This Week in New York State Government
Governor Cuomo, JetBlue, Cuba Travel Services Announce Direct Charter Flight from New York to Havana
Governor Andrew Cuomo joined with JetBlue Airways, New York’s Hometown Airline™, and its charter partner, Cuba Travel Services, to announce a new flight from New York to Havana, Cuba. The milestone makes JetBlue the first major carrier to announce a new flight to Cuba from New York since travel restrictions were recently eased.
The expanded charter service comes on the heels of Governor Cuomo’s trade mission to Cuba, where the Governor, joined by JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes and other New York business leaders, led a dialogue to connect New York businesses to new opportunities in Cuba. Cuba Travel Services is offering the flight, operated by JetBlue, on Fridays from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Havana’s José Martí International Airport (HAV) beginning July 3, 2015. Travelers should make arrangements directly with Cuba Travel Services (www.cubatravelservices.com).
Cuba Travel Services, a leading authorized carrier service provider, believes expanding its flight network will provide licensed travelers more travel options for a lower cost. The additional service offers customers additional options to travel to Cuba from New York without connection delays or extra domestic travel expenses to connect in Florida.
Governor Cuomo Announces Appointments to the JCOPE Review Commission
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Temporary President and Majority Leader of the Senate Dean G. Skelos, and Speaker of the Assembly Carl E. Heastie announced the appointments of eight individuals to the JCOPE Review Commission.
Anthony Crowell, Dean at New York Law School and former counsel to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is an expert in state and local government law. He also previously served as Special Counsel to the Mayor and Assistant Corporation Counsel in the New York City Law Department’s Tax & Condemnation and Legal Counsel Divisions, and at the International City/County Management Association.
Michael S. Feldberg is a partner at Allen & Overy LLP, where he is the head of the firm’s U.S. litigation practice. He is a former Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and has experience litigating and trying cases in a wide variety of areas, with a special emphasis on the defense of federal criminal and regulatory cases as well as federal civil litigation.
Seymour James is the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society in New York City. Mr. James joined The Legal Aid Society in 1974 as a staff attorney and has served in various supervisory capacities. He is a member of the New York State Justice Task Force, the Committee on Character and Fitness for the Second Judicial Department, and the New York State Permanent Sentencing Commission, and was recently appointed to Mayor DeBlasio’s Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System.
Tony Jordan was elected as Washington County District Attorney in 2013. Prior to becoming district attorney he served in the New York State Assembly for three terms representing parts of Saratoga and Washington Counties.
William LaPiana is the Rita and Joseph Solomon Professor of Wills, Trusts, as well as the Estates Director, Estate Planning, Graduate Tax Program for New York Law School, where he has taught since 1987. Prior to teaching, he also served as an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York. Dr. LaPiana is a Buffalo native who holds both a Ph.D. in History and a J.D. from Harvard, where he also received his B.A. and an M.A.
Elizabeth Moore is currently Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Con Edison. She was formerly a former partner in the firm of Nixon Peabody LLP, where she specialized in public finance, employment law, procurement policy, and government compliance and regulatory issues.
Patricia Salkin, Dean at Touro Law School, is a nationally recognized scholar on land use law and zoning. She formerly served as a professor of law, as well as Associate Dean and Director of the Government Law Center of Albany Law School and as an Assistant Counsel for NYS Office of Rural Affairsý.
Former Senator Dale Volker represented Western New Yorkers in the State Legislature for over 35 years before retiring in 2010. Formerly a police officer, he was first elected to the New York State Assembly in 1972, and three years later, won a special election to the Senate.
Governor Cuomo Announces New Partnership to Provide Equipment, Training For Law Enforcement to Assist in Missing Child Searches
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a partnership between New York State and Project Lifesaver International to provide life-saving equipment and training for 50 law enforcement agencies to assist in missing child searches. The state will provide agencies with nearly 600 Project Lifesaver tracking devices at no cost for use on children under 18 who may have autism, Down syndrome or another type of cognitive impairment that puts them at risk for wandering or becoming lost. The transmitters, which are worn on the wrist or ankle, emit a tracking signal that allows a child to be located quickly after going missing.
A total of 596 personal transmitters will be provided to agencies through an agreement between the state Division of Criminal Justice Services and Project Lifesaver, a non-profit organization that partners with law enforcement across the country. Agencies will receive the technology when they attend training, which began in Saratoga County and is scheduled to be completed by the end of June.
Governor Cuomo Announces Low-Interest Loans Available to Residents and Businesses Affected by the East Village Explosion in Manhattan
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the U.S. Small Business Administration has granted his request for a Physical Disaster Declaration for New York County and the contiguous counties of Bronx, Kings, and Queens following the March 26, 2015 explosion and subsequent fire at 121 Second Avenue in Manhattan’s East Village. The blast killed two people and injured several others. As a result, individuals and businesses affected by the fire may be eligible for low-interest small business loans to replace real estate, personal property, and other losses. Governor Cuomo requested that these loans be made available in a letter to the SBA on April 22.
SBA loans are often helpful when eligible homeowners, renters, businesses, and others need financial support following emergencies or weather-related disasters. A damage assessment performed by the SBA and New York City Emergency Management found that 20 homes and five businesses sustained major damage, in addition to nine homes and 16 businesses affected by minor damage. In the case of the East Village explosion and fire, the following groups may be eligible for help from SBA loans for the following:
- Homeowners: up to $200,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate
- Homeowners and renters: up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property
- Business owners: up to $2 million for the replacement of real estate, inventories, machinery, equipment, and other physical losses
- Businesses and non-profits: Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to provide necessary working capital until normal operations resume after a disaster
Governor Cuomo Announces Major Investment from Tom Golisano Allows Bak USA to Create 167 Additional New Jobs
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that Bak USA, a START-UP NY participant, will accelerate sales and production related to its expansion in Western New York. A new, multi-million dollar investment spearheaded by former Buffalo Sabres owners Thomas Golisano will enable Bak USA to expand its job creation in the region, with an estimated 167 new jobs being created and an additional 100 previously planned jobs being created ahead of schedule. Bak USA, which is one of the first American firms to produce its own-branded electronic tablets, is located at Compass East and covers 10,000 square feet of space on the top floor of the former site of Sheehan Memorial Hospital at 425 Michigan Avenue.
Bak USA is one of the first businesses to participate in the Governor’s START-UP NY program in Buffalo. As part of its local efforts, Bak will engage SUNY Buffalo engineering students in a senior design course that will provide students with hands-on experience and help the company advance product development and efficiency. The company also intends to collaborate with the School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership on social entrepreneurship programs and activities.
Comptroller DiNapoli Releases Municipal Audits
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced his office completed the following audits:
Delaware County – Vehicle Usage and Disposal (2014M-258)
County officials did not perform cost-benefit analyses to support the after-hours locations of vehicles. None of the six departments reviewed adequately monitored vehicle usage.
Fulton County Industrial Development Agency – PILOT Program (2014M-291)
Seven of the eight payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements that were active during the audit period did not have a recapture clause to recover benefits from the businesses if they did not meet their projected goals.
Village of Medina – Ambulance Service Billings (Orleans County)
The village board did not adequately monitor ambulance billings and amounts collected. Additionally, the village did not send invoices to the three towns for unpaid ambulance bills and administrative billing fees. As a result, the village is owed more than $1 million for ambulance services.
Village of Nissequogue – Information Technology (Suffolk County)
Village officials have not designated an IT administrator who is independent of the financial recordkeeping. In addition, the board has not developed written policies and procedures, including those for acceptable computer use, password security, data backups and disaster recovery.
City of Poughkeepsie – Audit Follow-Up (Dutchess County)
Of the seven previous audit recommendations, three recommendations were fully implemented and three recommendations were partially implemented. One recommendation was not implemented. For example, the city has taken steps to reduce the deficit in the general fund and developed a comprehensive plan to reduce outstanding debt.
Sir William Johnson Volunteer Fire Company – Controls Over Financial Activities (Fulton County)
Neither the former nor the acting treasurer maintained accurate, complete and up-to-date accounting records. Additionally, neither treasurer consistently performed monthly bank reconciliations or provided the board with monthly and annual financial reports.
Comptroller DiNapoli Announces State Contract and Payment Actions for March 2015
State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced his office approved 2,178 contracts valued at $2.9 billion and approved more than 2.8 million payments worth more than $19.7 billion in March. His office also rejected 230 contracts and related transactions valued at $364.5 million and nearly 5,000 payments valued at more than $12.3 million due to fraud, waste or other improprieties. DiNapoli also announced that his office will report on legislative spending for travel and per diems on a quarterly basis.
In total (year-to-date) for calendar year 2015, DiNapoli’s office has approved 5,541 contracts valued at $6.2 billion and approved more than 6.6 million payments worth nearly $38.2 billion. His office has also rejected 624 contracts and related transactions valued at $2.2 billion and nearly 12,000 payments valued at more than $22 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. The independent audits ensure payments are free from fraud, waste and improprieties. The Comptroller’s office averaged 8 days for contract reviews in March and two days to audit payments.
DiNapoli releases this monthly notice to provide current information about the number and types of contracts and payments entered into by the state. This builds on his commitment to added transparency via his Open Book New York website.
Attorney General Schneiderman Joins Bipartisan Group of Local Officials to Announce New Legislation to Combat Increase of “Zombie Homes” on Long Island
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the introduction of a newly-expanded Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, legislation aimed at stemming the rising tide of abandoned foreclosed homes (“zombie homes”) across New York. The bill (A.6932/S.4781) requires that banks and mortgage servicers maintain vacant and abandoned residential properties throughout the foreclosure process, a responsibility that banks often neglect. Banks that fail to maintain the properties will be forced to pay stiff penalties that can then be used by localities to enhance their enforcement efforts under the Act.
The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Senate Coalition Co-Leader Jeffrey D. Klein and in the Assembly by Judiciary Committee Chair Helene Weinstein, comes amid new data showing a troubling increase in the number of zombie properties across New York State. According to RealtyTrac data analyzed by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), zombie property foreclosures increased by almost 50 percent from 2013 to 2014, bringing the total number of zombie properties in NYS to 16,701. As a result, almost one in five residential foreclosures is now a zombie property. On Long Island, the problem continues to grow with the number of zombie homes increasing by 62 percent between 2013 and 2014, bringing the total number to 4,048 – the highest in the state.
Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Guilty Plea of Westchester Nonprofit Executive for Stealing from State Program Assisting Seniors and Disabled
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that Darlington Odidika, executive director of Yonkers-based nonprofit Systems and Abilities, Inc., pleaded guilty to his role in a bid-rigging and kickback scheme to defraud the Medicaid system of monies earmarked to allow the elderly and infirm to live in the community, rather than in an institutional setting. As a condition of his plea, Odidika, 47, of Poughkeepsie, will be sentenced to three months in jail and five years of probation. Odidika and the corporation are also required to repay the full amount that was stolen from Medicaid as a result of this scheme.
Systems and Abilities, Inc. was an enrolled provider in the Nursing Home Transition and Diversion Program (NHTD Program), a New York State Department of Health program that provides senior citizens and those suffering from physical disabilities alternatives to institutional living. Operating in Westchester and surrounding counties, Systems and Abilities arranged for contractors to provide modifications to the existing homes of qualified Medicaid recipients through a required bid process and then billed Medicaid based upon the alleged final costs of the projects. Systems and Abilities also billed Medicaid for moving expenses and basic home furnishings for individuals transitioning from a nursing home or rehabilitation center back into their homes.
In his guilty plea, Odidika admitted to falsifying bids for these modifications and submitting them to agents of the Department of Health between August 31, 2009 and November 30, 2011. By falsifying these bids, Odidika was able to control which contractor won the bid and inflate the amount of payment that Systems and Abilities received as its share of the project. Odidika also admitted to submitting Final Cost Reports, and Medicaid claims based upon these reports, which falsely stated the actual costs of the projects. Similarly, he admitted to falsifying Final Cost Reports in the transition program for moving expenses, which were either never provided or significantly inflated over the actual costs, and submitting Medicaid claims based upon these false reports. Odidika and Systems and Abilities each pleaded guilty to one count of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree before the Honorable Barry E. Warhit in Westchester County Court. Odidika is to receive a sentence of 90 days in the Westchester County Jail and five years of probation. The nonprofit Systems and Abilities was sentenced to pay a fine of $5,000. Sentencing for Odidika is scheduled for July 29. Odidika and the corporation are also required to pay restitution of $21,690, most of which has already been reimbursed to the Medicaid program.
Assembly Legislation Helps Women and Families, Continues Families First Agenda
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and members of the Assembly Majority announced the passage of a legislative package to assist women and working families, continuing the Assembly’s commitment to New York families.
The legislation includes a measure that would raise the minimum wage to $10.50 per hour beginning Dec. 31, 2016, which would then increase to $11.55 on Dec. 31, 2017 and to $12.60 per hour on Dec. 31, 2018 (A.7257, Titus). It would also create a minimum wage of $12.50 per hour for New York City, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties beginning Dec. 31, 2016, increasing to $13.75 beginning December 31, 2017 and again to $15.00 per hour starting Dec. 31, 2018.
Additionally, the legislative package includes measures that would prohibit discrimination based on familial status (A.6183, Russell) and that would require reasonable accommodation for pregnant employees (A.4272, Gunther). These measures would help to ensure that employees are not forced to choose between continuing their career and starting a family. Also included is legislation that would strengthen protections against sexual harassment in the workplace (A.5360, Galef).
The Assembly also passed legislation to expand access to child care for working families, including a measure that would require local social services districts to provide a child care subsidy for parents who work overnight and have children that are not yet in school, so that children can be cared for during the day (A.775, Jaffee).
The series of bills also includes measures that would:
- Codify child care as a compelling family reason to separate from employment, allowing otherwise eligible parents to apply for unemployment benefits (A.7004, Lupardo).
- Allow a 12-month work exemption for households receiving public assistance with a child under the age of one, provided that the commissioner of a social services district is unable to provide all eligible working families with child care assistance (A.1805, Titus).
- Require the state Department of Labor to take child care needs into account when considering unemployment work search requirements (A.4780, Solages).