New York advocates hold annual 'people's' rally

AP News
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Posted: Jan 05, 2010 4:22 PM

Advocates for the poor and working poor rallied Tuesday in Albany for a $10 minimum wage, jobs for welfare recipients and better ethics in state government.

"The sounds of campaign contributions are heard so much better than the pleas of average citizens," said Mark Dunlea, executive director of the Hunger Action Network of New York."

With Gov. David Paterson set to kick off the 2010 legislative session with his State of the State speech Wednesday, advocates and lobbyists are getting out in front, trying to be heard and shape coming policy and fiscal debates.

The 21st annual "People's State of the State" rally drew about 40 demonstrators huddling against the midday cold outside the Capitol.

A soup kitchen was planned at the same spot Wednesday by a group Dunlea said serves 150 people daily only blocks away.

Demonstrators chanted, "Hey hey, ho ho, Joe Bruno ethics has got to go." The former New York Senate Republican leader was convicted in December of corruption charges for using his state post to pursue private business interests.

The Hunger Action Network and the Empire State Economic Security Campaign, which organized the event, called for more government funding to support jobs for welfare recipients and the unemployed.

Several people carried signs supporting living wages and taxing the rich. They sang, "We don't want a sweatshop world. We will not be moved."

New York's minimum wage rose a dime to $7.25 an hour in July. The advocates also want the maximum unemployment benefit increased from $405 to $475 per week, eventually raising it to half the state's average weekly wage, and indexing that and a new $10 minimum wage to inflation.

Anthony Smith, 20, and his cousin Tamil Green, 21, held signs saying they need work now. They'd come to Albany last week from Newburgh. "There's just no jobs down there," Smith said.

They were headed next down the hill to a temporary employment office and through a church were looking at a program that would lead to a high school equivalency degree and some training. Smith said he needs a job so he can take care of his year-old daughter.

Advocates also called for more protection from foreclosures and for more lower-cost housing for working families. They said that on Long Island, there is no affordable housing for the working poor, while rents overall haven't dropped like home prices in the national recession. More people are living in smaller apartments, more families doubling up and some people are paying rent for spaces where you wouldn't want to keep pets, they said.