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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposes anti-poverty program

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a news conference

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a news conference at his Manhattan office on Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015. Credit: Charles Eckert

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Sunday unveiled an anti-poverty plan that would raise the state minimum wage, cut taxes for small businesses, give college graduates a respite from paying back school loans and pump millions into the state's emergency food programs.

Cuomo, who would not put a total price tag on his "2015 Opportunity Agenda" proposal, said his plan "is a formidable package to go at problems that are truly entrenched."

Under the proposal, the minimum wage would be raised to $10.50 across the state and $11.50 for New York City residents because the city has a higher cost of living, the governor said at his midtown Manhattan office. If approved, it would go into effect next Jan. 1.

The Democratic governor will present his budget Wednesday in his State of the State address. The legislature has until April 1 to approve it.

Cuomo said his proposals may face opposition from some state legislators but added: "This is the right thing to do. It shows compassion and it brings the people who are at the bottom of the ladder a chance to get up the ladder's rungs."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said in a statement, "I am heartened that Governor Cuomo has put forth a bold proposal to dramatically increase the minimum wage, something I and my Assembly Democratic colleagues have long advocated for."

Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), the Senate Majority leader, has said in the past he would oppose an increase.

Cuomo wants to cut overall small-business taxes from 6.5 percent to 2.5 percent and create a new "chief small business officer" post to help streamline government licensing and permitting and connect small businesses to support programs.

He proposed spending $400 million to provide more shelter for the homeless and additional rent assistance subsidies.

To help college graduates who face school loan debt, the governor proposed allowing students to forgo making loan payments for the first two years. However, to qualify, a student must have attended a college in New York, must be working, earning less than $50,000 and enrolled in the federal Pay As You Earn income-based loan repayment program.

New York State will pay the difference between what the federal government covers and the individual's total loan payment, the governor proposed. Cuomo has also allocated $4.5 million to stock the state's eight regional food banks.

At Long Island Cares/Harry Chapin Food Bank, the funds will help feed senior citizens who have to make a choice between buying food or paying the rent, chief executive Paule Pachter said.

Long Island Cares' three food banks, which also help supplement other food pantries on the Island, received $250,000 last year from the governor's budget. If Cuomo's proposal is approved, Pachter estimates, the food bank will receive an additional $100,000.

Pachter plans to expand Long Island Cares' mobile food pantry van service to bring food to Freeport schools, where families can pick up groceries. It currently comes to Brentwood schools.

"Governor Cuomo understands this issue and knows our program personally," Pachter said. "This is a very important step for us."

Pachter said the demand is particularly high among veterans, and Tuesdays are reserved for veterans only at food banks in Freeport, Lindenhurst and Huntington Station.

Cuomo also announced the creation of an Office of Faith-Based Community Development Services to help coordinate nonprofit groups' efforts at networking and getting federal grants.

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