How to Make a Federal Case

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In the ad campaign promoting civic support for the Republican National Convention, former mayor Ed Koch implores us to “make nice” with our GOP guests. What better way to do so than to thank them for everything Washington has done for New York City? After all, we depend on D.C. for $5.7 billion a year in public services–and that’s not counting billions more funneled through Albany. Here’s a handy clip-and-save guide to a few of the favors the White House and Congress have delivered lately.

Air Pollution
New York State helped lead the charge to sue power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and other coal-burning states for violations of the federal Clean Air Act of 1977. So what did the Environmental Protection Agency do? Alter the Act’s regulations, of course. Through the 1990s, power plants that modernized had to upgrade their air-cleaning technology, too. But lots of dirty plants continue to spew mercury, dioxins and other cancer-causing and asthma-exacerbating pollutants into New York’s air. Under the new EPA rule, currently being challenged in court, emissions that would have been in violation of the Clean Air Act are now–poof!–in the clear.

Community Reinvestment Act
Since 1977, this federal law has obligated financial institutions to make loans and investments in the communities where their depositors live. The law has helped steer billions of dollars into poor communities. Federal regulatory agencies now want to exclude banks with less than $500 million in assets from that obligation, a move that is expected to relieve 1,100 banks from CRA oversight. Thirty-six banks of that size are in New York City–and 22 are international banks that predominantly serve immigrants.

Hats off to Health Commissioner Tom Frieden: A year after a poorly prepared application lost New York City tens of millions in federal dollars, we recovered $18 million in federal Ryan White funding to treat and assist people with HIV and AIDS. But our gain was other cities’ loss, and total Ryan White funding has declined.

Homeland Security
We’ll second Bloomberg’s jeremiad: The feds’ funding formula for local anti-terror security amounts to “pork-barrel patronage.” Homeland Security starts by giving every state the exact same amount of money, then adds some more based strictly on population, without regard to the likelihood a state will be targeted by terrorists. This year, we’re expected to get less than 2 percent of total U.S. Homeland Security dollars, and domestic defense aid to New York City will amount to half of what it was in
2003. Now we’re keeping an eye on you delegates, too, at a cost to city taxpayers of $76 million.

If public health improved with every dollar spent, New York would be a medical consumer’s paradise: At $23 billion annually, we’re number one in federal spending on health care for the poor and long-term ill. But for all that money, the truth is we’re in sorry shape. Washington matches state spending on Medicaid and child health programs, but it pays the least for states with the highest average incomes. New York gets the worst end of the deal: 53 cents on the dollar.

Minimum Wage
Our State Senate majority leader says he’ll be happy to raise New York’s minimum wage–as soon as the feds hike the national one. The last time Congress raised the minimum wage, now $5.15 an hour, was in 1997. Since then, the Consumer Price Index has gone up by 15 percent, and the wage is worth just 40 percent of what it was in 1968.

Predatory Lending
The party of “states’ rights” has decided that only the federal government can oversee banks: This spring, the Comptroller of the Currency declared that nationally chartered financial institutions are immune from state banking legislation, including New York’s landmark state and local rules intended to curb predatory lending.

Section 8
The White House’s budget makes significant cuts to the major housing subsidy program for poor Americans, slashing the number of vouchers by nearly one-third over the coming four years and putting dollar caps on total spending. As if that weren’t enough, HUD asked housing authorities retroactively to give up money that had already been budgeted for this year. The likely result in New York: a logjam of families stuck in homeless shelters.

Research assistance by Christine Lagorio.

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