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Clergy say Albany using homeless as leverage for pay raises

A man sleeps on a Manhattan street on

A man sleeps on a Manhattan street on Nov 20, 2015. The clergy members on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, pressured Gov. Andrew Cuomo to address the problem. On any given night across the state 88,000 people are homeless, they said. Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt


Clergymen on Wednesday said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Legislature are holding up funds for housing for the homeless as political leverage in their infighting over proposed pay raises for lawmakers.

“The homeless in our state, they don’t get a pay raise,” said the Rev. Peter Cook, executive director of the New York State Council of Churches. “They are really tired of watching the political machinations in Albany . . . to avoid addressing what I think is a moral crisis.”

The clergy members said 88,000 New Yorkers are homeless on any given night.

Cuomo and the Legislature continue to negotiate an agenda for a special session this month that would include authorization for pay raises for legislators to about $99,500, from $79,500, for the part-time jobs. Leadership stipends and per-diem expense checks mean that most lawmakers make about $100,000 a year and also can hold other part-time jobs, which are often law practices.

Cuomo included the homeless funding in agenda for a special session. Although $2 billion in funding for specialized housing for the homeless to help them get back on their feet was promised in January and included in the state budget in April, Cuomo and legislative leaders have yet to agree on how to spend it. The “memorandum of understanding” can be signed by Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) without convening the Legislature, but the issue is now held up in talks for a special session.

Cuomo in a Manhattan media event continued to push for a special session where the homeless funding could be freed.

“We are in the middle of a crisis . . . street homelessness is particularly dangerous,” he said. “Government has an obligation to bring the homeless in from the streets” when the temperature drops to 32 degrees, he said, citing a state law.

Cuomo said 1,200 new housing units are already funded as part of the $2 billion affordable housing program to create 6,000 units over five years.

Cuomo signed an earlier agreement, but legislative leaders wanted to further negotiate how the funds are spent, said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.

In Albany, the clergy members and supporters targeted Cuomo, who promised the aid in his State of the State speech in January.

“Governor Cuomo has shown leadership on this issue in the past,” said Michael Finocchi, executive director of Shelters for Saratoga in Saratoga Springs. Now Cuomo must “finish the job.”

“Widespread homelessness in the land of plenty is beyond shameful,” Cook said.

The Christian clerics repeated the Nativity story saying that Jesus, too, was a homeless child who needed shelter.

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