|Release: Transcript of de Blasio and Corey Johnson press conference on Fair Fares program. Mayor says he's pleased Cuomo is taking the lead on the L train and subways: 'The state controls the MTA.'|
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 4, 2019|
CONTACT: firstname.lastname@example.org, (212) 788-2958
TRANSCRIPT: MAYOR DE BLASIO AND SPEAKER JOHNSON LAUNCH FAIR FARES PROGRAM FOR LOW-INCOME NEW YORKERS
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Hold on. We got to talk to everyone here and the Lenise – don't forget that. Lenise, thank you so much. Want to really, really thank you for – you spoke powerfully because what you said is going to be true for thousands and thousands of New Yorkers. It's going to change their lives. What we're – what we're doing here today – and Lenise is the first New Yorker to have a Fair Fare card. You're looking at it right there.
So she's the very first New Yorkers to get one. She's the very first New Yorker to use one which she did just a few minutes ago and this is the beginning of something great. For thousands and thousands of New Yorkers, it means doors of opportunity will open up. You heard of what Lenise talked about. She's going to use that discount MetroCard to make sure her child gets into the right high school. Other people are going to use it to go to a job interview or to get to a job that they were struggling to hold onto and struggling to make ends meet. They're going to have so many ways that they can use this that are going to change their lives for better, pursuing education, opportunity. This is a difference maker for so many New Yorkers. I want to thank all the leaders who are here. You're going to hear from some of the advocates who led the charge to get us to this day.
You're going to hear from Speaker Johnson, members of the Council for whom this was a profound priority, and I want to thank them for that. I also want to note, we are in – or very near the district of Council Member Mark Levine. I want to thank him for being here. Also, Council Member Rafael Espinal of Brooklyn. All the members of the Council have focused on this as a priority. Now with Lenise’s single swipe of that MetroCard she made history. We, as a city, made history and now we can put this into context. The subway system began in 1904. There's never been a time that low income New Yorkers got discount MetroCards like this. This has never happened in the history of New York City previously – over a hundred years. This is the first time ever that a huge number of New Yorkers are going to have that reduced fare open to them on a regular basis.
Now, let me tell you, we understand that for so many people, this is literally the choice they make every day between food, rent, medicine, transportation. This is a town – we love it, but we know there's a huge number of New Yorkers who are struggling to make ends meet. That's what we are trying to address today. A MetroCard, on a monthly basis for each person is $1,450. For a lot of people, even though it's a good deal, it's beyond their reach because they have to make those tough choices, but what we're doing here today is a major step towards a fair and just society because half price MetroCards can save low-income New Yorkers up to $700 a year and $700 means a lot to someone who is struggling to make ends meet. This is going to be phased in. You'll hear from Steve Banks in a moment, our Social Services Commissioner, who will talk about the phases that we're going to undertake and we’re going to have a couple of specifics we're going to announce and then we're going to keep building from there rigorously.
I want to emphasize – I said it this morning on the radio, I've said it in the past, I want to say it again – this is the right thing to do and we're moving forward, but I am going to also fight for this to be a part of the discussion for MTA funding culminating on April 1st in Albany. We all, every straphanger, every New Yorker needs Albany to make a decision about the future of the MTA, the decision about the future of our subways and buses by April 1st and to come up with a full funding plan that actually can fix our subways. In that discussion, I think, Fair Fares should be part of it but in the meantime we are going to just continue to build and grow this program because we believe in it and we start today with working New Yorkers who receive cash assistance benefits. That's the first phase – is New Yorkers who received cash assistance benefits.
In April we will move to expand to New Yorkers who get SNAP benefits otherwise known as food stamps. This is something that is going to make a big difference. It is based on the fundamental idea that this has to be a city for everyone and we have to fight in every way possible to continue to make it livable and affordable for everyday New Yorkers. This fits with things like Paid Sick Leave, which this Council also helped take the lead on. This fits with things like raising the minimum wage to $15 which happened this very week for the first time and everyone here fought for that. This fits with things like providing pre-K and 3-K for free or afterschool programs for middle school kids for free. All of these things lightened the burden on working people and low-income people and so we believe that this is going to make a big difference.
Five years ago, six years ago, I talked about the tale of two cities and how we would fight to overcome it. Fair Fares are a major step in ending that tale of two cities and creating a city at works for everyone. Let me say a few words in Spanish.
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
A city that aims to be the fairest big city in America. And I want to now introduce a champion. He has fought hard. I also – I'm sorry, I got a note here. We are joined by another strong advocate for Fair Fares – Council Member Laurie Cumbo. Thank you for being with us.
Now, I want to introduce – I want to introduce – excuse me everyone, this is a press conference on Fair Fares. Please respect what we're here to discuss. Okay. I'm going to continue to introduce Corey Johnson, the Speaker of the City Council, who has championed this vision. And I want to thank Corey Johnson and the members of City Council. Thank you. Speaker Corey Johnson –
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson: Good afternoon. Welcome to New York. Good afternoon. I want to thank Mayor de Blasio, my colleagues from the Council who are here this morning; Counsel members Levine, Rodriguez, Dromm, Levine, Espinal, and Majority Leader Cumbo for being here today. And I'm going to speak about the advocates in a moment.
We made it. I am so proud to be here. Yesterday, January 3rd, was the one-year anniversary of the day that my colleagues in the Council voted me in as the Speaker of the New York City Council.
And I remember – I remember getting ready, trying to put on my best tie and feeling very nervous and somewhat overwhelmed by the whole thing. And I remember right after the vote was over, I felt a huge sense of gratitude and also a sense of obligation to the people of our great city to do the right thing and to take care of the people who need it most. And that is why for my first budget as Speaker, I made and the members here made Fair Fares a priority. It wasn't just me – the Council overwhelmingly prioritized this program to excellent results. It has been a long road, but we are here today launching Fair Fares to help the most vulnerable New Yorkers. These New Yorkers were on my mind one year ago when I was elected and have been on my mind every day since. They are the reason I ran for public office and I will never forget them.
I grew up in public housing in a family that struggled and I know the difficult choices that families have to make when they don't have a lot of money. And as I said then, it was a long road to get here. I have a long list of people to thank starting with Mayor de Blasio. Certainly, this was a long process. There might even have been a couple of news stories about it – not 100 percent sure. But I think I will say our hearts, both of our hearts, all of our hearts have been in the right place since day-one. And the Mayor's ultimate goal was always about getting this right. I am proud to stand alongside him now that this program is starting. But I think that I can speak for the Mayor when I say this isn't our victory. I believe – I 100 percent know the mayor believes this – that the most impactful change always comes from the grassroots. And that is especially true of the Fair Fares coalition and campaign, which had over 70 nonprofit organizations, labor and clergy and advocacy groups who led this effort. This was a campaign that was about hard work, time and dedication and we worked day and night with the advocates from organizing days of action at subway stops and on social media to sharing credible stories in the papers. And we never gave up throughout that campaign. And I really have to give a special shout out to the Rider’s Alliance and the Community Service Society. From CSS, their president, who's with us this afternoon, David Jones, his team, Jeff Macklin, Nancy Rankin, and from the Riders's Alliance, John Raskin, Rebecca Bailin, Dana, Dennis and everyone on their teams. I can't thank you enough. It's been a pleasure and an inspiration working on this with you. And also want to thank New Yorkers, Shawnee Ramen and Cynthia [inaudible] who were very honest with their own stories on how a program like this would make a difference in their lives. I want to thank you for your work and sharing your story that drove home the need for Fair Fares.
I’d like to close by reminding everyone, today is just the beginning. We will work to make sure all New Yorkers living at or below the federal poverty line have access to this program and I can promise you that as our mission and we are ready together to work on making this a reality. We know that we have more work to do and we are ready. Every day I see people on our subways asking for a swipe and I think of them every day as we do this work. They need this program. New York City needs this program. Fair Fares says we believe in people and we believe in the promise of New York City. The turnstile can be the door to unlimited opportunity if you can get on, and we're just giving you the keys to open that door.
Again, I want to thank everyone who made this possible. This is the beginning. We’ve got more work to do and we'll get it done because we're united in wanting to make sure that this program is a huge success and a national model.
Congratulations. Thank you all very much.
Mayor: Last, I want you to hear from the man who – him and his team put an immense amount of work in over the last six months with OMB, with the Council team to figure out how to make this work and how to make it work consistently, be sustainable, be something that we all can be proud of. I want to thank you for your leadership. Commissioner of Social Services Steve Banks –
Commissioner Steven Banks, Department of Social Services: Good afternoon. So I want to just briefly lay out for you the rollout of the program. We have been spending the time up to this point determining people that are already known to us at the Department of Social Services to be eligible for the program, so we don't have to erect a complex eligibility process. So we are now able to – beginning today – to mail letters to up to 30,000 cash-assistance recipients who are working to tell them that they're eligible to come in and get a card. And then they will be able to get their card at a distribution site and we will continue to reach out to people with follow-up letters and robo-calls to make sure that this first group, who have already determined to be eligible, comes down and gets their card. These, again, are working, cash-assistance recipients whose wages are at such a level that they're still eligible for cash public assistance.
The next group in this phase will be SNAP or food stamp recipients. Up to 130,000 SNAP and food stamp recipients will be determined to be eligible for this program and they will be able to go online – online and register for the program and have a card mail to them. The cash-assistance recipients – the working cash-assistance recipients, who previously had to come in and pick up their benefit will now also be able to get their benefit online and through the mail. So in this first phase, we're very much focused on a streamline approach, determining people who are already known to us to be eligible, working people receiving cash assistance, and, next, working people receiving SNAP or food stamp assistance. And by April, we will be able to make this service, this benefit available to people by registering online and through the mail without even having to come into an office.
I can also tell you that the ability to get the card, the first features will include a seven-day or 30-day discount, just like Lenise was able to get today. And then, starting in April, we'll be able to roll out a pay-per-ride feature in addition to the seven-day and 30-day feature, and that will be also offered, again, to the individuals that have opted for these first 90 days of benefits so that all participants will be able to have all three of these options. In April, we will have worked with the MTA to put in place a system to appropriately monitor usage to make sure that the program is working properly to be able to extend the pay-per-side feature.
In a nutshell, that's what we've been working on – to put together a system in which people will be determined eligible without having to come in to see us and ultimately in April, assist them in which you can receive the benefit in the mail and not have to come to our offices and register online.
Mayor: Thank you very much, Steve. Thank you. Steve, don't go far because we're going to be turning to you for questions on a lot of the specifics. So, everyone in the media – we're going to turn to questions on Fair Fares and then we'll open up for some other questions. I know there's some other – MTA – and other things on people's minds. Okay, first on Fair Fares – Grace?
Question: Since eligibility of the first wave of people had long been determined, why wasn’t this ready to go on January 1st? And –
Mayor: Grace, we’re very comfortable starting January 4th. Continue.
Question: Okay, and then additionally, since the food stamp recipients are also known, why can’t they begin right now?
Mayor: It takes time to put the structure in place in a way that’s truly effective and verifiable. Steve, you can talk about the steps on the SNAP benefits.
Commissioner Banks: Again, we wanted to design a system in which people will not have to come into an office to get the benefit, in which they could register online and receive the benefit by mail, and then system requires building. It’ll be available, beginning in April. And we wanted to make sure that we had the first population getting their benefits beginning this month and make sure that we can see all of the features of the program working before we expand it to the next group. So, we’re starting with 30,000 rolled out this month and another 130,000 in April.
Question: Are you saying that – just to be clear, the reason that 130,000 of food stamp recipients aren’t eligible to get them today is because you want them to be able to apply online? Is that –
Commissioner Banks: We want to make applying and receiving the benefit as streamlined and easy as possible and we want to provide that online feature. And being able to get it mailed to you – that feature will not be available until April. We’re building a system that never existed before, but we wanted to get a system up and running this month and that’s why we’re rolling out the first group of 30,000 cash-assistance recipients.
Question: [Inaudible] could be ready today?
Mayor: Say again?
Question: [Inaudible] could be build it three months ago so that it was ready today?
Commissioner Banks: The building began as soon as this program was funded. It’s a – you’re starting a whole new benefit program. One of the reasons why we wanted to start with people that were known to us is because we already have determined their income, we wouldn’t have to make people come in and verify income. We already are aware of what their circumstances are. We wanted to create a system in which people could get this benefit without having to come into an office.
Question: Just to follow up on that, I guess I’m a little confused by the explanation. It seems like because of convenience you’re going to delay providing this service to 130,000 people. I’m sure they would rather start today just by going to an office [inaudible]?
Commissioner Banks: I hear your question, Yoav. This system we’re trying to build is one which is going to accommodate 160,000 people to get benefits in this fiscal year. We have a funding level to be able to roll out that level of the program. We want to make sure that when we roll it out it works properly. It’s to make sure that this first group are able to get their benefits, to use their benefits, and then, working with the MTA, to roll it out to the next group. You’re correct that we’re trying to create a convenience system, but we want to implement a system that works right, that we can make sure we monitor usage, and make sure we’re getting it to people who were determined to be appropriately eligible for the benefit.
Mayor: So – Steve, stay, don’t go far away – I’m going to say a summation and you’ll say if you modify it at all. To Yoav’s question, I think the basic point you’re making is – you’re building the airplane while it’s going down the runway. And that first 30,000 is the opportunity to test with a substantial number to make sure everything’s working, and then you’re building further to the next group. You’d like the next group to have an even more convenient experience, obviously to have the single rides included, but it stood to reason – and this is something, again, I understand that reporters or anybody else might say, why can’t things be more instantaneous – but you would also say, if something went wrong, why did something go wrong? So, we’re trying to use the first 30,000 to make sure the whole system will work.
Would you agree with that?
Commissioner Banks: Absolutely.
Mayor: Okay, let me see – a follow-up. Hold on, we’re doing media questions – this side and then I’ll come to that side. Go ahead –
Question: [Inaudible] not quite a follow-up but I wanted to ask you about the total eligible pool because your One New York plan said that in 2018, because of the raise in the minimum wage, you expect as many as 519,000 people to move out of poverty who are near poverty. So, I’m curious, does that minimum wage change – is that going to shrink the pool of total –
Mayor: We sure hope so. I mean, that’s – we’re working right now on the next One New York plan, and we can come back with the very latest statistics for you. But everyone up here wants to reduce the number of people in poverty, so let’s begin at the beginning – everything we’ve been doing, this Council, everybody has been working together to reduce the amount of poverty. From the beginning of our administration, we set a goal and we said if you did a $15 minimum wage, if you did paid sick leave, Pre-K, afterschool, obviously affordable housing programs, legal services to stop evictions – all of these things were going to reduce poverty. We have more tools than we’ve ever had now. We want to go a lot farther. In terms of this initiative, Fair Fares, reaching people below the poverty level – we all would like there to be fewer people below the poverty level to have to serve. But whatever that universe is, we’re going to do our best to reach the most possible. But we will get you the updated numbers both on the existing poverty level and what we project it to be in the next few years.
This side and then we’ll go to the other side – go ahead.
Question: What is the forecast for the pay-per-ride? Is that also in April that that would start?
Mayor: Say again? I’m sorry.
Question: What is the forecast for starting the discounted fares for pay-per-ride?
Commissioner Banks: In April. The pay-per-ride feature will be available in April for both the people that are getting cards now and for the new people who are coming on in April.
Question: I have a question for the Council Speaker – are you happy with the way this is rolling out, in phases? Is this something that you pushed for? Or maybe pushed back against?
Speaker Johnson: Well, you know, when you are rolling out a massive program, it needs to be done in phases. So, I am perfectly comfortable with starting off with initial populations of people where we have their information and we can get it done. There’s a commitment – there’s mutual commitment that you heard here today from the Mayor, from myself, from the Council members, from the advocates on getting a firm timeline to reach as many people as possible who are eligible. Not every program everyone participates in. Food stamps, only 70 percent of New Yorkers participate in the food stamp program. So, we don’t expect all 800,000 people are going to participate in this. The number could be 400,000, it could be 600,000. We don’t know what that number is going to be. This is a good start. This was a major win. Today is a celebratory moment. We are doing something very big to make a difference in people’s lives who are living in poverty. So, today, I am happy about that. I am happy that we’re getting this done. Could things be done in a more perfect way, the Mayor and I can always Monday-morning quarterback and figure out ways that we could get it done in a better way. But we are excited that today is a day that people who are living in poverty are going to be able to move forward. And as you just heard from the Mayor and Commissioner Banks, there’s a commitment to come up with a timeline for the rollout of further folks who are going to become eligible for this. We’re going to work on that and I’m excited about that.
Mayor: Yeah. Juliet?
Question: Mr. Mayor, the first 30,000 – will they have to pick up cards somewhere or are they given out?
Mayor: Yeah – and that first 30,000, again, this is the piece where we’re starting and then we want to make it easier and easier as it goes along. So, the first 30,000 – where do they have to come pick it up and everything else?
Commissioner Banks: The first 30,000 will be given specific locations in each borough to come and register to pick up their card. Remember, they’ve already been determined eligible so they’re not going to apply. It’s not a public office, it’s place where they can go register to pick up their benefit. And then beginning in April, they’ll be able to get benefits in the mail.
Question: [Inaudible] –
Commissioner Banks: The individual will receive a letter giving them specific locations that they can go to because remember it’s not an application process, they’ve already been determined eligible by the work we’ve been doing up to this point.
Mayor: Okay, anybody else on this side? Last call and then we’ll go to the other side.
Question: April, we’re talking about [inaudible] eligible New Yorkers. When do you anticipate expansion, and what eligibility requirements [inaudible] –
Mayor: So, 30,000 now, 130,000 more in April, and we keep going. Right now the work is beginning on the next phase. We don’t have the specific amount yet. We – obviously, when we were starting this much after just six months of work to create it from scratch, it shows our commitment to keep going and we intend to keep going. So, as soon as we can announce the next phase, we’re going to. We want as many people to get this as possible. Last call on this side – media? Okay, this side, media. Gloria?
Question: Mr. Mayor, I just want to – there’s some clear dissatisfaction here from the advocates that are standing with you today about rollout, about the timeline. Why tie this benefit to cash benefits [inaudible] spoken in the past about the difficulty that there is [inaudible] people to sign up for that? Even you’ve spoken about some of the changes to the federal law and how you’re concerned that people will not [inaudible]. So, how do you balance those two things out and why is it being done in this way?
Mayor: Look, I have a lot of respect for these folks and we may have some respectful differences and that’s fine – and David made a point about the nature of advocates. They’re always going to push us to do more and I respect that. But I want to be very clear. We have an obligation to help people in need. We have an obligation to run a program efficiently and make sure we don’t in any way, shape, or form waste the taxpayers’ money.
We have an obligation to make sure we get the right people – those who are intended for it and avoid fraud. There’s a lot of reasons why we have to have a structure that makes sense like any other initiative. And when you have people who you know qualify because they’re in existing programs, and you can communicate with them effectively and speed the process for their participation so you don’t have to separately and individually verify income and other matters – that makes a lot of sense to key into that.
But even that took a certain amount of work to construct how to do it right. So, I emphasize we want to reach as many people as possible, we want to do it as fast as possible like every other initiative that we’ve taken to address income inequality but this one also comes with some particular features where we have to make sure we get it right.
Question: Are you concerned that this program could really balloon in cost in later years? And you’ve said that you want the MTA to fund this but clearly that’s – we don’t know what’s –
Mayor: We don’t know, again – we don’t know a lot of things in terms of Albany but I always remind people that things have happened in Albany that weren’t expected and we have a whole new dynamic with the Democratic State Senate. I think we’re going to see a lot of progress in the next months that we could not have imagined even just a few years ago.
So, to talk about this being part of a larger package, I think, makes sense. Mike Gianaris, who now is going to be one of the single most important people in the Legislature was the sponsor – is the sponsor of the millionaire’s tax bill that includes Fair Fares. So, I think it is a live option and I think it’s the best option because it then means there’s that verifiable money that guarantees its future. But either way you slice it, we’re resolute about continuing to build it. And I think we can reach a lot of people and I think we can do it quickly.
Question: Mr. Mayor [inaudible] months from the deal to January 1st. What did you do? What actions did you take? What was your management style when your people came to you and said, ‘People with SNAP benefits who we know [inaudible] April to get the benefit.’ Why were you satisfied with the April rollout –
Mayor: My management style was to push people to go as fast as they could within the plan that was agreed upon because that was agreed up with the Council for a reason. Talking with OMB, talking with Social Services to try and project what it would take to achieve such a plan – the estimate was about six months. It proved to be accurate. But it was a known fact that there was a lot to be worked out, that different types of people would qualify differently, that it was valuable to have a first group to test to make sure everything else would work – again, I’m saying something I think everyone’s lived through here, imagine a government program that rolls out to great acclaim and then doesn’t work. That’s not good for anyone. We did not want to allow that to happen.
And so I think people were really sober, they were focused. I pushed them and I was convinced that they had the right timeline.
Question: Why was this satisfactory – when they came to you and said that – you [inaudible] ferry program was early, right, early [inaudible] we’re going to do the bigger pool in April, I want to know, what did you tell them –
Mayor: I, again – I don’t know if you heard me. The fact is that people estimated six months to get it up and running in any way, shape, or form – not utopia in six months – to start a brand new thing in six months which is an aggressive timeline by any measure. And there was also real concerns that came up along the way about making it work effectively, sustainably, having anti-fraud measures, cost efficiency – these are real issues that we all care about in management.
I think the proposal that is now moving was smart because it said here’s the first group that’s a lot of people, so that’s going to allow us to test some of the things to make sure they’re working, and then we move rapidly literally within weeks up 130,000 more. I’m very satisfied that’s a good plan.
Question: Mayor, when did you know that –
Mayor: A little louder –
Question: When did you know that you were not going to be able to rollout this program in the original timeline, and I’m going to ask that question of Corey –
Mayor: Sure, again –
Question: [Inaudible] found out –
Mayor: Deepest respect – we may have a difference of opinion or interpretation. This program was intended to be at the beginning of January. It’s the beginning of January, and it’s starting in an aggressive nature because it starts with 30,000 and adds another 130,000 in a matter of weeks later. I’m satisfied that’s very consistent with everything we sought to do. Okay, anything else over here? Go ahead.
Question: A question for the Speaker as well. I guess – this was such a major part of the budget process. Do you wish, looking back – I know you spoke about [inaudible] but do you wish that there had been finer points of negotiation during that process that you would have had more of a guarantee to say we’re going to target X amount of people the first year [inaudible] website set up by January 1st, and so on, in terms your negotiation [inaudible] –
Speaker Johnson: We had those detailed conversations together. We didn’t know everything that was going to come and there was an interaction that had to take place – I wasn’t part of it but it was HRA and the Mayor’s Office signing an MOU with the MTA on how this would work, on creating a card. So, there was that. There was also concerns around not wanting a healthcare.gov-like creation where we set something up and then it didn’t work in the way that it was needed. But what I think today is really about is today is about the mutual commitment of reaching as many people as possible with a firm timeline to get all folks who are currently not captured by the Department of Social Services.
We’re starting off with 30,000, potentially building to another 130,000 potentially. Again, I don’t think everyone’s going to participate. It doesn’t happen with any program and then we’re going to build from there with clear timelines. This is a big thing. This is an anti-poverty measure. This is something that is seismic and is an important thing.
When I became Speaker, I said that one of things that I wanted to focus on was fighting poverty and working on poverty. We did that on EFAP but increasing emergency food access programs. We’ve done that on many, many other things. So, I am excited that today is about launching this. It’s going to help vulnerable people and we are going to keep pushing.
The Mayor knows we’re going keep pushing. We’ve had those conversations and we’ve had detailed conversations. So, I look forward to doing that. Again, could things be more perfect, yes, but I also think this is a celebratory moment. We are doing something very, very big. It’s easy for other people, I think, from the outside who weren’t entirely involved with this to criticize but I think this is going to help a lot of people. The average person is going to save more than $700 a year – more than $700 a year. That’s a big thing. This was fought for, for years and we got it done in the first six months of this past year. It’s a big deal. I’m excited about it.
Mayor: Thank you Speaker, and we also want to note the point that the speaker made – we had to work with the MTA, which was obviously the only way for this work and we don’t run the MTA, everyone here knows that. We had to come to a point of understanding with them on really practical matters – that was another one of the challenges but again we got it done in the timeline we hoped for. Okay, we’re going to move off this in a minute. If there’s any other topics, so I’ll do just a couple more on this and then see if there’s anything else. Yeah?
Question: Can you compare this program – you rolled out a massive—
Question: you rolled out a massive Pre-K program very quickly and so, you know, it’s still a little [inaudible], you know, understandable – not understandable by how this program cannot be rolled out?
Mayor: Very different thing, again, we can have the same question over and over. I’ve really told you exactly what happened and we believe this was the right way to do it. Pre-K had an existing application process, let’s just go back – I’d be happy to go through it with you, it’s a known fact. When we came in there were about 20,000 kids in full day Pre-K, over a two-year timeline we got that up to 70,000. But it was based on an existing application and the parameters were already known. This was creating a brand-new initiative that never existed before, determining what kind of parameters would work, how to make it actually reach people, make sure it only reaches the people it was meant to reach, make sure it was fraud proof. There were a lot we had to put into place that were from scratch that just weren’t true with a program like Pre-K. So guys, just want to say, I’m only going to be able to take a few more, if you want to do – please.
Speaker Johnson: I want to say something on that. I want to just address that concern. You know, this program is a lot—
Speaker Johnson: Folks, folks, can you please – press conference – so, Jeff, I just want to say the difference is this program could potentially, though I don’t think it will get there, expand to 800,000 people. That is a lot bigger than what the Mayor just outlined which is – Pre-K got up to 70,000 folks, and so that was a much – it was a huge thing, the Mayor did. He deserves a – so I think it’s a signature achievement of his administration but I think this is very, very different than that because the size is so big and there wasn’t a preexisting program in place. So these are two separate things.
Again, we are going to build this program, you’ve heard a commitment from me, from the Mayor, from the advocates, from the councilmembers, to get this to as many people as possible. This is a first step. We are going to keep pushing. It’s going to be part of future budget conversations. You heard from the advocates, what their expectations are, you heard from the Mayor what his commitment is. You heard from me how important this is. This is a very good thing, and I’m very excited about it.
Question: [Inaudible] rollout originally has a [inaudible] and did you push back with the Mayor on the fact that it wasn’t—
Speaker Johnson: We have been having – I can’t give you an exact date, but we have been having conversations since the fall about kind of the initial phases and what we thought was doable. Some of the stuff around the 30,000 and 160,000 came in later in the year. I think it was maybe around October, November is when we figured out what those buckets were, and then we have been working on an issue around the single-swipe, the pay-per-ride, and how to get that done and that wasn’t figured out – again, I wasn’t part of those conversations with the MTA or the administration, but the Mayor and his team were the ones who were negotiating with the MTA on getting the single-swipe, and that came together just in the last two weeks or so with the MTA to get it done.
Mayor: Okay. I just want to say a few more media questions and they can be on this or they can be on something else but we have only time for a few more, Gersh – hold on, hold on, hold on, Gersh.
Mayor: No, you had a chance, Gersh.
Question: When you were asked yesterday it was premature because of Governor Cuomo’s announcement about the L train wasn’t official yet—
Question: So are you, now that you had some time to think about this, are you ready to commit to keeping some of the streetscape and bus lane improvements that were made to mitigate the L train shutdown now that the shutdown is not going to be—
Mayor: So, one—
Question: Bike lanes, bus lanes, HOV on the—
Mayor: Yeah, I hear you, I hear you. First I want to just start with what the Governor has announced. The intention is very good, and obviously I commend him and I hope it comes to pass that we can avoid that kind of shutdown and so many people in Brooklyn and Manhattan are not disrupted. I think we’re not there yet in knowing if it’s really going to work out that way, and I just caution everyone, the first thing to say before answering this – the core of your question is we’re not changing anything in the plan until we can absolutely verify that this new idea is going to work. No one heard of it until the last 24 hours, so, and I questioned this morning on the radio if the MTA was looking at this for years and years how did they not believe this was possible and now suddenly it’s possible so I hope it’s possible, but if it isn’t we need all of those measures ready to handle the disruption that was originally projected.
Now to your question, look, I’m open to that. I’m not there yet because we’re literally in brand new reality and we don’t know what we’re dealing with here, but I’m open to it and I want to look at that, independently, if we even get a chance to look at it independently. Meaning, once we know for sure we’re dealing with a very different reality in the L train, then we’re absolutely going to look at those measures and see if they might be the kind of thing we want to do going forward.
Question: [Inaudible] board members on how to handle this, they’re Cuomo—
Mayor: It’s literally – we have just gotten the proposal, we’re going to be talking to our board members. I don’t know exactly – I haven’t heard when the meeting is going to be but we’ll talk to them in advance of it.
Unknown: One right there.
Mayor: Go ahead, again my friend I’m not here to do that for you. Go ahead.
Question: In regards to NYCHA, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. posted a video on social media that showed garbage that wasn’t picked up for weeks at the Sotomayor Houses in Soundview.
Mayor: At where, please?
Mayor: Sotomayor? Okay.
Question: Sotomayor Houses in Soundview, and then it was picked up once it was seen on social media.
Question: Then NYCHA then responded that they’re focused on solutions, not hashtags, and Diaz says that new method, the hashtags, appear to be a better option. So my question to you is what is the remedy in regards to the NYCHA situation, the public seems very upset about this.
Mayor: The whole, bigger remedy is what we laid out a couple of weeks ago, which is a plan that will fundamentally change the future of NYCHA. It means that 62,000 apartments will go into that federal RAD Section 8 program. It means that we’re going to be bringing in a lot of new resources, private resources as well as public resources. We obviously have new management that’s changed the approach to the heat issue, and that’s starting to have some real impact. We’ve brought in a lot more outside boilers, portable boilers, mechanics. A lot of things are changing. There’s no question that there’s a lot of things that are not acceptable right now, and if we get a case like that, that’s not acceptable to me and it has to be fixed right away. Okay, we’re going to do the last one, we’ll do these two and we’re out.
Question: This might be for Steve Banks but the question is are there any other residents – who income levels are known to HRA that you anticipate would be the next big group of people or are you kind of starting from scratch on verifying anyone else’s eligibility for the MetroCard?
Mayor: Let me try it broadly and Steve – so we’re going to start immediately on the next tranche. We know they’re folks under the poverty level, and we’re looking for the ways to reach them that are most effective, most verifiable, fastest, like the SNAP was, like the cash benefit was. So I assume we’re working on a universe of options and we also have to do it with the MTA obviously.
Question: Is there another group that is already known to you, a pretty sizable group, that you think will be the next group or do you have to—
Mayor: I think we have options, but again, given how there’s been, I think, some misunderstandings along the way, I don’t think it’s productive to say here’s one that might or another. I think the productive thing is to come up with the next phase and announce it. Last call.
Question: Earlier today, Governor Cuomo said that he personally reached out to Elon Musk at Tesla—
Mayor: To who please?
Question: To Elon Musk at Tesla to ask if their technology could fix the subway signal system so I’m wondering if you think that’s a path worth pursuing.
Mayor: I love the fact that the governor is asking that question, because what we’ve seen so far for the MTA is a plan that will take a long, long time to fix the signals. If there’s new technology that would fix them faster, that could be a godsend to all New Yorkers. So I’m very happy he’s asking and obviously appreciate that he’s taking the lead. The State controls the MTA. It’s good to see him taking the lead. I don’t know Elon Musk. I don’t know what that technology is. But if there’s something that might help – I mean the number one problem, even though it’s the least, you know, the least public or the least sexy problem, but the number one problem in terms of people actually getting around is the signal system. So if there is some way to fix it faster, God bless, we would love that.