in terrible disrepair. So I worked very hard to secure over $874 million in federal funds – roughly 95% percent of the total cost to fund the Kosciuszko Bridge project. I would say now it is the most beautiful and modern bridge in the state of New York. Beautiful at night. Beautiful in the day time. It is a gorgeous project. Ninety-five percent of the funding came from the federal government, and I worked very hard to make that happen.

For the park under the bridge on both the Brooklyn side and the Queens side, 75% of the funding for the park also came from the federal government.

The L Train

Then in 2012, Sandy really destroyed a lot of the neighborhood, but the biggest problem is they damaged the 100-year-old Canarsie tube that carries the L train and connects Brooklyn and Manhattan. I helped get a designation of a billion dollars in federal funds, roughly 70% percent of the total, to repair and modernize and improve the L train.

Bringing federal funds back has been something that I have really worked on.

Affordable Housing

I would say one of the biggest problems that we have is increased rents in the neighborhood. This is really hurting people, and it’s also putting pressure on NYCHA, the Cooper Park houses, along with the community. The city wanted to come in and lease part of the NYCHA property at Cooper for a market level of housing, which is horrible. And along with the community, we were able to stop it. So it’s not always what you do, it’s what you stop. So I will continue to push for federal funding for NYCHA. We got money to repair their roofs and other things.

But one of the things that I worked on very hard was affordable housing for the neighborhood. And one of the projects was the Greenpoint Hospital site. They had given an RFP to someone who could not proceed with it, and I pushed the Mayor very hard to come out with a new request for proposal, move that project forward.

It was a competitive process and the St. Nicks Alliance won it. Thank God it’s a neighborhood group. They do excellent, excellent work, and they are now entitled to move and build affordable housing on that Greenpoint Hospital site. It is a beautiful site. It is near a park. I think it’s a really, really a beautiful thing that we’ve done.

I also pushed for the deduction on the federal level for building low-income housing that we have put forward. But also in the COVID package, we did a moratorium on evictions and we stopped any foreclosures on mortgages that were financed by Fannie and Freddie and the Federal Housing Authority so that that would not move forward. And very importantly, the state in 2019 passed a very important bill that expanded rent protections for people, and I think that that’s made a difference.

Gas Pipeline

Brooklyn residents demonstrate their opposition to the MRI project. Emily Gallagher, State Assembly candidate, fourth from right. Nichols Silbersack of Comptroller Stringer’s office, third from right. Rachel Lindy Baron/Bklyner

Most recently, I’ve been working with local elected officials and activists in opposition to the National Grids North Brooklyn Pipeline Project. In 2020, utilities should be investing in renewable energy sources, not doubling down on investing in infrastructure for the very fossil fuels that are driving climate change.

And then, of course, working with small businesses to help them get these PPP loans and also funding CDFIs to help get money out into the community and loans that are for smaller businesses. And I would like to continue working in these particular areas.

Post Office

Now, you mentioned the post office, the post office and a number of the elected officials asked me to set up the meeting with the Postmaster general for Brooklyn. Yes. We were able to do that. And they did an audit and found all kinds of problems, such as mail that had not been processed. And they are under audits and new directions to be very careful with their management of the Brooklyn Post Office. I do want to go tour it. I want to do that this summer.

Mail Box. Bklyner file photo.

But as you know, they just called me back off for this coming Saturday. Quite frankly, I’m going to frame this letter. The whole entire time I’ve been in Congress, no one has ever been called back to vote for something.

But the Democrats in the country believed that the post office and the threat of defunding it, which the president even last Thursday came out on national television and said he did not support. You know, he didn’t support funding the post office because he didn’t just support mail-in ballots. Now, think about that, mail-in ballots, I would say, are part of our democracy.

The post office is a pillar of our democracy. It’s enshrined in our Constitution. For him to say he wasn’t going to fund the post office, especially when it was his board of directors that said the money was needed for the post office. So funding the post office is a national priority. We’re coming in on Saturday and voting to pass the twenty-five billion and my bill called Delivering for America, which would reverse the changes that the postmaster general put in place.

I am thrilled about it. And then I don’t know if you know, but recently, within the past two hours or maybe three hours, the postmaster general came out and said that he supported the funding and that he supported bopping all of the ill-advised changes that he was making to slow down the delivery of mail. So I’m on cloud nine. It’s a great win for the American people. It makes me very happy. But you know something? You can never, you can never rest until it really is passed into law.

Bklyner: But do you think it could also be better run?

Maloney: Oh, absolutely. I support anything to improve the post office, make it more efficient and accountable to the taxpayer and the people. But don’t slow down the mail. Right. Many people rely on it. A lot of us, residents in Greenpoint and Williamsburg are seniors, are veterans. They depend on the post office to deliver their medications, their packages, their mail. And let’s face it, people have suffered enough under this pandemic without having their mail delivery hindered. I just have to make sure it happens.

Bklyner: You don’t give up.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney led a rally at Foley Square last year calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Todd Maisel/Bklyner

Maloney: I’ve always been progressive. I’ve always been a rebel. And I’ve always had an incredible ability to get things done. I’ll tell you one thing. I’m determined. I put in a bill believe it or not 18 years ago, to provide health care, security and compensation to our 9/11 heroes and heroines. I never gave up. People would say, give up. You’ll never get it. It’s too big a thing. It’s really an entitlement. You’ll never get it. And I wore that fire jacket for a year until the bill was signed into law. So I am persistent. I get things done.

I’ve got to tell you, I’ve had well over 15 bill signings in the Oval Office on bills. You know, that’s usually for landmark bills, the large bills. I’ve had bill signings with every single president.

Bklyner: What do you hope will happen under the next administration?

Maloney: First of all, I hope very much that Vice President Biden is elected.

I think it could be a transformational presidency for infrastructure funding. I love infrastructure money. This president talks about it all the time, but he’s never given us any money to do anything with it. I think Biden will be there for that, for the housing piece that we need.

I want to pass and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. There’s been a bill of mine for a long time. Put women into the Constitution. We’re celebrating the 100th anniversary now for women gaining the right to vote. But let’s get women in the Constitution so that their rights are protected. And I’d love to see that happen.

And I have a lot of ideas for the post office that I’m very excited about.

Bklyner: Thank you very much, and good luck!