New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Gotham Gazette

Gotham Gazette Adams, Kallos Introduce Bill to Mandate Nutrition Standards for Food Provided by the City by Katie Kirker

Adams, Kallos Introduce Bill to Mandate Nutrition Standards for Food Provided by the City

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and New York City Council Member Ben Kallos of Manhattan, both Democrats, announced new legislation last week that would mandate nutrition standards for the “grab & go” and home delivered meals provided by the city, which have become essential sources of food for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers during the coronavirus crisis.

As unemployment in the city has skyrocketed from 4% to past 14%, children are not attending schools where they often get free meals, and older New Yorkers are not going to senior centers where they get fed, the city has provided tens of millions of free meals over the course of the more than two-month near-shutdown of the city. But as the city has ramped up its food operation, there have been some issues and questions, including over the healthfulness of the meals.

The announcement by Adams and Kallos, who have both taken an interest in food and wellness since well before the pandemic, comes “as several New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs have expressed concern about the quality and nutritional standards of the food distributed through the GetFoodNYC initiative, launched in response to the growing number of New Yorkers who have lost jobs or income due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” their announcement of the bill said.

Gotham Gazette Adams, Kallos Introduce Bill to Mandate Nutrition Standards for Food Provided by the City by Katie Kirker

Adams, Kallos Introduce Bill to Mandate Nutrition Standards for Food Provided by the City

“But what happens for those who don't have a choice, those relying on our ‘grab & go’ meals or home delivered meals from our city and when they don't even have a choice,” Kallos said. “Candy and potato chips and Bugles and things like that. That is a sometimes treat. That is not something that is part of a core diet and we need to make sure that for those who don't have a choice in the matter or literally relying on the city for their food, that we are providing them with healthy options so that if they eat that diet, they will not only be healthy but lose weight.”

Even before the pandemic and its fallout, the city was home to more than 1 million food insecure individuals, while hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have lost their jobs since mid-March, drastically increasing the need for emergency food. New York City is home to over 1.1 million seniors, according to a 2017 report by the City Comptroller, many more of whom are homebound due to social distancing restrictions and senior center closures, increasing the need for meal delivery and other food programs. As more New Yorkers rely on meals provided by the city, nutrition becomes more important.

Gotham Gazette City Council Questions De Blasio's Priorities at First Executive Budget Hearing by Samar Khurshid

City Council Questions De Blasio's Priorities at First Executive Budget Hearing

With the city facing a severe budget crunch because of the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s executive budget proposal released last month cut $6 billion in planned spending, tapped $4 billion from reserves and delayed major capital investments to future years when another mayor will be in office. On Wednesday, about eight weeks before a deal must be reached between the two sides, the City Council held a virtual hearing on the mayor’s spending plan. Council members questioned de Blasio administration budget officials on the mayor’s decisions, why he chose to prioritize certain city agencies and programs over others, and whether they have any contingencies now that the city’s reserves have been all but depleted and tax revenue projections continue to slide. 

The mayor’s $89.3 billion executive budget proposal was crafted with much uncertainty. The city has received far less than it has asked for in federal stimulus funds. The state shifted as much as $800 million in costs onto the city. Cash flows have been interrupted as the annual tax deadline was postponed. It could be months before the economy can be rebooted, with no certainty around what that reboot will look like given the contraction taking place. And the city continues its daily struggle against the coronavirus, with the administration spending $950 million by April 21 on its pandemic response, according to the mayor's office, with those costs only increasing by the day. 

Gotham Gazette Next Steps to Ensure Voter Access Amid Coronavirus by Ben Kallos Jarret Berg

Next Steps to Ensure Voter Access Amid Coronavirus

As the American people hunker down under a patchwork of evolving emergency orders and health directives, our communities are grappling with extraordinary circumstances disrupting and reorienting our lives and the economy. To flatten the curve of community spread during the increasingly deadly COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Cuomo has placed New York on PAUSE; Health officials have issued stay-at-home and social distancing directives; schools, playgrounds, and non-essential facilities are closed. Further restrictions may be imposed. The duration uncertain.

But when it comes to the fate of civil rights during states of emergency, historically the paradigm is less uncertain—there is an irresistible tendency across the globe for authorities to suspend the normal order in the name of imminent, amorphous threats of unknown duration, leading to the incremental curtailment of freedoms that we take for granted (like unfettered travel, transportation, assembly, and enterprise to name a few). The new normal makes prioritization of due process seem quaint, but it is even more critical when the exigencies of the moment impose security measures that inadvertently raise old voter-access hurdles to new, perhaps insurmountable heights.

In this case we can dispense with skepticism over the emergency itself. The pandemic is most certainly real. But already, COVID-19 has scrambled our democratic process. The Democratic National Committee has postponed its convention as 15 states are postponing 2020 primaries and some are adjusting voting policies so residents aren’t forced to choose between safety and casting a ballot. That’s the goal.  

Gotham Gazette Bill Allowing Online Voter Registration in New York City Moves in State Senate, Stalls in Assembly by Samar Khurshid

Bill Allowing Online Voter Registration in New York City Moves in State Senate, Stalls in Assembly

The New York City Council passed a bill, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, in late 2017 that mandated that the Campaign Finance Board build an online portal to expand access to voter registration. Currently, the state only allows online registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles website and requires an official DMV driver’s license, permit, or non-driver ID. This effectively shuts out many New York City residents who rely on mass transit and do not have a DMV-issued document.

The CFB created the portal and was ready to launch it in June of last year. It would have allowed residents to fill out the form online, with an electronic signature, and the CFB would then transmit the information to the City Board of Elections for processing. But a week before the site was to go live, the BOE added an additional hurdle that essentially negated the purpose of the portal – commissioners voted that, after receiving a form from the CFB, the BOE would mail the form to the potential voter, who would then have to return it with their physical signature. The process would have been slower than mailing in a registration form.

Gotham Gazette City to Codify Office of Food Policy and Require 10-Year Food Plan by Ethan Geringer-Sameth

City to Codify Office of Food Policy and Require 10-Year Food Plan

A particular emphasis is on food justice and ameliorating the disparate access to healthy foods in predominantly low-income neighborhoods. The expected passage of the bills comes shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled as constitutional the Trump administration’s public charge rule, making it harder for immigrants to obtain a green card when they receive public benefits like food stamps.

“The City of New York is responsible for feeding a large portion of our population, whether it’s 1.1 million public school students who are entitled to free breakfast and free lunch, or it’s people in our senior centers...or people in our shelter system who we’re feeding, or just the countless New Yorkers who rely on food assistance in the form of SNAP,” Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, told Gotham Gazette.

Gotham Gazette City's $20 Billion in Contracting Takes Another Step into Modernity by Ethan Geringer-Sameth

City's $20 Billion in Contracting Takes Another Step into Modernity

New York City government spends roughly $20 billion per year on goods and services through contracts with non-governmental vendors, including thousands of opportunities for companies of all types and sizes to work with the city. But the contracting process has long been arduous for vendors to navigate and difficult for watchdogs to closely monitor. Officials say that is now changing as a multi-step effort has unfolded over the past few years to modernize the technical infrastructure and databases that support city contracting.

And on Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) in partnership with City Council Member Ben Kallos announced the launch of updated in-person and online terminals where key information about city contracts and vendors is now accessible. The announcement is part of an ongoing effort that began in 2016 to implement a new electronic system -- the Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal, or PASSPort -- that will serve as a one-stop-shop for agencies, vendors, oversight entities, and the public involved or interested in government procurement.

The latest update corrects some of the growing pains that emerged while moving to the more modern, “end-to-end” platform intended to expand accessibility and transparency to city contracting and streamline the process for vendors and agency staff.

Gotham Gazette Taxpayers Fleeced for Nearly $47 Million in Tech Boondoggle But Few City Leaders Notice by Scott Peterson

Taxpayers Fleeced for Nearly $47 Million in Tech Boondoggle But Few City Leaders Notice

There are several officials and institutions that have the ability to do something about this growing contract scandal: Comptroller Stringer; Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; Speaker Johnson; the City Department of Investigation; City Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the Contracts Committee and sits on the Oversight and Investigations Committee, and other Council members; and city media. Only Stringer and Kallos have taken any interest in the wake of a Daily News story on the boondoggle. 

Gotham Gazette City Council Considers New Office to Aid Non-Profits by Samar Khurshid

City Council Considers New Office to Aid Non-Profits

separate study published in April by Seachange Capital Partners, a nonprofit merchant bank, found that contract delays in the 2018 fiscal year became “slightly worse” than the previous year. It found that social service contracts were registered an average of 221 days after their start date, up from 210 days in the 2017 fiscal year; only 11% were on time, slightly better than the 9% in 2017; and 20% continued to be unregistered after one year, marginally worse than the 19% in 2017. The report estimated that the fiscal burden on nonprofits from registration delays was as much as $744 million, up from $675 million in 2017.

“A nonprofit delivering services under an unregistered contract faces a growing cash flow burden associated with the unreimbursed expenses. It must also pay interest and fees on the debt it uses to finance this cash flow need – if it can be financed at all,” the study reads.

Council Members Rosenthal and Kallos cited that study in a July joint op-ed, criticizing the city’s “broken procurement system” and how delays affect nonprofits. “New Yorkers deserve the best services, and the CBOs providing those services deserve to be paid fairly and on time by a city government they can hold accountable. Overhauling the procurement system may be bureaucratic and slow in nature, but it is necessary if we are to properly serve the New Yorkers who are most in need,” they wrote, citing separate legislation they introduced to achieve that goal.

Gotham Gazette After Rally with De Blasio, City Council Hears Bills on Private Sector Retirement Security by Samar Khurshid

After Rally with De Blasio, City Council Hears Bills on Private Sector Retirement Security

Just days after he ended his presidential campaign that was focused on issues affecting working people, Mayor Bill de Blasio rallied with AARP volunteers and City Council Members at City Hall on Monday to push for a proposal that could help millions of New York workers save for their futures.

The Retirement Security for All proposal, which de Blasio first raised three years ago and then again in his State of the City speech this year, would establish a retirement savings program for private-sector employees whose employers do not currently provide those options, and a city government board to oversee its implementation.

There are two bills in the legislative package that would create the system and the board and sponsored by Council Members I. Daneek Miller and Ben Kallos, who led a hearing on the proposal shortly after the Monday morning rally.

“You should not have to work until you die,” de Blasio said at the rally. “You should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You should be able to have some time in your life when you retire with dignity.”

The mayor said that 40% of New Yorkers aged 50-64 have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire.