Phil Steck Unveils Comprehensive Urban Agenda for Capital Region
Calls for nationwide gun laws, educational opportunities, return of federal funds for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and community policing, single-payer health care, neighborhood and infrastructure improvements
Phil Steck, Democratic candidate for Congress, was joined today by local elected officials as he unveiled a comprehensive urban agenda for the 21st congressional district. Steck stated that more federal attention is needed in Albany, Schenectady, Troy and Amsterdam, as well as Cohoes, Watervliet, Rensselaer and other smaller urban communities.
"An economic downturn, stagnant wages, and the rising cost of everything from health care to energy to food, has taken its toll on our cities," said Steck. "For the past eight years, the Bush Administration has dramatically cut off local communities from critical federal funds while waging a war that is expected to cost $2 trillion."
Steck explained that his first priority would be to open an ongoing dialogue with urban leaders and residents, and he committed to holding public town hall-style meetings throughout the district.
"We need a leader in this important position who will listen to the community, be accessible, and be responsive to neighborhood- level concerns," added Steck.
A Better Environment for Youth
"Youth in urban areas face greater challenges than ever before and we cannot afford to let children fall hopelessly behind," said Steck. He pointed out that federal leadership is required in the following areas: 1) Establishing universal pre-Kindergarten programs, 2) Giving schools the resources to remain open after hours so that community programs may be established as an alternative to the distractions and dangers of street life, 3) Making college affordable by giving students relief from student loans in exchange for public service, and, 4) Enacting a uniform nationwide gun law to curtail the supply of illegal guns.
Restore Federal Funds
The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program has been in existence since 1975, the year the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was founded. CDBG is vital to local communities because local officials have had discretion over how to best utilize the funding so long as it benefits low to moderate income residents and neighborhoods. The Bush administration has consistently cut this funding budget-after-budget which has amounted to a loss of billions of dollars. "If we end the war in Iraq and eliminate tax cuts for the wealthiest of citizens, we can utilize those federal dollars here where the money is most needed," said Steck.
Steck also said he wants the federal grants restored that in the past have funded community policing efforts and supported local departments' efforts to have cops walking in the neighborhoods.
Lowering the Cost of Living for Urban Families
Phil Steck supports a single-payer universal health insurance plan, which would assure that no one would be forced into debt as a result of medical bills. Since everyone would be covered, there would be no need for the costly patchwork Medicaid system, which wastes scarce resources on administrative costs. Money that counties would no longer need to spend on Medicaid would be freed up for much needed affordable local housing initiatives.
"Over the past few months, I have talked to a large number of doctors and hospital administrators in the Capital Region and they have consistently expressed their support for a single-payer health care system," said Steck. "We already have a system similar to single- payer that works very well called Medicare. In the single-payer system, everyone would be covered, and doctors and patients would make health care choices, not insurance and drug companies."
Affordable Local Housing Initiatives
In Albany County, 90% of the county property tax is currently spent on Medicaid. With single-payer health care, this money could instead be used to make the housing trust fund a reality not merely an under-funded, unfulfilled promise. Funds would also be available to make sure that local housing authorities have the resources they need to create and maintain a safe and clean environment.
"Our local housing authorities are constantly asked to do more with less," said Steck. "The federal government under this President has made affordable housing a low priority, and the inadequate funding of our local housing authorities is a testament to that."
Vacant and Abandoned Buildings
We need to expand economic development beyond downtown business districts into residential neighborhoods. Our urban neighborhoods are beset with vacant and abandoned buildings that are a plague on our cities. In Congress, Phil will introduce legislation to make it easier for municipalities to acquire vacant homes and resell them to moderate-income families who will commit to rehabilitating the structures. Among other things, the homesteading family's property taxes would be used to subsidize the rehabilitation until the project was completed.
Focus on Broader Governmental Policy to Rebuild Aged Infrastructure
Every municipality in the 21st Congressional District has difficulty maintaining its streets, water, and sewer systems. Under the Bush administration, similarly situated urban areas have been forced into competition for access to an ever-dwindling supply of federal grants. Instead, we need to have consistent national programs which recognize the widespread nature of urban blight and the need to rebuild our urban infrastructure. "We must stop subsidizing suburban sprawl and put urban redevelopment projects on a fast track, added Steck. "Redevelopment of inner cities and underused brownfields should be a more economical alternative to building on virgin land."