By Rebecca Abraham, Policy Associate
Designing a Strong and Healthy New York State’s (DASH-NY) first policy agenda led to big wins in Albany this year. Governor Cuomo’s new budget now includes the largest public transportation package in history—a key priority for DASH-NY and DASH coalition member the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
On April 1st budget provides targeted funding to public transit systems across the state. While the transit package lacks the transparency DASH-NY and its member organizations asked for, it includes a five-year capital plan for non-MTA transit, providing yearly funds to support desperately needed supplies, repairs and infrastructure, another first for New York State. Capital projects will receive a total of $84.5 million, a boon to transit riders across the state.
Unfortunately, the transit bill left out an essential item—dedicated funding for Complete Streets was not included. Yet, advocates remain hopeful about funding for coming years. This was the first year Complete Streets funding made it to the Assembly’s onehouse budget, leaving room to negotiate through the Department of Transportation’s appropriation plans and providing a jumping off point for next year.
“While it is disappointing that the State budget failed to dedicate funding for Complete Streets projects, there are bright spots in this budget,” says Nadine Lemmon, Director, New York & Federal Policy at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, “There is a substantial increase in overall funding to the NYS DOT—which could mean more money for pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure—and there is a commitment to the first-ever long-term capital plan for suburban and upstate transit systems, ensuring newer buses and improved infrastructure. Continued advocacy will be needed to make sure the State increases their commitment to healthier transportation options.” Our work will continue over the next year to ensure New York State supports active transportation through bike and pedestrian infrastructure and building up public transportation.
On the food policy side, there were equitable wins and losses. DASH-NY’s other great achievement was seeing funding for local food procurement incentives for school meals. Assemblywoman Addie Russell fought for the DASH-NY Food Policy priority to include funding incentives for schools that increased their local food purchases.
Through support from the New York School Nutrition Association, the final budget included $300,000 for a pilot program for schools in Russell’s district. This pilot will enable DASH-NY and its partners to see what works, and what doesn’t, and will set us up for next year to push for a broader initiative. In addition to this pilot, the legislature and Governor included $250,000 to expand Farm to School grants to six more schools.
The Healthy Food and Healthy Communities fund was not replenished, though a minimal amount of funding was provided to allow the continuation of its current work.
The project supports new supermarkets in food deserts, but limited funding will mean it will no longer encourage growth in these areas. Neither the legislature nor the Governor provided an alternative or other options for rectifying healthy food access disparity across the state. Instead, DASH-NY will look at options and work with its members to develop next steps and focus on building support for the remaining policy priorities.