At his job in the greenhouse, Scott Pulver with recreation assistant Anne...

At his job in the greenhouse, Scott Pulver with recreation assistant Anne Meyer at the Developmental Disabilities Institute's Meadow Glen facility in Smithtown. Pulver, who is autistic, participates in vocational training. Credit: Newsaday/John Paraskevas

A wide-ranging set of proposals from the governor's office aims to create opportunities for historically disadvantaged jobseekers — the disabled, veterans, and the formerly incarcerated among them — for both private and public sector employment.

Expanding on her Jan. 5 State of the State address, Gov. Kathy Hochul released a more than 200-page booklet outlining her proposed initiatives and projects. A major focus throughout was workforce development, an issue for jobseekers and employers that's only grown more acute since the pandemic began.

"The pandemic had caused tremendous damage to our workforce, and in order to come back stronger, we must be creative with our approach and work directly with regional partners who have been on the ground helping connect New Yorkers with employment," Hochul said in a statement.

Advocates for the groups targeted by the governor's proposals say the state's help is needed to improve the employment prospects for New Yorkers who have historically been hurt by lack of access to training or job opportunities.

"No constituency was more deeply impacted by the pandemic’s economic disruption than New York’s workers with disabilities," said Chris Rosa, president and chief executive of the Viscardi Center, an Albertson-based nonprofit network serving adults and children with disabilities. "Inclusive, equitable workforce development will be essential to building back a better, and stronger, New York," he said.

The national unemployment rate for workers ages 16-to-64 with disabilities was 8.5% in December, more than double the 3.6% rate for people without disabilities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2020, when the pandemic began, the unemployment rate for disabled workers jumped up to 12.6%, compared with an increase to 7.9% for non-disabled Americans.

Jobless rates for the disabled have trended downward since 2011, when their unemployment rate reached 15% in the wake of the Great Recession.

Helping workers with disabilities

To improve employment for New Yorkers with disabilities, , the governor has proposed measures including:

  • Creating and staffing of an Office of the Chief Disability Officer. The office will make recommendations that reduce employer barriers to hiring disabled residents — such as difficulty finding candidates or the perceived costs of accommodations — and will leverage federal and state tax credits to encourage businesses to hire individuals with disabilities.
  • Committing the state to hire more jobseekers from the disabled community for roles in various state agencies.
  • Rolling out toolkits with informational and educational resources to help local governments include more individuals with disabilities in their hiring efforts.
  • Enhancing vocational, educational and employment training offerings at the state's Office of Mental Health and its Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

Opportunities for ex-inmates

Ronald F. Day, vice president of programs at The Fortune Society, a Long Island City, Queens, nonprofit that provides employment prep services to former inmates, said the barriers for the individuals he aids are numerous.

"It is exceedingly difficult for people with criminal records to find gainful employment," said Day, who served 15 years in prison for attempted murder. "The state is in a position to try and correct that."

A new Jails to Jobs program is focused on increasing employment for the formerly incarcerated and expanding educational opportunities for the state's 31,000 state prisoners with an aim of lowering recidivism. Among the initiatives:

  • Training nearly 100 parole officers in the state on career planning and job placement. The governor's goal is for all 700 of the state's parole officers to receive workforce development training by 2023.
  • Amending the state constitution to allow hybrid work-release programs inside prisons to create needed job skills training for prisoners. State law currently bars prisoners from participating in work-release programs with for-profit organizations. Participation by inmates would be voluntary, and the work would pay good wages, according to the governor.
  • Reversing the ban on financial aid for prisoners pursuing degrees while in prison. A 1995 law prohibited the incarcerated from accessing aid through the state's Tuition Assistance Program.
  • Pushing for the passage of the Clean Slate Act, which would seal certain felony records after seven years, and misdemeanors after three years, following the completion of a sentence. The legislation would exclude those convicted of a sex crime.

Aid to veterans

To create more job opportunities for veterans, the governor has proposed an expansion of the state's Hire-a-Veteran Tax Credit Program, which provides tax credits to employers who hire eligible vets for one year for at least 35 hours per week. As part of that expansion, the state seeks to:

  • Broaden veteran eligibility to veterans regardless of the date of their discharge. Currently, only service members discharged after Sept. 11, 2001, are eligible.
  • Remove a distinction between disabled and non-disabled vets that prevents employers from receiving the maximum tax credit rate of 15% of total wages.
  • Expand tax credit eligibility to those veterans who work part-time for at least one year. The program currently only provides employers credits if a hired vet works a minimum of 35 hours weekly.

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