These 3 NY budget proposals have support from conservatives, liberals – and not Kathy Hochul

The governor is resisting expanded school lunches, housing vouchers and health insurance for undocumented immigrants.

State Sen. Michelle Hinchey speaks at a press conference for free school lunches.

State Sen. Michelle Hinchey speaks at a press conference for free school lunches. NYS Senate Media Services

As budget negotiations drag on past the April 1 deadline, advocates and activists for any number of issues have continued to push for their policy priorities. Those include a handful of proposals that have support from across the political spectrum – establishing universal free school lunches, establishing a housing access voucher program and seeking a federal waiver to expand federally subsidized health care to undocumented immigrants. But even as support from liberals and conservatives alike grows for the proposals, Gov. Kathy Hochul has remained resistant to them. 

Housing Access Voucher Program

Both chambers of the Legislature included all three ideas in their one-house budget proposals released last month. With regards to the housing access voucher program, the state Senate and Assembly both proposed allocating $250 million to enact a program that would provide vouchers to help keep people facing eviction or at risk of homelessness in their homes. Unlike many other housing issues that have pitted real estate interests against tenant advocates, the voucher program has the backing of the two sides that normally find themselves at odds. 

This year, the standalone legislation to establish the voucher program made it out of the Assembly Housing Committee with unanimous bipartisan support and only one Democrat listed as “excused” from the vote. “HAVP is supported by every possible group within the largest range there is,” Assembly Housing Committee Chair Linda Rosenthal told City & State in February after the legislation made it out of her committee. “There’s broad support because everyone understands – Republican or Democrat – that we have a housing crisis and a homelessness crisis.” On the state Senate side, no member of the Housing Committee voted against advancing the legislation either.

But for a second year in a row, Hochul has declined to include the housing access voucher program in her executive budget. Although she made housing the cornerstone of her budget this year, that did not extend to the vouchers, citing cost as a reason at a press conference in March. Although at the time Hochul said she would discuss the proposal in negotiations, a spokesperson did not offer any updates on her position when asked on Wednesday.

Universal free school lunches

Universal free school lunches has also gained growing support from across the aisle as more and more Republicans have signed on to cosponsor the standalone legislation. “It’s been one of the most impactful bipartisan efforts I have seen in a very long time,” Assembly Member Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, who sponsors the bill, told City & State. It has over 80 cosponsors, including 16 Republicans, and has garnered support from an array of editorial boards as well. “I’m actually quite baffled why this is not a priority for (Hochul),” Gonzalez-Rojas said. 

New York City currently provides free school lunches to all students, but the state as a whole only does so for low-income students. During the pandemic, New York, like a number of other states, received a federal waiver to expand free lunches to all students. But where states like Vermont and Massachusetts approved one-year extensions for those waivers, New York has not. Minnesota and New Mexico have in recent weeks made headlines for signing into law among the first permanent universal free school lunch programs in the country. “We should have been number one on this issue, but certainly it’s never too late,” Gonzalez-Rojas said. 

Health care for undocumented immigrants

On the issue of expanding health care for undocumented immigrants, bipartisan support has admittedly been more muted. No Republican lawmaker has publicly joined calls for the state to apply for a federal waiver to widen the eligibility for the Essential Plan, the federally subsidized insurance plan created as part of the Affordable Care Act. But notably, the fiscally right-leaning government watchdog Citizens Budget Commission found itself on the same page of the leftwing anti-poverty group Community Service Society in support of expanding the Essential Plan. And Bill Hammond, the conservative Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy, wrote that the state has a surplus of federal funds for the insurance plan in a piece about the misguided demand for more money as part of a waiver application to allow more people to be eligible. Although Hammond has avoided taking a hard stance on the issue one way or the other, he noted that the state did not even include undocumented immigrants as part of the draft waiver application and suggested that the state does have the money to spend

Hochul promised last year that she would apply for a federal waiver to expand the Essential Plan after her administration argued that doing so without federal funding would be too expensive for the state. But despite that promise, the Department of Health said last month that the state left undocumented immigrants out of the waiver application it did submit to slightly expand the insurance plan “because it was determined that the financial risk to New York was too high” at the time. A recent Siena Poll also found little support for expanding health insurance to undocumented immigrants.

When asked about each of the three policy proposals and whether the governor’s stance on them has changed in recent days or weeks, a spokesperson for Hochul did not directly address the issues and instead pointed to other parts of her budget that have received varying degrees of bipartisan support.

Correction: This story originally mischaracterized Bill Hammond’s stance on expanding the Essential Plan for undocumented immigrants. Although he has offered thoughts on the issue, he has not offered explicit support nor opposition for the idea.

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