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WPA-Style Plan to Help NY Economy? Supporters Say Hire for Green, Ag, Arts Projects for Recovery

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Could New York use a New Deal-style program to bring jobs to the flood of people who lost employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic?  Senator Rachel May is taking the idea to the State Senate, while Assembly Member Patricia Fahy introduced the bill in the house. 

Fahy says action at the state level is needed to help the most vulnerable.

“Recessions in general, widen inequality.  So we are making some backward steps because of the pandemic and now the protests that have led to the destruction of some small businesses.  We need this now more than ever.  We need to give people hope.  We need to break that feeling of desperation.”

The measure would hire people for projects similar to the WPA of the 1930s and 1940s.  Supporters want those projects to focus on coronavirus contact tracing, agriculture, and art and media projects to improve communities.  May says another focus could help the economy and the future of climate change.

“Green energy, retrofitting our homes, we need to do that on a grand scale for energy efficiency now, and that’s an area in which employing young people in good jobs is a real possibility.  And then, our theaters, our museums, our artists of all kinds are really struggling in the pandemic and we need to support them and through them, we’ll support ourselves.”

Credit Assembly member Patricia Fahy
The WPA-PR bill is introduced in the assembly and senate to aid recovery after the pandemic through WPA style jobs.

Tom Nardacci is a small business owner and recalls road and parks projects supported by the WPA.  Those were innovative at the time, and now he supports making similar investments.

“(such as) the green economy, things that the private sector might be afraid to do because we can only risk so much.  So we need more public money to go into more innovative projects.”    

He adds many businesses that received stimulus loans or grants are not likely to hire back all the workers they let go.  May knows such a plan will be costly.

“… but it’s way more expensive to have so many people unemployed.  They’re not paying taxes; they’re not patronizing local businesses; they are uninsured.  The costs of not doing this are way higher than the costs of doing this.”

She adds many young people would gain job skills that will help with long-term recovery.  The pandemic has cost New York more than 2 million jobs, impacting low-income workers at a much higher rate.

TITLE OF BILL: Works Progress Administration - Pandemic Recovery (WPA-PR) This bill calls for New York’s Department of Labor to receive requests from certain state agencies proposals for eligible projects, which include contact tracing, conservation and climate change projects, projects to boost New York’s creative economy and to enhance the agricultural sector. These projects will be staffed through hiring or contacting done by state agencies and would directly employ individuals as needed for a particular project. These jobs would be targeted at unemployed, out-of-school youth and have a geographic preference for areas suffering from high unemployment. (Source: New York Senate Memorandum, Sen. May)

This story has been updated with copy corrections.

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.