Holidays Highlight New Yorkers’ Real & Immediate Needs

Guest Commentary

Volume CII, No. 1January, 2002

Denis M. Hughes, President, New York State AFL-CIO

The assault on the World Trade Center killed thousands of innocent people, injured hundreds more, and unalterably changed the lives of millions. While the attacks on Sept. 11 have affected all Americans in one way, shape or form, they were particularly devastating to New Yorkers.

Recent estimates by the New York City Comptroller project over $100 billion in financial loss to the city resulting directly from the attacks. In the damaged and destroyed buildings alone, the city lost nearly 850 businesses, 25 million square feet of office space, and nearly 100,000 jobs. Including the Frozen Zone, which encompasses buildings blocked off because of the crime scene investigation, more than 140,000 jobs and over 35 million square feet of office space are out of action.

With the holiday season upon us, now is the time to join together in a concerted effort, led by President Bush and both houses of Congress, to begin to rebuild New York.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush and Congress acted quickly and decisively to begin to address the urgent needs of workers and businesses imperiled by the attacks. On Sept. 18, the President signed Public Law 107-38, which appropriated a $40 billion Emergency Response Fund with very broad authorization to cover defense and recovery expenses deriving from the attacks. The law provides that no less than one-half of these funds shall be for “disaster recovery activities and assistance related to the terrorist acts in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.”

Two months later, New York is still waiting for most of this vital funding that will go toward keeping Manhattan businesses and residents committed to the city, rebuilding lower Manhattan, and keeping jobs and investment in New York City.

We applaud the efforts of New York’s congressional delegation over the past two months in working to secure funding from Washington. But they should not have to work this hard to convince the rest of Congress and the White House that New York has very real and immediate needs.

The congressional appropriations would help to shore up the social safety nets. In particular, the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and the health care insurance system are in need of immediate financial assistance.

It is estimated that 110,000 New York City workers are losing their jobs as a direct result of the attack on the World Trade Center. All of these workers should have some access to unemployment benefits to provide a transition to re-employment. However, the New York Unemployment Insurance Fund is not financed to absorb this sudden surge of unemployment, which could not have been anticipated.

New York will not be rebuilt overnight. Given this reality, Congress has been asked to finance a full year of UI benefits, thereby allowing the men and women directly affected by the attack to get back on their feet, while waiting for the job market and economy to rebound.

In the absence of an effort to maintain health insurance for persons dislocated as a result of the disaster, insurance will lapse and families will be left uninsured. While some companies may offer COBRA benefits, not many unemployed workers will be able to afford the average monthly premium of $800 for family coverage.

Let us not ask parents to choose between presents for their children or health care for their family. Let us not ask Mom and Dad to decide between turkey and all the fixings or setting aside rent money for the New Year.

This holiday season finds us at a critical juncture in the emotional and economic healing process of this city and state. Men and women who have lost their jobs, or been temporarily displaced by the events of Sept. 11, will only begin to heal when they can cling to real hope and real action provided by their elected officials.