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This Week in New York State Government

Governor:

Governor Cuomo Announces Designation of New Americans Day at the 2015 Great New York State Fair

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the designation of New Americans Day at the 2015 Great New York State Fair on Friday, August 28. The day will be marked with a special naturalization ceremony, cultural performances celebrating the rich diversity of New York State, and culinary specialties from around the world.

New Americans Day at the Fair will kick off at 11 a.m. with a naturalization ceremony officiated by the Office of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. More than 100 New Yorkers hailing from 40 different countries will take the oath as United States citizens during a commemoration in the Empire Room. This is the first citizenship ceremony ever conducted at the New York State Fair.

“New York’s diversity is its strength and this state has long been a beacon for people across the world who seek to make a better life for themselves and their families,” Governor Cuomo said. “I’m proud to continue this rich tradition with the first ever New Americans Day. The Great New York State Fair is a showcase of the very best that this state has to offer and there is no better place to welcome our newest Americans and our newest New Yorkers.”

Following the ceremony, the New York State Office for New Americans will host musical performances and acts for the remainder of the day. Programming includes dance performances by the Karen Society of Buffalo, the Burundi Community of Buffalo, and the Bhutanese-Nepali Community of Buffalo, as well as additional cultural acts.

Governor Cuomo Announces Return of New York Firefighting Team After Battling 25,324-Acre Wildfire in Oregon

Governor Cuomo announced the safe return of the 20-member crew of forest rangers, employees and volunteers from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation who have been battling the 25,324-acre Stouts Creek Fire, near Milo, Oregon, for the past two weeks. Additionally, Governor Cuomo yesterday dispatched a second 20-member crew to continue New York’s assistance in containing the West Coast fires. This next group is comprised of eight forest rangers, six employees and six volunteers from the Saratoga Springs division of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“These brave men and women answered the call and proudly carried on the tradition of New Yorkers helping their neighbors in their time of need,” Governor Cuomo said. “The professionalism and valor displayed during this assignment were second to none and I am thankful for their safe return. I wish the same for this second group that will be assisting in fighting these wildfires.”

The returning crew was part of a team of 1,045 firefighters which worked to contain the Stouts Creek Fire for the past two weeks. The fire started on July 30 by a lawn mower used during prohibited hours. It was contained on August 21, but exceptionally dry conditions required crews to maintain a constant presence in order to keep the fire contained.

The team assisted in creating control lines to contain the wildfires, clearing materials from the path of the fires and completing burnout operations in which crews purposefully set land within the control line on fire in order to remove the larger fire’s ‘fuel.’ During their time, the crew worked in rough terrain and endured daily high temperatures. Following their two-week assignment, the crew was flown back to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, rested overnight, then boarded buses for their return home this morning.

Governor Cuomo Announces Four CUNY Colleges Ranked Highest as “Best Bang For the Buck” in the Northeast

Governor Cuomo announced that four out of the top five “Best Bang for the Buck” four-year colleges in the Northeast are City University of New York colleges, according to new rankings by the Washington Monthly.

“New York has a long and proud tradition of providing a high quality, affordable education through our public colleges and universities,” Governor Cuomo said. “This latest ranking further emphasizes the value of earning a degree right here in New York and I am proud of these CUNY campuses and this well-deserved recognition.”

The magazine’s 2015 rankings place Baruch College as first in the Northeast in value, followed by CUNY’s Lehman College in third place, John Jay College of Criminal Justice in fourth and Queens College in fifth. (Rutgers University-Camden took second place.) The magazine’s rankings also place two CUNY campuses in the top 40, with CUNY’s Brooklyn College at 26th and City College at 27th among 402 colleges in the Northeast.

Among master’s programs, the Washington Monthly’s top 100 included CUNY’s City College (34), Brooklyn College (55), Hunter College (64), Queens College (81) and Lehman College (99) among the 673 it considered.

Governor Cuomo Warns New York’s College Students About the Dangers of Buying False Identification Documents on the Internet

Governor Cuomo issued a warning to college students returning for the fall semester that purchasing fake IDs is not only illegal, but also increases the chance of becoming a victim of identify fraud. In recent years, investigators from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles have found dozens of examples of underage license holders becoming victims of identity theft after purchasing fraudulent identification online from overseas companies.

“The ripple effects of identity theft can last for years and more and more college students are opening themselves up to fraudsters by attempting to purchase a fake ID from the Internet,” Governor Cuomo said. “Our message is simple: It’s just not worth it — both for the immediate consequences of getting caught with a fake ID and for putting their financial future at risk.”

Using only a victim’s name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth, criminals can repeatedly open new lines of credit, take money from bank and retirement accounts, get a job, file false tax returns, and even seek medical attention, making it extremely difficult for a victim to recover his or her own records, name, and life.

According to the 2014 Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, 18 percent of identity theft victims were ages 20 to 29; about six percent of victims were 19 years old or younger. These age groups are less likely to regularly track bank account and credit card activity, pay for identity theft monitoring services, and use discretion when sharing information on social media, making them more susceptible to identity theft than any other age group.

Governor Cuomo Announces $50 Million For Emergency Communications Upgrades in 17 Counties

Governor Cuomo announced that 17 counties will receive portions of $50 million in total funding to enhance their vital emergency communications systems. Each of the 17 counties will receive awards of up to $3.5 million to fund projects involving infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades that serve important roles in localities’ emergency response. The grants are part of the fourth round of the Statewide Interoperable Communications Grant program.

The $50 million in State funding will be used by counties to install new radio equipment at towers and antenna sites to expand coverage; set up common interoperability and mutual-aid channels among public safety radio systems; consolidate emergency services dispatch facilities; and deploy technology so that counties can link systems together.

These communications upgrades will bolster local emergency response systems across the state, complementing the NY Responds statewide emergency management system. NY Responds, announced this summer, will give every county in New York State access to universal emergency management software for the first time ever. The software – provided at no cost to localities – will enable both local governments and state agencies to submit and share vital disaster-related information, ranging from incident reports and resource requests to real-time tracking of assets and weather conditions.

The awards are distributed through a State-funded competitive grant program supporting regional communications partnerships throughout New York State. The partnerships between local and State public safety agencies will create interoperable emergency communications systems for first responders. The grant program is administered by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services; New York is the only state in the nation with such a program.

Governor Cuomo Announces $17.2 Million to Bolster Biomedical Research in New York State

Governor Cuomo announced $17.2 million in state awards to 26 academic medical institutions for the training of new clinical researchers working on cutting-edge biomedical research. These awards, administered over a two year period through the Empire Clinical Research Investigator Program, are vital to helping New York both attract new researchers and solidify itself as a national biomedical research hub.

The Empire Clinical Research Investigator Program provides funding for clinical and population-based research specific to an institution’s community and allows those institutions to hire researchers for critically important projects that represent a strategically important area of growth for the institution. Over the next two years, more than 86 physician researchers will be trained as a result of this funding in diverse research fields, including: heart and kidney disease, traumatic brain injury, human cancer genomics, health information technology, population health, and stem cell therapy. Once program researchers conclude their training through this program, they will be well prepared for careers in research.

The program supports two types of awards — team-based Center Awards and Individual Awards. Center Awards provide funding for teaching hospitals to form research teams focused on a specific topic, disease, or condition. This will not only further the development of clinician researchers, but also give these hospitals a foundation from which they can seek additional funding from the federal government to build upon their work.

Twelve institutions will receive Center Awards, with each receiving $1,260,332 over two years for the training of a team comprised of at least six fellows. For five of the 12 Center Award recipients, the awards will support both a primary and secondary project, and all 12 institutions have each committed at least $200,000 in direct matching funds for their projects.

Individual Awards are being made to 14 teaching hospitals, each of which will receive up to $150,000 over two years, to train program researchers in diverse research fields such as obesity, diabetes, lupus, kidney transplant, schizophrenia, HPV infection, and hearing loss.

Governor Cuomo Highlights Administration Participation at the Great New York State Fair

Governor Cuomo highlighted new, family-friendly activities that will be available at the Great New York State Fair this year. In addition, many new services will be available to visitors at the Fair, including the opportunity to order a new “I Love NY” State Fair license plate, search for job openings and ordering a new E-ZPass.

“Each year we strive to make the Great New York State Fair better than the last and by providing more educational activities and convenient access to state services, we are seeking to enhance the experience and provide more value for attendees,” Governor Cuomo said. “I urge every New Yorker to plan a trip to the Fair and experience the very best this state has to offer.”

State agency displays, as well as the Governor’s exhibit, will be located in the Center of Progress Building, the Science and Industry Building, and at many other locations on the Fairgrounds. The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets’ tent will be located in front of the Administration Building. The displays will be open all twelve days of the Fair from Thursday, August 27 to Labor Day Monday, September 7.

Governor Cuomo Announces Accelerated Paving Projects Set to Begin

Governor Cuomo announced that resurfacing projects in Rensselaer, Albany and Monroe Counties are set to begin as early as next week. Construction on a $3.07 million project to repave Hoosick Street (Route 7) in Troy, Rensselaer County, and Route 787 in Cohoes, Albany County is scheduled to start next week. In addition, construction is set to begin on a $4 million project to resurface portions of Route 18 (Latta Road) in Greece and Rochester and Route 33A (Chili Avenue) in Gates, Monroe County. The work is part of $75 million in resurfacing projects across New York State that were accelerated into this construction season in order to repair widespread damage caused by deep frost last winter.

“With another winter just around the corner, this administration is doing everything in its power to ensure that crucial maintenance and repairs to New York’s roadways are completed in order to be ready for whatever Mother Nature has in store,” Governor Cuomo said. “By completing these projects now, we’ll be able safeguard against future damage, and the long traffic delays that come with it, down the road.”

Governor Cuomo Announces $2.5 Million to Improve Thirteen Playgrounds at State Parks

Governor Cuomo announced the state has committed $2.5 million to build or improve 13 playgrounds at eight State Parks across New York. The park improvements are part of Governor Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 state park revitalization plan, which includes a commitment to add or improve 100 playgrounds by 2020.

“New York’s state parks are second to none and these playground improvements are yet one more reason for families to pay them a visit,” Governor Cuomo said. “With this funding, we are building on our success in improving state parks and are encouraging a new generation of New Yorkers to appreciate the great outdoors.”

Under the initiative, State Parks will replace outdated playgrounds at the parks with modern, code- compliant equipment and distinct areas for young and older age groups. Playground improvements will be coupled with site improvements, including shade trees or canopies, seating, water fountains and trail/walkway connections to the rest of the park.

Governor Cuomo Announces Completion of $2.1 Million Project to Improve Energy Efficiency of Metro-North Railroad

Governor Cuomo announced the New York Power Authority has finished $2.1 million in energy efficiency upgrades at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Metro-North Railroad North White Plains Train Yard. This energy saving project, completed under the Governor’s BuildSmart NY program, will save New York State more than $328,000 in energy costs and remove approximately 1,280 tons of greenhouse gases annually.

The project, which began last fall, instituted a number of comprehensive energy-saving and efficiency improvements at four major buildings throughout the train yard. These improvements included the replacement of several air-handling systems, a new boiler, electric smart meters and a building energy monitoring and management system. This system will give the MTA a greater ability to track and curtail its energy use, as well as reduce operation and maintenance costs at the facility.

The New York Power Authority oversaw the project from an initial energy audit through its completion and provided upfront financing. The energy savings resulting from the project will offset the MTA’s payments back to the New York Power Authority.

Governor Cuomo Announces Expansion of Early Intervention Services For New York Youth With Schizophrenia

Governor Cuomo announced that the New York State Office of Mental Health is expanding a program that provides much needed mental health services to young adults with newly emerging psychotic symptoms. Individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia typically experience their first psychotic episode in young adulthood. With $6.75 million in current annual state and federal funding, the Office of Mental Health has developed the OnTrackNY program, which provides psychiatric treatment, employment, educational services, and family education and support for young adults throughout New York State.

OnTrackNY began with sites in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Yonkers; which serve approximately 160 youth at any given time. The Office of Mental Health has now expanded this program to five new locations, in Buffalo, Farmingville, Syracuse and another two in Manhattan, which will serve 175 youth combined. An additional three OnTrackNY sites are in currently in development for Albany, Rochester, and New York City and plans to further expand the program with existing resources are also in development.

It is estimated that nearly 3,000 New York residents develop schizophrenia each year, which if left untreated leads to a number of significant issues, including problems at school and work, strained family relations, and estrangement from friends. Untreated schizophrenia can lead to problems such as homelessness, incarceration, and substance abuse, the probability of which increases the longer the psychosis goes untreated. Oftentimes, untreated schizophrenia leads to disability, which exacts painful human costs upon the individuals and their families, as well as substantial financial costs to individuals, families, and the healthcare and social service systems.

Started in 2013, the OnTrackNY program provides an innovative, evidence-based, team approach to providing recovery-oriented treatment to young people who have recently begun experiencing psychotic symptoms. OnTrackNY helps young adults with newly emerged psychotic disorders achieve their goals for school, work, and social relationships. This program follows principles of care which include shared decision making, youth friendly and welcoming environments, and connection with flexible and accessible mental health services.

Comptroller:

 Comptroller DiNapoli Announces State Contract and Payment Actions for July 2015

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced his office approved 1,693 contracts valued at $1.1 billion and approved more than 1.8 million payments worth approximately $8 billion in July. His office also rejected 204 contracts and related transactions valued at $356 million and nearly 2,000 payments valued at approximately $3 million due to fraud, waste or other improprieties.

Cumulatively through July for calendar year 2015, DiNapoli’s office has approved 11,930 contracts valued at nearly $136 billion and approved 20.4 million payments worth more than $79 billion. His office rejected 1,275 contracts and related transactions valued at $3.3 billion and approximately 24,000 payments valued at $58.4 million.

As the state’s chief financial officer, DiNapoli’s office reviews contracts for all state agencies and certain contracts for state public authorities and audits all state payments. This independent review ensures that costs are reasonable, the playing field is level and taxpayers get the best value for their money. These independent audits also help ensure payments are free from fraud, waste and improprieties. The Comptroller’s office averaged six days for contract reviews in July and two days to audit payments.

DiNapoli releases this monthly notice to provide current information about the number and types of contracts and payments by the state. This builds on his commitment to added transparency via his Open Book New York website.

Comptroller DiNapoli: Former Le Roy Fire Dept Treasurer Sentenced For Gambling-Related Theft of $46,000

The former treasurer of the Le Roy Fire Department and the Le Roy Fireman’s Benevolent Association was sentenced for stealing nearly $46,000 in public funds to pay for gambling at local casinos, according to New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Dennis Snow, 62, was sentenced in Genesee County Court to five years probation, 30 days in jail and a final $16,200 restitution payment to the Le Roy Fire Department and the Firemen’s Benevolent Association. Snow pleaded guilty last year to grand larceny in the fourth degree and forgery in the second degree. He was ordered to pay full restitution for the thefts, which took place from 2007 to 2013.

DiNapoli’s investigation and audits found that Snow used funds from department and association accounts to pay his credit card and cell phone bills and other expenses. Snow confessed to DiNapoli’s investigators that he was actively gambling during this time and used the money to cover his expenses.

DiNapoli recommended that department and association officials improve their fiscal reviews, including approving disbursements and transfers prior to payment to comparing monthly bank statements and canceled check images with the treasurer’s records and paid invoices.

To read the Comptroller’s audit reports, visit: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/firedists/2014/leroy.pdf

Comptroller DiNapoli Releases July Cash Report

Tax revenues through the first four months of the State’s fiscal year came in $17.7 million lower than the Division of the Budget’s latest projections but more than $1 billion higher than originally forecasted, according to the monthly state cash report issued by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The General Fund balance remains high compared to historical levels, with $9.6 billion at the end of July, $25.2 million higher than the latest projections.

Tax receipts of $25.3 billion through July 31 were 9.9 percent higher than the same period last year, and collections of $4.7 billion in July were $361 million, or 8.4 percent, higher than collections from July 2014. While much of the year-to-date increase was due to stronger PIT collections received in April, growth since April remains strong.

Other findings from the July cash report include:

  • Consumption and use tax collections totaled $5.3 billion through July 31, an increase of 3.8 percent from the previous year and $2.5 million higher than the latest projections. Business tax collections through July totaled just over $2 billion, representing a decline of $533.6 million from last year and $1.2 million higher than the latest projections.
  • Other tax collections through July 31 totaled more than $1.4 billion, an increase of nearly 29 percent from the previous year, and $6.3 million lower than the latest projections. This year-over-year increase is primarily due to large estate tax collections received in July, as well as continued strength in real property transfer tax collections.
  • All Funds receipts totaled just under $49.5 billion through July 31, which was $28 million lower than the latest projections. Such receipts were $1.6 billion higher than initial projections, primarily reflecting higher than initially projected tax receipts and settlement proceeds. Miscellaneous receipts totaling $9.3 billion were $14.5 million lower, and federal receipts totaling $14.9 billion were $4.2 million higher, than the latest projections.
  • All Funds spending of just under $45 billion through the first four months was $78.9 million lower than most recent projections and $182.9 million lower than projections from the Enacted Budget. Spending for local assistance programs totaled $32.2 billion and was 4.7 percent, or just under $1.5 billion, higher than last year and $48.8 million less than projections. Departmental operations totaled $6.6 billion through July 31, which was $18.5 million less than planned. Debt service totaled $668.8 million and was $89.7 million lower than last year. Capital projects spending increased 6.1 percent or just over $100 million and was in line with the latest projections.

The July cash report can be found here: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/finance/cbr.htm

DiNapoli’s office issues a state cash report every month identifying actual state revenues and spending from the prior month. The cash report focuses primarily on the General Fund and All Governmental Funds. The General Fund is the major operating fund of the state. All Governmental Funds includes General, Special Revenue, Debt Service and Capital Projects funds, as well as funds from the federal government. The report is now accessible in Excel and Adobe formats.

Attorney General:

Attorney General Schneiderman And Radioshack Settle Dispute Over Unredeemed Gift Cards

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that his office has reached a settlement in principle with RadioShack that will pay holders of unredeemed gift cards that were purchased by consumers at 100% of the value of their cards. The agreement applies to gift cards purchased from RadioShack or other merchants who sold RadioShack gift cards and applies to consumers nationwide. The settlement does not impose a minimum dollar threshold for consumer claims and is supported by the Attorneys General of Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Tennessee, and New Hampshire.

“Businesses must honor their commitments to consumers, and that includes consumers who have purchased gift cards,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “We will ensure that debts owed to consumers across New York and across the country are a top priority in RadioShack’s bankruptcy proceedings.”

If the settlement is approved by the Bankruptcy Court, consumers will have 12 months after RadioShack’s plan of liquidation becomes effective to file a simplified proof of claim form that will be available online or by mail. An independent professional claims agent company approved by and reporting to the Bankruptcy Court will review and process the claims. The exact notice procedures are still being negotiated by the parties.

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Guilty Plea Of Former Director Of Nursing At Health Care Center For Covering Up Sexual Abuse And Neglect

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the guilty plea of Nicolle Wagner-Stinson, 40, a Registered Nurse and former Director of Nursing at Mohawk Valley Health Care Center to two felony counts of tampering with evidence. Wagner-Stinson admitted to destroying a witness statement, which described a sexual assault incident, and concealing medical records in order to cover up patient neglect.

Wagner-Stinson admitted that on May 28, 2013, she acted on behalf of defendant MVNH Associates, LLC, d/b/a Mohawk Valley Health Care Center to destroy a witness’ handwritten statement, which described a sexual abuse incident between two residents of the facility. It was believed that the statement was about to be provided to investigators.

Wagner-Stinson also admitted that in a separate incident she concealed a patient’s Medication Administration Record from the State Department of Health, which was evidence of Mohawk’s failure to provide doctor ordered medication to that patient.

The guilty pleas stem from a May 2015 indictment of Wagner-Stinson and others, including the LLC operating the nursing home and other officials of the facility. Nursing homes, managers and staff are required to report incidents of suspected abuse or neglect of residents to the New York State Department of Health

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces $6 Million Medicaid Settlement With Brooklyn Home Care Agency

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a $6 million dollar settlement with Empire State Home Care Services, Inc. (Empire), a home care agency operating out of Brooklyn, NY. The settlement resolves claims that Empire improperly reported its home health aide hours as well as administrative and general expenses on cost reports filed between 2002 and 2005. These cost reports were used to set the reimbursement rates that Empire received from the state for the years 2004 through 2007 and resulted in over $3 million in reimbursements to which Empire was not entitled.

The audit revealed that Empire reported the salaries and benefits of administrative personnel under direct care cost centers, rather than administrative and general cost centers. By improperly placing these costs in direct care cost centers, Empire received inflated Medicaid reimbursement rates during the audit period. The settlement stipulates that Empire will pay $6 million to the state, including penalties on top of the just over $3 million that was improperly reimbursed.

The audit also found that Empire improperly allocated certain home office costs to the direct care cost centers, thereby further inflating their reimbursement rate.

The underreporting of home health aide hours as alleged in this case increased the hourly rate at which the state would reimburse the agency for such services. Further, improperly reporting administrative costs under the category of nursing services also inflates the size of a home health agency’s reimbursement.

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces $8 Million In Settlements With Specialcare Hospital Management Corp. And Hospitals In Yonkers, Kingston And Hudson For Defrauding Medicaid

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that his office has secured settlement agreements with five defendants in a False Claims Act case that will return more than $8 million to the Medicaid and Medicare programs. The agreements resolve claims that SpecialCare Hospital Management Corporation defrauded Medicaid and Medicare by illegally referring patients to unlicensed drug and alcohol treatment programs at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, and St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Yonkers, in exchange for kickbacks. The Attorney General’s complaint alleges that SpecialCare Hospital Management Corporation, a for-profit out-of-state vendor, received the illegal kickbacks under the guise of providing purported administrative services to the hospitals. It further alleges that SpecialCare’s illegal referrals caused the hospitals to provide those patients with unlicensed and medically unnecessary inpatient drug and alcohol treatment services, and submit false claims to Medicaid for those services, from approximately 2002 to 2006. The settlements also resolve claims that St. Joseph’s Medical Center, Columbia Memorial Hospital, and Benedictine Hospital in Kingston submitted false claims to Medicaid for unlicensed and medically unnecessary inpatient detoxification services. Benedictine Hospital changed its name to HealthAlliance Hospital Mary’s Avenue Campus on February 5, 2013. Under the terms of the four settlements, more than $7,367,000 will be returned to the Medicaid program, and $597,000 to the federal Medicare program.

“Drug and alcohol treatment programs are designed to help vulnerable people struggling with addiction. By exploiting their needs and the Medicaid program in order to maximize revenue, SpecialCare Hospital Management Corporation, St. Joseph’s Medical Center, Benedictine Hospital and Columbia Memorial Hospital wasted Medicaid resources and illegally billed taxpayers for unlicensed and medically unnecessary treatment services,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “This settlement holds those institutions accountable for their scheme, and will make providers think twice before defrauding the Medicaid system. Together with our federal partners, my office will leave no stone unturned in the fight to recover misappropriated money on behalf of New York’s taxpayers.”

 

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