Archive | Money

Construction Unions Want More WTC Cash From Insurers

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Construction unions rallied to demand bigger payments from airline insurance companies to help rebuild the World Trade Center. The companies are currently help finance the new Freedom Tower, but the unions want insurers to pay for claims in a wider area of downtown Manhattan.

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Gillibrand Attacks Looming Food Stamp Cuts

Gillibrand Attacks Looming Food Stamp Cuts

Kirsten Gillibrand

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks to media at the Union Square Pavilion on May 3, 2013. Gillibrand and anti-hunger advocates spoke out against proposed cuts to federal food stamp programs. (Max J. Rosenthal/Uptown Radio)

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INTRO: The city’s Independent Budget Office says there are currently almost 2 million people in New York on food stamps. That’s nearly a quarter of the city’s populations. Republicans in Congress are proposing cuts to those benefits. New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand opposes them. Max Rosenthal went to hear her speak about the farm bill this morning.

NARR: The Union Square farmers’ market is one of at least 50 around the city that accept food stamps. Since 2009, people on food stamps have recieved more money thanks to the federal stimulus package. That money runs out in November, and benefits for the average family will drop by 30 to 50 dollars per month. Senator Gillibrand says the effects on New Yorkers will be severe.

GILLIBRAND: It means one less week of food on the table each and every month for the typical family, or 70 million less meals per year right here in New York City.

Roger Cass is shopping at the market using food stamps. He says the cuts will be a big problem for him.

CASS: It will, it will, it will. Especially for someone like me who’s — I mean, at 66 it’s unlikely that I’ll find a job.

Cass depends on food stamps to eat nutritious meals. He goes to food kitchens about three times a week and he often finds junk food or leftovers. At Union Square, he can use what’s called Electronic Benefits Transfer to get tokens that farmers treat as cash.

CASS: I’d say my EBT card probably covers half of what I spend on food.

But as Congress starts debating a new farm bill next week, there may be even more cuts in store.

GILLIBRAND: Some of my Republican colleagues are planning to take it one step further by proposing amendments that would cuts tens of billions of dollars more from the food stamp program and make fewer families eligible for this benefit.

For now, no one knows for sure what cuts may pass, but they are likely to be severe. The budget that passed the House of Representatives gave over $100 billion dollars less for food stamps over the next decade.

Joel Berg is the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. He says that even though food stamps are a small part of the overall farm bill, cutting them will have a disproportionately large effect.

BERG: People are shocked enough at the existing cuts, and they’re just flabbergasted that fat cats in Washington are considering taking even more food away from low-income people.

The Senate Agriculture committee starts debate on the bill next week. Gillibrand’s staff says they expect a vote in the full Senate within the next two weeks.

Max Rosenthal, Columbia Radio News.


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Paychecks Can’t Save Some New Yorkers From Poverty

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And now to economic news closer to home. More and more people in New York are getting jobs since the 2008 financial crisis, But many of those getting employed are also getting poorer. A recent report from the New York Think Tank Center for an Urban Future says that nearly half of all adult workers in the Bronx earn less money than they made before. Reporter Ntshepeng Motema went to Danielle Jacobsen’s apartment in the borough to find out how she makes a living.

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Sandy-Damaged Homes Receive Mortgage Relief

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HOST INTRO:

Nearly half a year has passed since Hurricane Sandy hit the Tristate area. Immediately after the storm, the federal government offered housing relief to home owners whose properties were damaged. They were allowed to stop making mortgage payments for ninety days, so they could focus on repairing their homes. In January, the federal government extended that program, known as forbearance, for another ninety days. With that extension about to expire, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donavan announced a one-year extension. But it may not help all home owners affected by the storm. Anna Goldenberg reports.

REPORTER:

If the original forbearance period for Federal Housing Administration loans would have expired on April 30, 300,000 families would have been faced with the return of their monthly mortgage bill. Donavan, who was the City’s chief housing officer before moving to Washington DC, said that was not acceptable.

DONOVAN

It’s heartbreaking to think that a family could lose their home. To be victims first of a natural disaster, Sandy, and then of a man-made disaster, foreclosure.

He announced that the Federal Housing Administration would extend the forbearance period by twelve months. And he announced another change for FHA mortgage holders.

DONOVAN

When homeowners reach the end of the forbearance period we’re offering them a streamlined modification that doesn’t require a cumbersome financial assessment.

That means that borrowers would not have to pay back the entirety of their mortgage after the forbearance period. Instead, the missing payments would be added to the principal balance of the loan and interest would be adjusted according to the current market rate.

It sounds almost too good to be true. And Franklin Romeo, who is a foreclosure attorney for Queens Legal Services, says it may be.

ROMEO

My primary concern about the announcement is that it doesn’t require the banks to extend the forebearance agreements so we will need to wait and see if banks will actually do that.

Romeo says the other problem with today’s announcement is that it does not affect loans backed by Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac. It only affects mortgages issued through the FHA.

ROMEO

There would certainly be a sizeable number, but it is not the majority of loans out there.

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo sent an open letter to the Fannie and Freddie administrators asking them to extend the mortgage amnesty. The Washington-based corporations have not responded yet. This is Anna Goldenberg, Columbia Radio News.

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City Council Speaker Christine Quinn Plans To Revamp The City’s Transportation System

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HOST INTRO:

City Council Speaker and Mayoral candidate,Christine Quinn announced her plans to improve the city’s transportation system. Quinn laid out some ambitious goals. And as Tenzin Shakya reports the first step will require new legislation.

 

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Newscast 1

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NEWSCAST:

A drug ring operating in Manhattan gets busted.

Thomas Pendergast named as new CEO of the MTA by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

New York City Fleet Week cancelled due to Sequestration budget cuts.

Christie Thorne reports on the days news headlines.

REPORTER:

For Columbia Radio News in New York, I’m Christie Thorne.

A drug ring operating from the Lower East Side was busted today for selling millions of dollars of cocaine. 30 people involved in a street gang were charged with drug trafficking across the city.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today that Thomas Pendergast will be the next CEO of the MTA. In his weekly address on WOR radio, Mayor Bloomberg responded to Christine Quinn’s hopes that the city will take more control over the transit system. He says that the plan is a good idea in theory, but that it seems unlikely.

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: The problem is that the state has this big organization, they would never give up power I don’t think, and the state funds a lot of it. Almost all subway lines in the city will undergo service changes this weekend due to maintenance.

Senator Chuck Schumer and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced plans to help people impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The expanded efforts will allow homeowners to suspend their mortgage payments for up to 12 months while they repair their homes.

Police have released surveillance video of a man that attacked a 68-year-old woman in her East Harlem apartment building on Monday.The attack happened on Columbus Avenue near 102nd Street when the suspect tried to steal the woman’s purse and punched her in the face. The victim is in stable condition.Police believe the suspect is in his early 20s. He was last seen wearing an orange baseball cap and blue and white hooded jacket.

New York City Fleet Week has been cancelled because of sequestration budget cuts.The event welcomes New Yorkers to meet members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. It has been an annual tradition at New York Harbor every year since 1984.

Mario Batali’s West Village eatery, Babbo, is in jeopardy of losing its zoning license. The Community Board rejected Batali’s renewal request for a 10-year extension. The much-loved restaurant is technically placed in a residential zone. And Batali is facing some backlash from his neighbors on Waverly Place.

It’s 42 degrees with scattered showers here in New York City.

For Columbia Radio News, I’m Christie Thorne

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Fast Food Workers Strike For Higher Wages

Fast Food Workers Strike For Higher Wages

Hundreds of New York City fast food workers protest for higher wages and the right to unionize. They marched from a Harlem park to a McDonald’s on Lexington and 125th.

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Fast food workers across the city staged a walk-out yesterday. Workers from some of the biggest chains – McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, KFC – are demanding higher wages and the right to unionize. This is the second time in the last six months workers have staged a one-day strike. Christie Thorne reports.

REPORTER

At 8:30 in the morning on Thursday, Cherise Rodriguez was supposed to be behind the counter of a Burger King at 116th and Lexington. But instead of clocking in there, she was standing outside of a McDonald’s in Midtown. Yesterday was Rodriguez’s first protest. She says even though she was nervous, she knew it was important to join in.

 CHERISE RODRIGUEZ

I’m an overworked person and underpaid. All of us here are overworked and underpaid. And we’re out here for the struggle and we just want everybody’s support for the day. (:10)

 Rodriguez is one of about 50,000 fast food workers in New York City. All of whom make minimum wage – seven dollars and twenty-five cents an hour.

AMBI

Harlem Rally / We can’t survive on $7.25! (:07)

Workers want to double the wage to $15. Rodriguez is chanting at a park in Harlem with her Burger King colleague, Kasseen Silver. They’re about to take part in the final march of the day. Silver says that the city’s cost of living makes these jobs harder.

KASSEEN SILVER

So in order for us to continue to pay our taxes, to receive medical coverage and for us to be able to take care of our family and not nickel and dime check to check…we need these things that everybody wants in this country. We’re tax-paying citizens, we do our job, we do our job well and we just want what we deserve. (:17)

And that’s just not possible on minimum wage says Jessica Cogle, who works at a Harlem McDonald’s and has a baby on the way.

JESSICA COGLE

With $7.25, I can’t afford nothing. Once I pay for my metro card to get to work, and eat…it’s gone! (:08)

In a statement to Uptown Radio, a McDonald’s spokeswoman called the company’s wages competitive and said that employees have access to a range of benefits to meet their individual needs. She adds that McDonald’s works hard everyday to treat employees with dignity and respect.

Workers were happy with the turnout. So was Joseph Barrera. He’s an employee at a Brooklyn Kentucky Fried Chicken and an advocate with New York Communities for Change, one of the organizers of the strike. Barrera says it stalled a Burger King from opening and shut down a Domino’s Pizza altogether.

 JOSEPH BARRERA

Enough of the workers were on our side. I guess it was impossible for them to run the store because it was so understaffed. My store as well. Out of the 11 workers that work there, 6 of them are by my side. (:11)

And Barrera says there have been other gains. Just a week ago City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced a bill that would give full time employees paid sick leave. And last month, New York legislature approved a budget that will bump up the city’s minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2015. Christie Thorne, Columbia Radio News.

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Prison System Feels Sequester Budget Cuts

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HOST INTRO: The across-the-board budget cuts to Federal programs forced by the congressional sequester will start hitting in a couple weeks. One of the many programs losing funding is the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It could be hit with more than $330 million dollars in losses. And that raises questions of safety. Christie Thorne reports.

THORNE: We’ve heard it before – in movies and TV shows, maybe at a tour of the infamous prison, Alcatraz. (:05)

AMB: Prison Doors Lock (:07)

THORNE: The sound of a prison door closing represents something pretty final – who’s in and who’s out. But budget cuts may soon blur this line. And those cuts may cause holes in the system that makes things unsafe. A couple of weeks ago, a former Rikers
Island inmate, Matthew Matagrano, impersonated a corrections officer to break back in to two New York City prisons. His goal seemed to be innocent: he broke in to hang out and smoke cigarettes with some of the inmates. But if he could get in,
what’s going to keep people from getting out? (:23)

NORMAN SEABROOK: Well, I absolutely think that budget cuts has something to do with it. (:04)

THORNE: Norman Seabrook is the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association– the union that represents New York’s nine thousand prison officers. Seabrook says stopping someone who wants to sneak into prison, isn’t the biggest problem the department will face with the coming budget cuts. But each problem could create a ripple effect through the system.

NORMAN SEABROOK: They’ll start with furloughs; they’ll start with giving people four days of work as opposed to five days. So I don’t think it’s going to be something that’s going to drown, if you will, the country, but this will be something that will be sprinkled to those that are used to having umbrellas, so they will feel a little sprinkle. (:21)

THORNE: That sprinkle could turn into a downpour because fewer officers due to budget cuts won’t necessarily mean fewer prisoners. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC before the sequester that these cuts pose a real danger. (:11)

HOLDER: This is something that’s going to have an impact on safety of this country and anybody who says that that’s not true is either lying or saying something that runs contrary to the facts. (:11)

THORNE: But not everyone agrees that those facts are so black and white. Martin Horn’s entire career has been in corrections. He’s the former Commissioner for the New York City Department of Corrections and now teaches at John Jay College of criminal justice. He says safety – both inside and outside of the prisons – is essential. And he thinks it’s going to take a lot more than these budget cuts to weaken the system. (:17)

HORN: I suspect that the Bureau will do whatever it can to spread the sequestered amount over its large number of facilities and each one of its facilities will take a proportionately small share of the hit. (:17)

THORNE: Horn adds there are other ways to cut down on prison costs and he’s confident folks like Matagrano who want to break into a prison won’t become the norm. (:07)

HORN: I doubt, strongly, that they would ever compromise security. All it took was for a single officer to closely check this guy’s credentials and numerous officers failed to do so, so it’s hard to attribute that to staffing. (:18)

THORNE: But as someone who’s focus is on worker safety, union head Norman Seabrook says he’s skeptical that the Department of Corrections Commissioner will be able to have that much control over how the cuts work – and he says there is a chance that
another case like Matthew Matagrano could happen again.

SEABROOK: So yes, we’re going to see more of that because of budget cuts, we are going to so more of that because of the impact of the way that the individuals in the City of New York at Commissioner levels at this time hold no responsibility to the public. So, we are faced with those things
in the future as well. (:18)

THORNE: The New York City Department of Corrections did not return requests for comment on this story. It’s expected that furloughs will begin on April 4th and we’ll start seeing some of these ripple effects – if there are any – in the months to follow.
Christie Thorne, Columbia Radio News. (:06)

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Brooklynites Question Success of Atlantic Yards

 

Jones Barclays

Workers construct the first residential building at the Atlantic Yards project, behind the Barclay’s center. Brooklyn, NY. March 14, 2013. (Emily Jones/Uptown Radio)

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HOST INTRO: Developers sold their plan to build at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards on the prospect of new jobs and affordable housing for a community desperately in need of both. And so far, they’re claiming success with the first step: the Barclays Center. But some say it’s not quite what developers promised. Emily Jones reports.

[ambi: excited crowd, under narration. At subway: “oh wow! Oh wow!” (1:45 in tape) (note: at other points they also say “Brooklyn Nets!” and “Jay-Z!”]
The Barclays Center is still new and exciting here in Brooklyn. Visitors pause to take pictures on their cell phones as they emerge from the subway. (oh wow! Oh wow!) Today, people are rushing through the cold for a string of Atlantic-10 Conference men’s basketball games. Sunday, they’ll be back for the Brooklyn Nets, the first pro team in the borough since the Dodgers left in 1957. And since it opened in September, Barclays has brought in some of the biggest acts in music: the Rolling Stones, Coldplay, part-owner Jay-Z.

“The 108th mayor of New York City – Michael Bloomberg! Empire State of Mind begins, fade under, hold until “here”
Last month, Mayor Bloomberg made a clear point of the arena’s success when he delivered his state of the city address here.

Bloomerg: (laughter) Now the Barclays Center is the latest sign of just how hot Brooklyn has become.

Bloomberg hailed the affordable housing under construction and the new jobs at Barclays: 2,000 people hired, 75 percent live in Brooklyn. Combine the jobs, housing, and big events, he says, and you get what the developers promised the neighborhood: a stable, vibrant economic and cultural center.

It’s a big change from how the area used to look. One lifetime Flatbush resident stopped to Instagram a photo of the center.

Jones: What’s your name?
Samson: Sammy Samson.
Jones: Do you remember what it was like before the Center was built?
Samson 2: I know this was all like, vacated. I don’t know if that’s the right word I’m using.
Jones: Do you think it’s better now?
Samson: I mean it looks nicer, yeah, definitely. I wouldn’t use the word better but it’s, you know, it looks nice.

Others in the area are unsure about the project as well. Gib Veconi is with Brooklyn Speaks, a coalition of community groups working to make the Atlantic Yards project serve the neighborhood. He doesn’t think the jobs at the Barclays Center live up to the developer’s promise.

Veconi 2: Unless you have a living wage job that you can use to support a family, and get benefits, it’s not really that type of stabilizing force.

Only 100 of the 2,000 new employees at Barclays work full-time. The rest are part-time, meaning they don’t get benefits – at least not yet. The union SEIU 32BJ represents the cleaning and security staff, and the crew that converts the Barclays Center between basketball games and concerts. Vice President Shirley Aldoval says because the arena has been open less than a year, employees are still figuring how often they’ll work and whether they’ll stay.

Aldoval 1: So they can work 40 hours or more when there are events going on, when there aren’t events going on they’ll work less. But there’s a threshold, there’s a path for each of these employees to get health insurance and benefits based on the number of events they work.

Workers who pass a certain number of events per year will get health benefits. The specifics of the union’s agreement with Forest City Ratner aren’t public yet. But Aldoval says even employees who don’t work the traditional 9 to 5, 5 days a week will be eligible.

For Veconi of Brooklyn Speaks, the number of jobs created is still an issue. He says the city invested more than 700 million dollars in public subsidies in the arena.

Veconi 1: So is 2000 jobs a fair trade for that? You know it comes out to somewhere around 350 thousand dollars a job. That’s a lot of money.

But the Barclay’s Center and the new hiring there are only the first step in the development.
[Backup beeper, construction sound, fade under]
Behind the arena, excavation is already underway on B2, the first residential building at Atlantic Yards. It’s set to be finished by fall of 2014. The tower will house more than 350 apartments, half of them affordable for low- and middle-income residents. Eventually, the plan calls for more than 6,000 units. (bring up construction, fade) As it stands now, those apartments will be built over the next 25 years. But community advocates are pushing the developers to move up that timeline so Brooklynites can start moving into their affordable housing sooner.

I’m Emily Jones, Columbia Radio News.

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New York Turns to Private Companies to Fund Development

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HOST:
It’s a model that’s been popular with Mayor Bloomberg and name-checked by President Obama in the State of the Union: public-private partnerships. The arrangement helped build city monuments like Grand Central Station. Now there is a new approach: private money will team up with taxpayer funds to improve the most basic government services–schools, roads. Max Rosenthal has the details.

REPORTER:

Private investors have pitched in to build some of the of the city’s most famous new attractions:

MOSER:

Citi Field, Yankee Stadium, Barclay’s Center, the entire Midtown West project is a public-private partnership.

That’s Joel Moser, a professor of international affairs at Columbia. He and other experts say that the partnerships, or “P3s” offer governments a way keep paying for the construction they need. Michael Likosky is one of the country’s leading experts on P3s. He says that the approach lets the city take advantage of private sector flexibility.

LIKOSKY:

P3s allow projects to go forward, to get completed faster and it broadens the number of projects one can do.

These days, the projects aren’t limited to stadiums or skyscrapers. New York’s growing population and aging infrastructure means that even bigger bills are on the horizon.

LIKOSKY:

In order to do what we want to do in terms of more high-tech jobs, more manufacturing jobs, we really have to drive down the cost of doing business in the city and in the state. And P3s are the main way that that can happen.

Other big cities like London have already started using private companies to fund basic public needs like water.

It’s worked so far, but it’s not without risk. Private companies save the city money by building the projects themselves, but they expect to make money from the deal. Biser says that can be difficult when talking about something like a bridge.

BISER:

Suppose you enter into an agreement today and you allow the tolls to rise at a certain rate based on certain indexes. You can end up with a toll that is totally unacceptable to society. And therefore the private sector made a deal and they need to get their money back, but it doesn’t fit necessarily with the public good.

NORMENT:

This is not philanthropy. This is a business deal. You’re trying to make an investment in the community.

Rick Norment is the Executive Director of the National Council on Public Private Partnerships. He says that Mayor Bloomberg’s push is a big part of the reason P3s are growing in the city.

NORMENT:

It’s critical in public-private partnerships to have strong leadership from the public sector.

And that leadership should continue after Bloomberg steps down next year. With public money still in short supply, New Yorkers can expect more P3s in the coming years no matter who is running the city.

Max Rosenthal, Columbia Radio News

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JP Morgan’s $2 Billion Deal Backfires

JP Morgan's bank strategy has come under fire (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

J.P. Morgan Chase made it through the financial crisis relatively unscathed. And its CEO, Jamie Dimon [dye-mon] was supposed to be untouchable.

But yesterday, the firm announced that it had taken a two-billion dollar loss on a massive trade that backfired.

Dimon called the bank’s strategy “poorly executed and poorly monitored.”

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Bill de Blasio Critiques Bloomberg’s Education Cuts

Bill de Blasio, public advocate, speaks outside City Hall criticizing Mayor Bloomberg's proposed budget (Photo/ John Light)

 

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HOST INTRO

Another potential 2013 candidate for mayor has blasted Mayor Bloomberg for his 2013 budget. The budget would cut the number of contracts awarded for after school and early child care programs by about half. In the week since the mayor unveiled his budget, educators and parents have taken to the streets to protest. And today, Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio added his voice to the growing outcry. John Light reports.


JOHN LIGHT, REPORTER

At a press conference outside city hall, De Blasio said that Bloomberg’s proposed cuts are part of a trend that he finds unsettling. When the recession began, the public advocate said, there were more than 130,000 kids in after school programs and childcare programs.

BILL DE BLASIO

If this budget passes as it is, that combined figure will go to 53,000. 80,000 fewer kids.

JOHN LIGHT

De Blasio’s office has put together a report, called “Cut Now, Pay Later.” It argues that while the cuts may save money now, they’ll cost the city in the long run.

BILL DE BLASIO

We have a Harvard study that shows for every one dollar invested in early childhood education generates two dollars in economic activity.

JOHN LIGHT

Though De Blasio’s report looked to the future, some people in the crowd were focused on the next few weeks. Wanda Torres works at a daycare center in the South Bronx.

WANDA TORRES

We got a letter on Monday saying our contract wasn’t going to be renewed. So as of June 30th we’re no longer going to receive funds, and we’re going to be shut down.

JOHN LIGHT

Torres says that many parents who send their children to her daycare center are not sure where else they might be able to send their kids while they’re at work. She says … some parents have considered leaving their jobs or working part time, but for many, that’s not an option.

WANDA TORRES

If they leave their job, then who’s going to support their kids? So they were asking us if we have anything, but we’re just in the same place that they are. We don’t have any definite information as to what’s going to happen.

JOHN LIGHT

Educators across New York have rallied students and parents to protest the proposed cut since Bloomberg’s budget presentation last week. Just yesterday, Bloomberg announced a public information campaign — the largest ever of its kind — to address chronic absenteeism in public schools. Manhattan parent Elzora Cleveland finds Bloomberg’s focus on absenteeism ironic in light of his proposed cuts.

ELZORA CLEVELAND

It’s very interesting that he wants to target absenteeism at a time like now but yet he opts to close after school programs and early childhood education programs. I mean, that is going to have a ripple effect of more absenteeism.

JOHN LIGHT

When he presented the budget, Bloomberg admitted that he may not get all the cuts he’s asked for.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG

Well, number one, we work with the city council between now and June 30th. So we’ll see how all of that works out.

JOHN LIGHT

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn — who’s a likely candidte to succeed Bloomberg — will be overseeing any changes to the proposed budget. And Quinn vowed last week to reinstate funding to after school programs. Hearings on the cuts will begin Monday, May 14th.

John Light, Columbia Radio News.

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Abandoned Properties Increasing in New York

Abandoned properties like this one on Hooker Avenue are costing the City of Poughkeepsie more than they can afford. Photo by Acacia Squires/Columbia Radio News

Cities across the country are still struggling with the aftermath of the mortgage crisis. Officials in Poughkeepsie in New York’s Hudson Valley are facing a sharp increase in the number of abandoned properties — and they say that’s stressing the city budget. Acacia Squires went there to examine why — and find out what relief might be in sight.

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***

Building Inspector Gary Beck Jr. starting working for the City of Poughkeepsie fourteen years ago. Back then, there were 25 buildings the city’s nuisance property list – mostly charged with having peeling paint or messy yards. Today the list has grown to nearly 300 homes. And Beck says these buildings need more than just a new coat of paint, because nobody is taking care of them.

Act (Beck): Just about two years ago we really started having a difficult time finding anyone responsible for these properties.

Driving down an oak lined street, he points out dilapidated houses.

Act (Beck): Here we are on Hooker Ave. This grey one here. This blue one, yeah, this blue one. The yellow one.

There are three just on this block. Banks haven’t foreclosed on these homes, instead, the owners found themselves underwater – they owe more on their mortgages than the houses are actually worth, so they walked away leaving the properties to decay and the city to take care of them. Beck stops his black SUV in front of a yellow Victorian.

Act (Beck): Can you see it’s boarded on the front door. See the garage the same thing, that’s dilapidated. The columns are starting to fall, the stone pillars are failing.

Sound: Getting out of the car and walking toward the house. Sounds of traffic, dogs and walking through tall grass. Down and under next narrations.

He gets out of the car and heads around the back of the house. His crew was here a couple of weeks ago to clear out garbage and cut back the tall grass, but both problems are back.

Act (Beck): It’s frustrating. The public, they constantly call us and then it makes it look like we aren’t doing our job because it keeps happening over and over again.

The problem doesn’t stop at trash and weeds. (Cut out ambi) Poughkeepsie’s Mayor, John Tkazyik, says these properties put heavy demands on several city departments.

Act (Tkazyik): Causes a lot of stress to the Police Department. There are fires set at times, which puts a burden on the fire department. And then of course the expense that it brings to all of us, time, resources, equipment, man power.

One official estimates these issues cost the city over 100,000 dollars a year. Another says, it’s impossible to estimate. Poughkeepsie has to take care of the homes, because they’re in legal limbo. This time last year, New York State passed a law pinning the responsibility for maintaining foreclosed properties on banks. But if a bank hasn’t foreclosed, it’s not responsible for upkeep. Poughkeepsie’s Chief Legal Officer, Paul Ackermann says that period of time between when the owners walk away, and the bank finally forecloses, is the city’s biggest concern.

Act (Ackerman): Nobody, nobody is taking care of the property during that period of time. The owner is in there saying, you know what, I give the property back to the bank, and the bank is saying, we are not foreclosing.

There are a number of reasons why banks might drag their feet on foreclosures. They might not have the correct documentation, or there may be a backlog. Tkazyik believes there’s another reason.

Act (Tkazyik): They are holding out for the market to turn around, to get the best bang for their buck.

Whatever the reason, Poughkeepsie isn’t the only city that’s having a hard time taking care of abandoned properties.

Act (Brooks): The abandoned and vacant property issue is absolutely a national problem.

James Brooks studies housing issues at the National League of Cities, an advocacy group in Washington DC. He thinks the situation may be turning aroun in part because some of the country’s largest lenders have agreed to shell out a twenty-five billion dollar settlement. Some of the money will go to reduce payments for homeowners with underwater mortgages. Brooks thinks that might help the cities feel some relief.

Act (Brooks): I think we might even be at the beginning of the end, as opposed to the end of the beginning. The hope is I think that with mortgage holders are on track to get some resolution so that ultimately more people will remain in their homes with loans they can manage.

But Poughkeepsie Mayor John Tkazyik wonders why cities like his aren’t getting part of the settlement directly. He wrote a letter to New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asking for a slice of New York’s hundred-thirty-million-dollar share of the banks’ money. He recently heard back.

Act (Tkazyik): They said that they are now piecing together the portions of the settlement package and they would consider the aid to the municipalities because again we don’t have the expenses in our budget.

But the city can’t count on it, and until the details are worked out, Poughkeepsie still has to pay high price tags for some of its efforts. For example, an abandoned home in the city went up in flames last month. Building inspector Building Inspector Gary Beck Jr. stands in front of what’s left, a pile of debris six feet tall and half the length of a basketball court.

Act (Beck): We had to hire a contractor to come in and demolish it so that it wouldn’t fall in on anybody.

Poughkeepsie officials gathered residents at a local high school to think of what to do next. The City is collaborating with a New York City law school to develop a strategy. The plan will include ideas both with, and without, that settlement money.

Acacia Squires, Columbia Radio news.

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City Proposes Water Rate Increase

Squires_WaterRates_BNCDepartment of Environmental Protection in the Bronx. Photo: Acacia Squires.

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HOST INTRO: If you’re a tenant in New York City, you probably don’t pay the water bill. But there’s no such thing as a free shower. Your landlord’s footing that bill, and since 2007, it’s been growing: Water rates in the city have gone up by seventy-seven percent over the past five years.

Now, the city’s proposing another rate increase. It’s the lowest in five years, and that’s good news for landlords, sort of. Acacia Squires reports.

***

SQUIRES: Everyday more than one billion gallons of fresh water makes its way from upstate New York to the city’s five boroughs. Some of that water ends up here, in a backyard garden in the Greenpoint neighborhood in Brooklyn.

AMBI: Sounds of chickens

Katrina Mauro has co-owned this four-unit building since 2007.

Mauro: The garden definitely takes a lot of water, as you can see we have a lot of planters here.

She and her tenants share the vegetables, but not the bill. Like most landlords in New York, she pays the water for the entire property. She says she never really thought about her water bills — she just rolled them into the cost of owning a building. It wasn’t until she started really looking at the rate that she realized how much it’d gone up.

Mauro: You know, 200-300 when I first moved in. Then the next few years it was 300 to 350, and now I am looking at it and my last bill was 498 dollars, so that’s a major increase in five years.

The rising cost of water may not be obvious to landlords of properties this size, but big landlords say they’ve definitely noticed. Steven Lavelle works for Ventura Land Corp in Flushing Queens. The company owns nearly 1,000 units across the city.

Lavelle: I pulled out a bill here. 2008, here is a property. I paid for a three month bill almost forty-seven hundred dollars. Two years later, 10,683 dollars. So, I go from paying roughly 18,080 dollars a year, to 42,800 a year.

Every year the Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP, which runs New York City’s water system, takes a look at it books. Then it proposes how much the cost of water will probably be. This year, it asked for an increase of just over seven percent – the lowest since before the price of water started to take off. But, Lavelle says with all of the year-on-year increases, inflation in energy isn’t the only thing that catches his attention anymore.

Lavelle: To me trying to combat the rising cost of oil was always more important than the rising cost of water. But, that’s not the case anymore. The numbers are staggering, the increases never cease and clearly they are not coming down.

The DEP says it needs to raise rates to pay off its debt. The Department issued a lot of bonds about five years ago in order to pay for improvements it needed to comply with federal environmental mandates. Now, landlords in New York are paying that bill, and a lot of them aren’t happy.

Jain: Landlords have a case to be made there.

Rahul Jain keeps track of the DEP at the nonpartisan watchdog group, the Citizen’s Budget Commission. He says the cost of water has shot up in part because, the department severely underestimated how much it would cost to fix its environmental problems, so it had to borrow more money than it originally intended.

Jain: Then the question is about, what has contributed to the cost overuns? And that’s kind of an argument about if they have been managed as well as they should have been or the expertise there weren’t able to surmise that these things were going to run over budget.

That means it’s likely water rates are going to continue to increase. Landlords say they have to pass that cost onto tenants. Steven Lavelle of Venutra Land Corp says if they can’t do that, for example, with those tenants protected by rent control, his company may have to get rid of those buildings.

Lavelle: Every dollar that is produced has to used to pay the bills of the building. If we don’t get a handle on the rates, it may make more sense for us to walk away from it.

Lavelle says that while his company has that option, smaller landlords like Katrina Mauro in Greenpoint will have no choice but to raise rents.

Lavelle: There are a lot of smaller property owners who, pardon the pun, are going to be soaked with these bills, and unless we are about to do something about it, we are going to see more properties distressed, and people might even lose their properties.

While landlords here think the situation is bad, the cost of water is actually half it is in Seattle and Atlanta. New York is ranked 12th among major US cities. DEP will hold public hearings over the next month in each borough. The New York City Water Board, which oversees rates, will vote on the proposed increase in May. If approved, the rate hike will go into effect in July.

Acacia Squires, Columbia Radio News.

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Despite Good Job News, Unemployment Claims Grow

Job seekers attend a National Career Fair, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

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After months of good news on the job front, last week unemployment benefit claims grew. I spoke with Heidi Shierholz, an economist from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington D.C.,  concerning the recent trends in the job market.

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Tips for Last-Minute Tax Filing

(AP Photo/Don Ryan)

 

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HOST INTRO:
Tuesday is Tax Day. A D.C. area holiday gives filers an extra two days this year.
If you haven’t filed yet, there’s still time. But don’t let the deadline rush get to you. Jason Slotkin reports;

Dennis Wang filed his tax return weeks ago.
But the college senior has spent his spring break filling out other people’s 1040 forms. He oversees a free student run tax service for low-income households. The service is at Baruch College library.

He’s been there for 50 hours this week, along with 175 other student volunteers tabulating deductions and credits, while other classmates are in Florida or Cancun. He says it rewarding.

Dennis Wang
To see a client smile or have a client thanks us is a similar experience. It’s probably a better experience than going to Cancun

Wang says, the students help between 50 to 100 people a day
Even more are coming this week. For those filing their taxes themselves… on deadline. Rushing can lead to errors, rejected applications and late fees.

Dianne Besunder is a spokeswoman for the IRS in New York.
She says most people make really simple mistakes including messing up on basic math.

Dianne Besunder
Be careful. Check those numbers. Do em twice. Make sure everything looks good….People will file a completely correct return and forget to sign it.

Besunder says most mistakes are made on the paper form which require filers to do the math themselves.
She suggest instead to file electronically. It checks the math for you will notify you immediately about whether or not your return has been accepted. Besunder says electronic applications has a less than one percent rate of error.

David Sands is a CPA, whose been working nearly 70 hours this past week.
There are potential deductions, you can miss out on. Some mistakes can warrant a letter from the IRS. Sands says take your time, however long you may need.

David Sands
If you don’t want to spend the time there’s plenty of professionals out there.

Jason Slotkin
Also, filing your taxes…There’s an app for that.
I caught up with Anthony Rivera on the Upper West Side. He filed his taxes with an iPhone app.

AMBI BRIDGE
SOUNDS OF STREET
All he did was fill out the form and snap a picture of it with his phone. Of course, Rivera filed his return months ago. He doesn’t recommend filing your taxes at the last minute

Anthony Rivera
I wouldn’t wait until the last minute. It’s like cramming for a test,. I’d try and get a head start on it.

In summation, best way to to file your taxes. Start Immediately. Jason Slotkin. Columbia Radio News.

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The New York Auto Show: Half Time in America?

Clint Eastwood had a clear message during February’s Superbowl commercials: “It’s halftime in America.”

And U.S. car sales support his declaration. They rose again last month, even amid high gas prices. This week, car manufacturers are showing off what those profits have earned them at the New York International Auto Show.

Host Andrew Parsons talked to Sonari Glinton, NPR’s business reporter in Detroit. He says this year’s auto shows have a different feel than they did three years ago.

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City Brewers Shop Local

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HOST: Business is booming for New York’s breweries, and Governor Andrew Cuomo recently proposed to give it a further boost. He wants a new liquor license for brewers who use largely state-grown ingredients. It comes with a host of incentives. Leanna Orr checked in with the brewmasters at Kelso Brewery in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

SOUND: Bring up brewery ambi under narration

LEANNA ORR: The first things that you notice walking in is the smell. The garage doors at the front of the brewery are rolled up, and malty, grainy steam wafts out. The brewers are all young, bearded guys in worn band t-shirts.

JOHN CHAPMAN: We’ve got just like, it looks almost like oatmeal coming out of the side of the stainless-steel mash tun.

ORR: Brewer John Chapman rakes the steaming mass from a stainless steel tank into an enormous plastic bucket.

CHAPMAN: Right now, this is the first stage of making beer. It’s called the mash, basically what we’re doing is extracting all the sugars from this grain that will be fermented, and become beer.

ORR: Cornhusker lager, to be precise. The mash Chapman’s raking is made of barley grown in the Midwest, so this beer wouldn’t qualify under Cuomo’s proposed license. To meet the standard, Forty percent of the barley and yeast have to come from New York, and twenty percent of the hops. Kelso Brewery wouldn’t make the cut.

Head Brewer Sam Richardson is tossing burlap sacks of malted barley off a cart and into a growing pile.

SOUND: Bring bags tossed into a pile up, 1 second fade down

SAM RICHARDSON: At this point there just isn’t a lot of local ingredients, so it would be pretty hard to meet those requirements. The only local malting company doesn’t even produce enough malt for one brewery. And they’re in Massachusetts, so I don’t know if that even counts.

ORR: It doesn’t. And the sacks Richardson just unloaded come from even farther afield than Massachusetts.

RICHARDSON: The UK, Germany, this one’s from Minnesota

ORR: Cart empty, he rolls off for another load.

SOUND: Malt cart rolling, fade up 2 seconds and under

ORR: Right now, Kelso couldn’t come close to using enough local ingredients to qualify for the proposed Farm Brewery license. But Cuomo’s legislation aims to encourage agricultural production of the malts and hops they’re looking for. The bill does this by allowing small farmers to become small brewers. It’s modeled after New York’s hugely successful Farm Winery license, which cut the red tape between growing grapes and selling wine. Farmers can sell their grapes, make their own wine to retail, or both. Either way, less red tape means greater profits and more incentive for farmers to produce grapes, barley and hops.  Julie Suarez is the director of public policy at the New York State Farm Bureau. She thinks the Farm Brewery bill will be just as successful.

SUAREZ: We really do anticipate that this license category, similar to the Farm Distillery license category and farm winery license category, will really help spur some nice connections between our farmers and added value production.

ORR: Bottom line: Farmers make a lot more money on alcohol than grain.

SUAREZ: It’s the fact that consumers are willing to pay a lot more for alcohol than they will for the raw agricultural product.

ORR: Her office has been lobbying for this kind of legislation for several years, and she says it has a good chance of getting through. Here’s how it works: any brewery using the required amount of local ingredients can qualify for a Farm Brewery license, even if they’re like Kelso, and not located on a farm. With this license breweries can open bars and restaurants, run tastings and retail straight to customers without jumping the usual bureaucratic hoops involved in selling alcohol.  There are no tax breaks, but it alleviates a tax filing requirement—something any small business owner would welcome.

Kelso’s Brewmaster Kelly Taylor says the biggest difference for him would be in reaching his target market: locavores

TAYLOR: It would allow us to promote our products in farmers markets, kind of like how local wineries do.

ORR: The state legislature should make a decision on the bill in the next two months. At the moment, though, there’s plenty of demand for homegrown ingredients right here in New York, and not much supply. That’s not slowing down Kelso though. Shiny aluminum kegs are stacked on pallets and on their way out. They’re brimming with the juices of British hops and Midwestern malt.

SOUND: Warm under forklift backing up and loading

ORR: As the forklift heads to loading dock, one keg makes a bid for freedom.

SOUND: Keg falling off forklift

ORR: Even filled with foreign grains, it  seems to have made itself at home.

Leanna Orr, Columbia Radio News.


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