I brought in this New Year with an especially loud cheer. We finally put behind us a decade that saw the nation's income inequality gap and the poverty rate increase.
The next ten years, I hope, will be better than the last for New Yorkers, especially those in our underserved communities. To put us on the right track I want to highlight five achievable goals for our City to focus on in 2010.
My Wish List for 2010
1. Win Race to the Top funding in New York. New York is eligible for up to $700 million of the $4.4 billion in Race to the Top money. In a state with a $7 billion budget deficit, that represents critical support to help fill the gap. The first deadline to submit applications was January 19, however, all signs indicate that New York will need to apply again in the second round in June.
New York won't receive any of the $700 million unless we implement several important reforms. Among the requirements that the U.S. Department of Education has laid out, New York must raise the charter school cap above 200 and allow the use of student performance data in determining teacher effectiveness. Even without the Race to the Top Funding these are healthy reforms for our education system.
Although New York - and New York City in particular - has made significant progress over the last 7 years, without these two changes it's unlikely we'll win any of the Race to the Top funding.
2. Increase our commitment to Early Childhood Education. The smartest investment our government and the private sector can make is an investment in the long-term health and well-being of our children. Studies show that every $1 spent on a young child results in a $4 return to the individual and a $13 return to society.
Despite improved graduation rates and academic performance in NYC public schools, children in underserved communities continue to significantly lag behind their peers. That's why, as debate on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) heats up in 2010, we need a commitment from City, State, and the federal government to invest in early childhood education.
3. Improve access to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). As tax season approaches it is crucial - especially in this tough economic climate - that New Yorkers take advantage of important tax credits they may be eligible for. Each year, many low and moderate income families forfeit thousands of dollars because of lack of access to tax preparation and counseling services.
Those claiming the EITC are eligible for free tax preparation services provided at nearly 12,000 volunteer sites nationwide (including 54 New York City EITC Coalition sites, 11 of which are run by the Food Bank of New York City). Still, 15 to 20 percent of households entitled to the EITC do not claim these basic credits. Comprehensive awareness campaigns can provide basic information for people that want to take control of their finances, access immediate help, and put a dent in the thousands of eligible households not claiming credit.
4. Expand access to Food Stamps. A 2008 report by the Food Bank for New York City showed that 48 percent or approximately 4 million New York City residents experienced difficulty affording needed food for themselves and their families, up from 2 million or 25 percent in 2003 (almost double) and up from 3.1 million or 38 percent in 2007 (a 26 percent increase).
Yet only three out of five New Yorkers eligible for food stamps actually receive them. By giving community-based organizations the tools and resources to assist clients with the food stamp enrollment process, we can expand enrollment and get more New Yorkers access to healthier food choices.
5. Encourage healthy living and make it easier to purchase nutritious food. Under the leadership of the new Health Commissioner, Thomas Farley, New York City has continued to aggressively tackle our toughest health problems. With more than half of adult New Yorkers overweight (34%) or obese (22%), and nearly half of all elementary school children (43%) and Head Start children (42%) overweight or obese, I support strong measures to make our City a healthier one.
In 2009 the New York City Department of Health (DOH) expanded its far-reaching campaign to encourage healthy living and decrease obesity with programs like FRESH and its clever 'bottle-of-fat' ad, which brought much-needed attention to sugar-sweetened beverages. A 2007 community health survey conducted by NYC DOH found that more than 2 million New Yorkers drink at least one sugar-sweetened beverage each day - adding as much as 250 empty calories to their diets. AdAge recognized the in-your-face ad as a top five viral video in its debut. A publicly funded campaign sharing the spotlight with the likes of Evian, Gap and Microsoft demonstrated that tax payer dollars can be spent wisely on campaigns that deliver clever creative and measurable behavior change. Now it's time to get the buy-in from all levels, from the Department of Health and City elected officials to social service providers and individuals themselves. When the City's health data comes out at the end of the year, I'd like to see this trend reversed.
I am confident that if we make 2010 a year of action we will look back on it as the year we started making significant progress to improve the health of underserved communities, reduce the poverty rate, and narrow education achievement gap. Tackling education, income and health issues with the same level of urgency as we've seen in the response to the disaster in Haiti will surely lead to tangible results and a better future for those who need it most.