On Politics
by Anthony Stasi
Apr 21, 2009 | 6872 views | 0 0 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If you remember the presidential debates about the national budget in 2008, you might remember that there were two approaches to making cuts. John McCain wanted an across the board spending cut while Barack Obama said that "you don't want to use a sledgehammer where you might be better to use a scalpel." He meant that some projects cannot be cut, at least not right now.

This brings us to the recent city budget cuts proposed by City Hall in regard to housing for people with HIV/AIDS that rely on supportive housing and the results that can come with that.

One program from the city's HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) that is at risk of being cut is a scatter-site program, meaning that a low-income resident gets a stipend to match with their own contribution, and the person finds housing in a building that is participating in the program.

Along with this program, there is a low-income housing program with another scatter-site program that faces cuts. City Hall feels that these programs are duplicative of existing programs and that the city can save money without them.

On Thursday, April 16, housing advocacy groups conducted a mock New Orleans-style funeral procession to protest these cuts. New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN) was very involved in this protest, and many of the protesters were clients.

"It went well as it was lead by HASA clients; people are very active right now. Even people that are no longer benefiting from these programs feel others deserve the same support," said Charles Ryan Long of NYCHAN. "These programs have a unique role. These types of programs are less expensive than emergency care. The resources are there when the will is there."

The mayor will release a final executive budget at the end of this month. We will see then what changes were made and what might stay the same.

These programs work. Transitional housing programs work for young people that have HIV because they keep the youngsters (usually late teens or early twenties) for about 24 months and get them on more disciplined and steady routine. The older folks with AIDS do a lot better with scatter-site programs because they are not on the street.

The HASA programs are designed to get people with HIV/AIDS into permanent housing. And while it's easy to say that we all want housing and times are tough for us all - this population's health can spiral down much quicker.

The Mayor, Gas Tax Hikes, and Political Strategy

Mayor Bloomberg feels that raising the gasoline tax will be a good way to curb consumption. Many people, myself included, have taken to using alternative transportation methods in order to avoid driving, and all that goes with dealing with traffic.

If you are going to cut into the American vibe of driving and force people to take public transportation, you have to give them an alternative. I recently traveled to Baltimore to visit family and took one of those discount bus carriers. I admit to not having much confidence in what this would be like, since I bought my tickets online and the place didn't even have an office in New York City... instead they just a guy standing near the bus.

"Is this is the MVP bus?" I asked someone at a window near Madison Square Garden.

"No, this is another line. You need to go where that man is standing - that's your bus," the woman at the window said.

In the end, the trip cost $17.50 for a round-trip ticket to Baltimore. The downside was that they drop you off in a war zone, but I made arrangements to be picked up. Some of us are trying to leave a smaller carbon footprint.

If the gasoline tax climbs, the city will have to make public transportation more reliable. It means that monthly unlimited MetroCards need to stay at their current prices. It means that more companies will need to offer employees the Transitchek option where workers use pre-taxed income to pay for MetroCards.

Mayor Bloomberg supports these measures, but perhaps suggesting higher taxes on gasoline is a way to politically put pressure on Albany. The mayor clearly wants the State Senate to find a way to keep fares down. By suggesting a higher gasoline tax, and having more people use the subways and busses, he can get more visibility to the fare hike possibility.

But there are improvements in the subways system that existed before the financial crisis. I began writing this column a year ago, when the escalators at 34thStreet were broken. At that time, signs were posted "Out of service for two weeks." Two weeks later...another sign asking people to wait another two weeks. Now it's a year. Now the signs on the escalators say that "green escalators are coming." They're green all right. They don't work at all, so they use no energy because they don't move. Now it is just a narrow staircase, strewn with trash. One year. How is this not fixable?

Queens and Brooklyn residents do not all live where public transportation is a real option. This city - greater New York City - is a lot bigger than it appears on NY1. Hiking gasoline taxes, while I clearly agree with the desired result of fewer drivers, might hurt people that do not have as much of a choice. Tax the loud headphone crowd with a summons and you've already improved public transportation.

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