As Governor Andrew Cuomo faced increasing calls to resign, a coalition of activists huddled at his office on March 1 to demand tax hikes on the rich and decry looming budget cuts that could wreak havoc on vulnerable New Yorkers.
The demonstration at 633 Third Avenue in Manhattan, which featured ACT UP New York, Housing Works, VOCAL-NY, Treatment Action Group, the Reclaim Pride Coalition, and others, was held just one month before New York is slated to impose major changes to the federal 340B program, which requires drug manufacturers to distribute medication to some providers at discounted rates.
Local non-profits have issued warnings for months and stressed the disastrous implications the 340B changes could have on people living with HIV/AIDS, individuals experiencing homelessness, and others who rely on the stability of those funds. Vaccine rollout efforts, they say, would also be hampered if the changes proceed.
“The proposed carve-out of the 340B drug pricing plan will hurt my community, Housing works clients, and the programs they use,” said Damon Grandison, who represented Housing Works. “The total loss to healthcare providers would be at least $250M ever year.”
Among other points, activists ripped the governor for patting himself on the back when he recently touted progress in the fight to end AIDS. In New York City alone, Gay City News reported earlier this year that the city is on track to miss a key goal in the plan to end AIDS.
The demonstration took place as multiple sexual harassment allegations and a nursing home scandal engulfed the governor. Those issues are contributing to an ongoing series of problems that advocates have long highlighted.
“[Cuomo] violates his own staff and violates millions in public policy,” Jawanza James Williams, VOCAL-NY’s director of organizing, said during the demonstration.
Activists also pressed the governor and state lawmakers to pass the Invest in Our New York Act, which is a six-bill package that would tax the wealthiest New Yorkers in order to generate $50 billion for housing, healthcare, education, and other areas.
Standing just steps from Cuomo’s office building at 633 Third Avenue in Manhattan, activists chanted, “Tax the rich! Pass the Bill! Cuomo cuts kill!”
Williams added, “Governor Cuomo, are you going to continue to side with the oligarchs… at the expense of vulnerable people? If you are a person of faith, if you understand what we are called to do, we are called to take care of our vulnerable people. Those people are Black, they are brown, they are trans, they are experiencing homelessness, they’re at risk of overdose, they’re in nursing homes, and they’re in prisons. They don’t have access to COVID-19 vaccines.”
Activists got creative in their efforts to draw attention to the acute crises at hand. One large sign mocked Cuomo’s splashy book deal by reimagining the title of the book to instead read, “Leadership Failures from the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Red handprints were plastered all over the sign to show the governor with blood on his hands. Other signs read notes such as “Cuomo Cuts Kill” and “Tax the Rich.”
While much of the demonstration focused on New Yorkers who are on the receiving end of care, some folks also pointed to the ways in which healthcare and home-based workers must also be taken into consideration.
“Our state has a massive, growing need for long-term and home- and community-based care, yet many home care workers across the state are paid less than minimum wage,” Meira Harris from Jews for Racial Justice said in a written statement. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State has cut Medicaid and essential care services. We need to invest in New York’s care economy so that people can stay in their homes and care workers can stay in their jobs. This is skilled, life-sustaining work, and those working in this field–mostly women of color–deserve to be paid well…”
Protesters who took on the governor got an assist from some state lawmakers who shared their concerns. State Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx, who chairs the upper chamber’s Committee on Health, said in a written statement that requiring wealthy New Yorkers to pay their fair share of taxes could go a long way towards addressing health woes in the state.
“Taxing the wealthiest among us is not only a moral imperative but it will finally allow us to adequately invest in the healthcare system that our communities deserve,” Rivera said.
Assemblymember Karines Reyes of the Bronx, who has worked as a nurse, echoed Rivera’s sentiments.
“The Governor has shown that he values the wishes of the wealthy over the needs of our most disadvantaged communities,” Reyes noted. “Cutting healthcare funding is inhumane, but doing so during a pandemic is unconscionable. Instead of supporting a robust tax plan that would finally make the most affluent New Yorkers pay their fair share, the Governor would like to abandon our most vulnerable populations in a critical time of need.
By the following day, March 2, calls to push out Cuomo escalated with greater intensity. Out gay State Senator Jabari Brisport of Brooklyn joined a group of state lawmakers in calling for Cuomo’s impeachment, including State Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblymembers Emily Gallagher, Pharma Souffrant Forrest, Zohran Kwame Mamdani, Marcela Mitaynes.
“Impeachment proceedings are the appropriate avenue for us to pursue as legislators to hold the Governor accountable for his many abuses of power and remove him from office,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
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