2021: A Year of Fighting for the Hudson Valley

Kingston, NY In the Office of Assemblymember Kevin A. Cahill (D-Ulster, Dutchess), 2021 was a year of constant action and rethinking ordinary processes to fit current needs. Confronting record unemployment, a surge in COVID-19 cases and the lapse of the eviction moratorium, the district and legislative offices hit the ground running to serve the needs of communities in Ulster and Dutchess Counties. Most notable of 2021 constituent affairs was the help provided to secure Unemployment Insurance Benefits for over eight hundred of our neighbors, as well as Emergency Rental Assistance Funds to tenants at risk of losing housing. As we brace for winter and a new COVID variant the office stands ready to provide up to date information and resources from partners in state and county government.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Ulster County

In the first phases of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Ulster County was seriously underserved. Appointments to get the shot were difficult to find and unnervingly limited to a few small sites, leaving many anxiously awaiting their turn to even schedule their first dose.

In February, Assemblymember Cahill and Senator Michelle Hinchey sent a letter to the Governor illustrating the need for a state-run vaccination site at a central location in Ulster County. This advocacy led to the establishment of a mass-vaccination clinic at the county fairgrounds in New Paltz. Though the site was eventually transferred to other locations, tens of thousands of county residents received their vaccines there in the months after its installation.

Health Alliance of the Hudson Valley

The opioid crisis and the pandemic highlighted the need for accessible mental health services within the community, particularly in Ulster County. The abdication of Westchester Medical Center’s responsibility to provide behavioral health and detox services at Kingston Hospital is nothing short of prioritizing profit over human lives. In an effort to bring these important services back to Ulster County, Assemblymember Cahill joined nurses and community members in demanding the enforcement of the Certificate of Need, the license granted by the State to operate the hospitals.

“This fight is not over. We are already working with our new Commissioner of Health and imploring them to act more reasonably, to see the need in our community and recognize the solemn obligation of the Department to enforce the law,” said Cahill.

Budget

The 2021-22 State Budget provided much-needed funds to numerous statewide and local programs beneficial to our community. Foremost was the beginning of full payment of Foundation Aid to schools for the first time in the decade since its implementation, giving schools greater resources to educate young learners. Record funding was also provided for the Environmental Protection Fund, a portion of which will be used to develop the riverside Hudson Cliffs State Park in Kingston. Through the advocacy of Assemblymember Cahill, the budget included, among many other items, $100,000 for the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies to further their research of the Catskills, $150,000 for the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Visitor Center in Mt. Tremper, $151,667 to Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, over one million dollars to operate new immigrant worker day care centers across New York and $1,070,0000 to help the Public Utility Law Project continue its advocacy on behalf of utility ratepayers, like the customers of Central Hudson.

Marijuana Legalization

This March, New York State legalized adult-use recreational marijuana. This bill, co-sponsored by Assemblymember Cahill, constructed this legislation in a way that protects public safety, advances justice and fosters economic growth for small business and family farms, while weakening the illicit drug trade. Taxes levied on this product will benefit those historically impacted by disproportionate drug law enforcement, local communities hosting a dispensary and mental health and drug treatment services.

“This legislation has served as a model for other states looking to legalize marijuana in an equitable manner. I look forward to the regulatory framework being released by the Cannabis Control Board in the coming months so this landmark policy can bring further benefits to our community,” said Cahill.

2021 Summer Reading & Exercise Challenge

The 23rd annual Summer Reading and Exercise Challenge, sponsored by Assemblymember Cahill, was a great success. Nearly 100 students were acknowledged for their hard work in maintaining these healthy habits during the summer recess. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic and hybrid learning model of schools this past year, office staff delivered summer reading flyers to each elementary and middle school in the 103rd Assembly District. Held virtually for a second year, readers who completed the program were honored in a ceremony held October 15 to celebrate their responsibility and accomplishments. 

Red Hook High School Auditorium

This May, the seven hundred seat Red Hook High School Auditorium was opened to the community, providing a crucial asset for expanding programming within this already valuable institution of learning. Through the advocacy of Assemblymember Cahill this project received $4 million in state funding supplemented by over $100,000 raised by neighbors through the Red Hook School Foundation and additional funds overwhelmingly approved by voters in the district. This development is the culmination of several years of work by Assemblymember Cahill, the Red Hook School administration and board and the Red Hook Education Foundation to bring this educational and performance space to Northern Dutchess.

Local School Science Lab Initiative through the SUNY New Paltz Benjamin Center

Partnering with the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, Assemblymember Cahill created and secured over $4 million in funding for the Science Lab Initiative, an ongoing project to provide 21st century technology to benefit local K-12 education in the sciences. Participating districts include Kingston, New Paltz, Wallkill, Ellenville, Rondout Valley, Onteora, Saugerties, Red Hook, Rhinebeck and Ulster BOCES. Each district has submitted an individualized plan to upgrade their curriculum which is then funded by the Science Lab Initiative and administered through the Benjamin Center. This partnership between public and higher education serves as a model and pathway, providing young learners with the skills necessary for a career in the ever-growing fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Wurts Street Bridge

The Wurts Street Bridge is the architectural focal point and local link between the neighborhoods of Downtown Kingston and Port Ewen. To ensure that this marvel of twentieth century engineering was restored, Assemblymember Cahill secured $44.4 million in the State Budget for this project. On October 15, 2021, Assemblymember Cahill joined State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez and local dignitaries in announcing that reclamation has commenced. Improvements will include a new deck, guide rails, sidewalks, railings and suspender cables and string lights to illuminate the Rondout Creek. The load capacity will be increased to 20 tons for the first time in the history of the bridge and sidewalks will be widened to address current accessibility standards. 

Food Insecurity Relief Grants

This year, the office continued its primary focus on combating food insecurity in the Hudson Valley. Though inadequate access to nutrition was a year-round issue before the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic downturn and danger of leaving home have strained our communities and put pressure on the existing network of food pantries. In addition to numerous other statewide measures, six items, proposed by Assemblymember Cahill to help local organizations feed those within the 103rd Assembly District, were added to the state budget in April 2021. Grants of $100,000 to Dutchess Outreach of Poughkeepsie, $50,000 to Ulster Immigrant Defense Network and $50,000 to Family of New Paltz are already in the process of being disbursed, with an additional $50,000 to Red Hook Responds and $50,000 to Angel Food East of Kingston on the way.

Insurance Committee

The Assembly Standing Committee on Insurance, Chaired by Assemblymember Cahill, saw a productive 2021 session. Out of a total of 40 bills approved by the committee, 21 were already signed into law. Measures that passed included increased access to affordable health care, improved insurance product options and provisions for the modernization of insurance claim procedures following the global pandemic.

The Committee actively engaged with our partners in the Health Committee, to advance landmark legislation to finally regulate Pharmacy Benefit Management companies that serve as shadowy middlemen contributing to astronomical growth of prescription costs. Other bills of interest included measures to assure coverage for life-saving HIV medications, to prohibit health insurance companies from mid-year changes to prescription formulary and treatments, to protect victims of domestic violence by requiring health plans to provide such individuals with the option of providing alternative contact information and banning co-payments for service at opioid treatment programs.

 Legislation

In addition to many measures he co-sponsored with his colleagues, this year, eight bills authored by Assemblymember Cahill have already been signed into law:

  • A.86 (Cahill)/S.5354 (Breslin). Updating pilotage rates on the Hudson River for the years 2022 and 2023.
  • A.783 (Cahill)/S.577 (Sanders). Requiring the Child Health Plus program to include ostomy equipment and supplies as a covered health care service.
  • A.1242 (Cahill)/S.346 (Kaplan). Requiring state contractors with agreements in excess of $2,300 to be included in the state directory of new hires to aid in the administration of the child support enforcement program.
  • A.1665 (Cahill)/S.4074 (Hinchey). Designating a portion of State Route 28 in Ulster County as the “Ulster County Korean War Veterans’ Memorial Highway.”
  • A.4672 (Cahill)/S.4483 (Breslin). Allowing credit and debit card issuers and banks to offer the sale of coverage to protect a cell phone and other wireless communication equipment if it is damaged, lost, stolen or incurs a breakdown.
  • A.6725 (Cahill)/S.4343 (Hinchey). Authorizing the county of Ulster to correct mistakes that would have otherwise deprived local sheriff deputies to fully participate in their retirement plan.
  • A.6871 (Cahill)/S.1556 (Parker). Bans public utility companies from using backdoor methods to charge ratepayers for lobbying through their membership in advocacy organizations.
  • A.7842-b (Cahill)/S.4938-c (Martucci). Authorizing the Village of New Paltz to embark on the co-use of certain parklands for the purpose of installing wells to benefit of village and town residents served by the municipal water system. 

Looking Ahead

In 2022, it is not yet clear whether the legislative session will again be held largely virtually. Despite the difficulties that may present, Assemblymember Cahill is confident that this year the state will see significant progressive steps taken on his legislative initiatives for, among other items, climate action, state cannabis banking and to the modernization of the outdated beverage container deposit law. Once again, a strong pro-consumer agenda for insurance is anticipated. 

“I thank the people of the 103rd Assembly District for giving me their confidence to represent you in our state Capitol and serving our great communities. I look forward to continuing our advancement of a sound, progressive agenda during the upcoming 2022 Session. On behalf of my entire staff and me, we wish everyone a safe, happy and healthy New Year,” concluded Cahill.