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Racial justice measures move forward towards equitable New York City

Three New York City ballot questions passed by a landslide in Tuesday’s election. They were created by the city’s Racial Justice Commission, who plan to level the playing field for minorities.

The racial justice package on the ballot contained three carefully crafted ideas aimed at equity for all. Commission chair Jennifer Jones Austin spent Election Day promoting the proposals, which each passed with more than two-thirds of the vote

“When we began this work, we knew that we had to talk to New Yorkers who had lived experience, so that’s what we set out to do,” Jones Austin said. 

Throughout the pandemic, the commissions canvassed more than 3,000 people in dozens of public meetings and realized the entire system needed a new look. Last December, they delivered the resulting three proposals to City Hall.

The first officially adds a Statement of Values in the preamble of the city’s charter, striving to remedy past and continuing harms.

“For so long, we’ve been dealing with systemic racism, and it’s been embedded in our society’s laws, beginning with the United States Constitution, with legalized slavery,” said Jones Austin, “and what New York City has done, what New Yorkers have done is, say, you know what? Let’s reset the foundation.”

The second step establishes a Racial Equity Office, Plan and Commission to collect and report data on equity.

“We’re not going to give lip service,” Jones Austin said. “We’re going to do the really hard work of unpacking these issues. Looking at the data, what are the root causes of these problems, and how do we change them?”

The third proposal measures the true cost of living for New Yorkers, using household needs to redefine poverty.

“In the most affordable borough, if you will, the Bronx, a mother with two young children, needs at least $85,000 to make ends meet,” Jones Austin explained. “Fifteen dollars per hour, when annualized, is $30,000. That gap is huge.”

The new plan will cost $10 million from the city’s budget to implement, but Jones Austin pointed out, it costs more to pay for the current inequity in our society.

“We’ve got so many children of color graduating from high school in needed of remediation,” she said. “Forty percent of crimes in New York City are attributable to poverty. We’re paying at Rikers and elsewhere.”

The Racial Justice Commission dissolved at midnight on Election Day. Jones Austin will continue her role as CEO and Executive Director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, which is celebrating its 100th year offering help to minority families.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams praised the proposals, saying they “…will be critical to reducing and eliminating racial disparities, while a new measure of the true cost of living will help government more accurately account for the economic pressures facing New Yorkers in our policy decisions.”

Participation in ballot proposals increased this election from 2018. In the last midterm, just one in four New York City voters flipped their ballots.

This year, more than 80% of voters completed all the questions.



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