By J. Taylor Basker
Despite Coronavirus isolation, attempts to prevent voting and misinformation for citizens, Democracy can still work! Residents at Westbeth Artists Housing held a personal meeting with their City Council representative Corey Johnson on April 7, via Zoom. They received important information and were able to ask questions about this stressful time. While much of the media has done an excellent job keeping us informed, local issues and personal questions are not addressed. This was an opportunity for 25 Westbeth residents to hear Corey discuss the broader strategies he is pursuing, as well as to express their individual concerns.
He presented the big picture that he, as Speaker of the City Council, is attempting to achieve. First, he stressed the importance of continuing to implement policies to halt the transmission. We need to ‘flatten the curve’ and relieve pressure on our health care system. We need to make their job easier.
Second, he is trying to help build the health care capacity of the city. Even if cases are beginning to plateau, we still need greater capacity to care for them. He mentioned the USS Comfort, the Javits Center, Van Courtland Park, USTA stadium transformed into hospitals. He stressed that we need to push for more personal protection such as masks, visors, gloves. These are needed not only for health care workers, but for our heroes driving buses, running subways, cleaning the streets, delivering food and helping our city function.
He has had endless conversations with the City Council, the Mayor, the Governor and their teams on economic relief for our city. The grim reality is that this health care crisis will leave our city in economic ruin, both collectively and individually. The three stimulus bills have not gone far enough. $1200 is not adequate for families or individuals. The city budget is like a car crash. We will have a $2 billion loss to the city this fiscal year. The next fiscal year beginning this summer will show a $4 billion loss—total of $6 billion dollars income loss for the city. This will affect schools, social services, housing, etc. These bills do not replace the loss of hotel, restaurant and sales taxes and other sources of income for the city. We need a replacement of revenue for NYC. The COVID virus costs are skyrocketing every day—they are an unbudgeted cost for the city, making its finances unmanageable.
He is now focusing on such basic needs for New Yorkers as food security. Many food pantries have closed. Costs have risen and volunteers are seniors who have to stay at home. NY State has released 25 million for Food Security for NYC. He has put out a call for the city to raise another 25 million. $50 million is needed for frontline food pantries supplies and to hire staff to replace the volunteers. He is hoping the antibody test will soon be available which will be a great help to determine who can work.
Corey believes in the grit and resilience of New Yorkers, who experienced the fiscal crisis of the 70’s, 9/11, the 2009 recession and hurricane Sandy. Yet this crisis is different, because we cannot be together. However, we must remain emotionally connected. Thus meetings like this are important to help us keep hope alive, in the midst of grief and trauma. 8.6 million New Yorkers are the beating heart of our city and we will get through this if we stay united, kind, compassionate and look out for each other. We are grateful to the workers who keep the city going, the deliverers, the hospital and transportation workers. We need to look out for the most vulnerable, isolated seniors, as well as the vulnerable non-profits and creative types in the arts and theater.
His office stands 24/7 ready to help answer questions about unemployment, rent, and other questions people may have – 212-564-7757. He sent a virtual hug to all at Westbeth.
Ellen Salpeter, the new CEO of the Board, thanked Corey and George Cominski for organizing this. She prophesized that after this is over, it will be the artists, writers, musicians, dancers, photographers and film makers who will tell our stories and help us heal. Thus, the residents of Westbeth will be active warriors to restore our spirits and our city. Jacqui Taylor Basker suggested a call for art, poetry and performing arts related to the crisis for exhibit in Westbeth Gallery and events in Community Room next year.
Many questions were asked, from how to apply for unemployment (the system is overwhelmed, file online), worries about child and domestic abuse (if you hear something, say something, call 311), what we can do to help (Erik Bottcher, Corey’s aide, said they need volunteers to call seniors—contact Corey’s office 212-564-7757).
Johnson ended on an upbeat note—he believes in the city and in all of us to help get through this crisis together. We will heal.
Westbeth, although it seems like a ghost town, with few out in the halls or lobby, gallery and theater closed, is showing its generous spirit, following Corey’s injunction to stay united, kind and compassionate. And the artists continue in their isolation to make art. They’re used to it.