Last week New York State Senator Michelle Hinchey [D-NY41] held a town meeting at the Hudson Ale Works in Highland. Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson [D-NY104] joined her and together they discussed what legislation and issues they are presently working on.
Hinchey represents four counties – Greene, Columbia, half of Ulster County and northern Dutchess – 56 towns, 150 volunteer fire departments, 42 school districts and about 300,000 people.
Hinchey, who is in the middle of her second, two-year term, serves on 7 committees – Agriculture and Food (which represents more than 1,000 farms), Energy and Telecommunications, Environmental Conservation, Cultural Affairs, Tourism and Parks & Recreation, Finance, Transportation and Local Government. She requested to serve on these committees because they are of central concern for her district.
Hinchey said during her tenure she has had a hand in getting 69 bills signed into law, most recently designating March 8th as International Women’s Day in New York State. When Hinchey took over the Agricultural Committee in 2021, she worked to support and protect the local food supply and agricultural related businesses (by about $5million). She said a recent bill that passed in the Senate requires state agencies to purchase New York State grown food.
“That just makes sense, it creates a circular economy, keeps our tax dollars local and it helps New York businesses, so for the first time ever there are purchasing thresholds for those state agencies,” she said, pointing out that although the bill did not get through the Assembly, “the Governor loved the idea so much that she did it as an Executive Order and it is now starting to roll out.”
Hinchey said the state has now approved free meals to all school age children in the state, picking up the ball after federal money dried up after the pandemic. She said this removes the stigma of not being able to pay, “because there are many families that are right on that line that may not qualify for the program, but being able to make sure that kids get food should not be something that a family has to worry about.” Hinchey said a coalition was created to expand the free meals program, modeled after what Montana did a few years ago. Presently 81 percent of all New York State students are fully covered for free meals, “It’s a huge jump forward and is really exciting.”
Hinchey acknowledged that the Hudson Valley is facing a huge housing crisis and has led a fight in the Senate for the largest investment in upstate housing, “that our state has ever had.” She said part of the investment is intended to fund a new program called the Small Rental Development Initiative.
“This actually creates funding support from the state to build apartment units of 20 or less, so long as they are affordable for the community,” she said.
In addition, Hinchey has increased funding for the Restore Project that helps seniors, people with disabilities or those of lower incomes to afford home repairs.
Hinchey said we all owe a debt of gratitude to our First Responders and EMS workers, and she is seeking to secure $25 million to help fire departments purchase equipment and to fix up their firehouses.
Constituents complained loudly about Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed plan that would allow public health officers to arrest people and hold them indefinitely in Quarantine Camps if suspected of exposure to a communicable disease.
News organizations have pointed out that this means everybody at anytime, with no need for proof of infection, no hearing, no magistrate, and no legal counsel for the accused, no due process – all that is explicitly required by the quarantine law.
Many have compared this to a dark period in our history during WW II when Americans of Asian descent were placed in internment camps in the western part of the United States. At the end of the war most of these citizens lost their homes and livelihoods simply because of their heritage. Hinchey said she will be reviewing the recent appeal that put this idea back in the public arena.
In a post meeting interview, Hinchey said, “One of the things I actually love about this job is the breadth of substance that we cover. I get to work on legislation from Utility Reform, to Agriculture, Environmental Conservation and Hospice; we get to do so much and we get in touch and learn about so many things.”
Hinchey understands that in these town forums she will not always be able to cover everything that affects the lives of her constituents, or that directly intersect with her position as a State Senator, but people will still ask, “because they have so few opportunities to actually voice their concerns with their elected officials, which is why I feel doing town halls is so important.”
Hinchey said town hall meetings inform her about what issues are most important to the people in her district; “things that we need to change, things we need to fix. That’s the voice I want to be.”
Hinchey heard her constituents loudly complain about the estimated billing that Central Hudson does, which often incorrectly calculates bills, with some that are thousands of dollars.
“The whole situation with Central Hudson is a travesty and it’s important to know that we as Legislators are actually not legally allowed to lobby the Public Service Commission [PSC] or ask them for things as they are an independent investigative body,” she said, adding that customers can contact Public Advocate Richard Berkley for assistance in getting a correct bill from the company. “I think people still need better transparency on their bills and just saying this is what you owe, period, deal with it, is not an acceptable answer from a utility company. You have to be transparent about why and how people are being charged. I don’t think that’s asking too much of our utility company.”
Hinchey commented on her town hall style meeting.
“I’m always happy to be in Lloyd and always happy to do our town halls. I think they’re really important...and after I heard thank you for the work our team is doing, everything from support for library funding to closing the digital divide, to agricultural support. We do it to be in the community to hear people’s concerns and also to see things that we’re doing that people appreciate and like so we can continue to do more of it.”