NYC Assembly Member Niou Reminds Us That A Budget Is A “Values Document”
New York State Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou’s recent remarks regarding the FY 20–21 State Education, Labor, Housing and Family Assistance Budget Bill highlighted multiple social problems plaguing New York City, and the world-at-large, that will never be solved with money alone. Further, she presented colleagues, constituents, and fellow members of the global community with a dutiful call to action that promotes an empathy-driven and health-centric model of civic engagement: alleviate suffering.
Niou’s entire speech was centered around the idea that “a budget is a values document” and, in an effort to illustrate that claim, she outlined a brief history of politicians prioritizing profit over people. Additionally, she explained how the spread of and responses to COVID-19 factor into larger discussions about policy, legislation, and public health.
“Our criminal justice system, our court systems, our financial systems, are all built to trap certain people in a cycle of poverty,” Niou said, before she went on to explain how COVID-19 “laid bare just how weak our institutions have become in a time when we need them to be strong.” Moreover, an “overworked and underpaid” essential workforce continues to suffer while big businesses are bailed out and unemployment rates increase amidst a pandemic.
Part of the problem, Niou said, is that many people refuse to “let go of the misguided fallacy of trickle down economics.” Instead, we must embrace a “model of healing for our nation” that not only prioritizes people over profit, but directly addresses the lasting effects of systemic racism, xenophobia, and institutional inequity on lived experiences. She also added that even though “our infrastructure and economic needs are great,” we are also presented with opportunity.
“Because in the months ahead, when the USS Comfort has left port; when the emergency ventilators finally sit idle; when makeshift emergency hospitals at the Javits Center, the US Tennis Center and Central Park are a memory; what will be left behind will be the people of this state, grieving for those we’ve lost and desperate to see a way forward when we are bereft of savings and without work.”
For the sake of New Yorkers disproportionately impacted by this crisis, and many that came before and will come after it, it is imperative that policy makers and legislators work with the most vulnerable populations in mind. Policy makers and legislators must value public health and safety over profit and lead by example to prove that New Yorkers’ lives matter. Currently, essential workers are at constant risk of death, medical professionals and transit workers on the frontlines are dying weekly, and poor residents live in fear as COVID-19 spreads.
Sadly, past inaction and profit-centric policies and legislation provided the conditions of possibility for this crisis. As families continue to struggle, hospitals continue to overflow with corpses, and politicians continue to focus more on economic concerns than human needs, planning for an uncertain future has turned into a seemingly impossible feat. Luckily, Niou outlined a care-focused point of departure for conversations about next steps. The most important first step is to approach budgets as values documents that put people first.