[TROY, NY] — On Monday, March 18, members of the New York Poor People’s Campaign marched from the Social Security Administration to the Rennselaer Social Services Agency to bring attention to the New York State budget’s underfunding of social programs, even as inequality and poverty devastate Troy, and urban and rural communities throughout the state. The demonstration was part of a statewide day of action across New York, demanding the state government change course and prioritize ending systemic racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation. Other actions took place in Elmira, Hempstead, and New York City.
“The budget proposals being debated in Albany continue a policy of austerity that is devastating to the 50.5 percent of New Yorkers who are poor and low-income. Here in Troy, almost 60 percent of residents don’t earn enough to pay for basic necessities -- yet by cutting aid to municipalities and funding of social programs, politicians in Albany are showing their disinterest in and disdain for the poor. We are here to proclaim that everybody has the right to live, and it’s time to fight poverty, not the poor,” said Rev. Emily McNeill, director of Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State.
“Decades of disinvestment in the social safety net by the federal and state government has left the basics - suitable housing, adequate nutrition, a livable income - inaccessible to so many of our neighbors. Those of us who work in social services feel the strain of underfunding, understaffing, and the terrible burdens faced by those we serve,” said Adam Pelletier, a Troy resident and Grievance Vice President for AFGE 3343, which represents workers at the Social Security Administration.
Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to cut $550 million from Medicaid was another measure criticized by protestors. “These cuts will compromise the households of many healthcare workers. Many will be overworked, underpaid and have to work longer hours -- leaving their families, their children alone to manage for themselves,” said Troy resident Tracey Everette, a certified nurses assistant and member of 1199SEIU.
Rev. Renee Hollinshed, pastor of Sojourner Truth AME Church and interim director of FOCUS Churches, shared the similarities she sees in her ministry across the river in Albany. "The reality of the homeless population we serve in both our FOCUS Breakfast Program and Interfaith Pantry is that racism, unaffordable housing, and the lack of support from government and social service entities are astounding. We come face-to-face with the barriers of a dispossessed community in a severity of numbers: 1,416 people served breakfast and a bag lunch in February, and 577 individuals served in the Pantry. But our efforts serve as healing Band-Aids on wounds that deserve surgical attention! We are stressing that the government, which has authoritative power to eradicate systemic racism, poverty, and housing issues of the poor and dispossessed in the land, must use their power to - in the words of Deuteronomy 15:11 - share freely with those in need."
Earlier in the day, the Poor People’s Campaign held demonstrations on Wall Street, at the Nassau County Juvenile Detention Center, and outside the Chemung County Jail, where poor and low-income New Yorkers, faith leaders and activists called for the state budget to prioritize poor and marginalized residents.
“50.5% of New York residents are poor or low-income - including 60% of children in the state. This is the true national emergency. We’re operating out of a mentality of scarcity, when we should be operating out of a mentality of abundance,” said Kelly Smith, of the New York Poor People’s Campaign and one of the organizers of the New York City action. “We have enough - but it’s just going to the top one percent. This must stop.”