Anti-poverty initiative to get millions in funding
by: Velvet Spicer
The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative will receive nearly $5 million to support the expansion of early childhood anti-poverty initiatives.
The programs target children and caregivers in the city of Rochester pilot neighborhoods targeted by the initiative, including the EMMA neighborhood of East Main, Mustard and Atlantic Avenue; Beechwood; and Marketview Heights.
“Fighting poverty and providing opportunity to all New Yorkers is a top priority of this administration,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “Through these strategic investments and collaborative community efforts we are helping to ensure young New Yorkers receive quality care, access to new learning opportunities and are moving the Finger Lakes Forward toward a more equitable and prosperous future.”
Finger Lakes Forward is the region’s strategic plan to grow the economy and create new opportunities for businesses and the community.
The two-year anti-poverty pilot program will include home visiting, summer learning and child care initiatives.
The Upstate Revitalization Initiative funding will support a two-year demonstration program totaling up to $4.75 million. The Office of Children and Family Services will administer $3 million to expand child care subsidies through Monroe County, while the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance, via the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. and its Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative will administer $1.08 million for the summer learning program and $675,000 for expanded home visitation efforts.
“The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative is committed to creating systems change and addressing the root causes of poverty, and this is a great step in that direction,” RMAPI director Leonard Brock said in a statement. “In an effort to not only reduce poverty, but break the cycle of poverty affecting so many of our residents, it is imperative that we take a dual-generational approach that supports the youngest and neediest of our population, the children. I am thrilled by the state’s commitment to support these children and invest in the long-term outcomes for our community.”
Officials noted that for children in poverty, exposure to violence, poor diet and lack of mental stimulation contribute to higher rates of teen parenthood and school drop-out rates. RMAPI was created in 2015 to develop new and innovate ways to reduce poverty.
“United Way is thrilled to serve as partner and catalyst for this community investment,” United Way president and CEO Fran Weisberg said. “We’re proud to work side by side with RMAPI and our program partners to attack poverty from all angles, and we appreciate New York State and Governor Cuomo’s commitment to helping us rebuild our region into a healthy, productive, thriving community.”
Two major lending changes mean it’s suddenly easier to get a mortgage
by: Diana Olick
The nation’s three major credit rating agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, will drop tax liens and civil judgments from some consumers’ profiles if the information isn’t complete.
Mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are allowing borrowers to have higher levels of debt and still qualify for a home loan.
These changes come at a time when lenders are competing for a shrinking market of borrowers.
Two major changes in the mortgage market go into effect this month, and both could help millions more borrowers qualify for a home loan. The changes will also add more risk to the mortgage market.
First, the nation’s three major credit rating agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, will drop tax liens and civil judgments from some consumers’ profiles if the information isn’t complete. Specifically, the data must include the person’s name, address, and either date of birth or Social Security number. A sizeable number of liens and judgments do not include this information and have subsequently caused some misrepresentations and mistakes.
Of about 220 million Americans with a credit profile, approximately 7 percent have liens or civil judgments against them. With these hits to their credit removed, their scores could go up by as much as 20 points, according to a study by credit rating firm Fair Isaac Corp. (FICO).
“It’s a significant impact for still a very large number of people,” said Thomas Brown, senior vice president of financial services at LexisNexis, who is concerned that the move will add significant risk to the mortgage system.
“If you look at someone that has a tax lien or a civil judgment, they can be anywhere from two to more than five times more risky just because of the presence of that information,” he said. “That’s very, very significant.”
Credit reports, however, can have mistakes on them that end up sidelining consumers from qualifying for loans. Twenty percent of consumers have at least one mistake on one of their three credit reports, according to a Federal Trade Commission study. The concern is that those who do have legitimate liens and judgments against them will get credit that is undeserved.
“It doesn’t really do a consumer well to be extended credit that they can’t afford, they can’t reasonably service,” said Brown.
In addition to the FICO changes, mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are allowing borrowers to have higher levels of debt and still qualify for a home loan. The two are raising their debt-to-income ratio limit to 50 percent of pretax income from 45 percent. That is designed to help those with high levels of student debt. That means consumers could be saddled with even more debt, heightening the risk of default, but the argument for it appears to be that risk in the market now is unnecessarily low.
“In this case, we’re changing the underwriting criteria, and we think the additional increment of risk for making that change is very small,” said Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae’s chief economist. “Given how pristine credit has been post-crisis, we don’t feel that is an unreasonable risk to take.”
During the last housing boom, anyone with a pulse could get a mortgage, but after the financial crisis, underwriting rules tightened significantly. As a result, current default rates on loans made in the last eight years are lower than historical norms. At the same time, younger borrowers with high levels of student loan debt are being left out of the housing recovery, unable to qualify for a home loan. Duncan said a consumer’s debt level is just one of many factors considered by lenders when underwriting a mortgage.
“We look at all the other criteria that are information rich, in terms of assessing that individual’s risk profile, and they have to look good in all those other areas,” he added.
The level of risk to the mortgage marketplace, banks and nonbank lenders alike, will rise. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are still under government conservatorship, which means losses would be incurred by taxpayers.
RAINING MONEY: Some NY communities could fund budgets with casino fees
by: Amanda Renko
Windfalls of cash don’t come to the Town of Nichols very often.
The 2,700-resident, largely agricultural Tioga County community has operated on a shoestring budget of about $1.5 million for years.
So when it received a $1 million payment in 2016 from the license fee Tioga Downs paid to the state to become a full-fledged casino in December, Town Supervisor Kevin Engelbert thought of a few things that needed attention.
A new tandem-axle truck and wheeled excavator replaced 25-year-old highway equipment. The Cady Library, a landmark dating back to the 1820s, was slated for safety and energy efficiency upgrades. Long-neglected roads will be widened and given a fresh surface. And, Engelbert says, residents will get some tax relief, too.
So far this year — through the end of May — casino taxes for Nichols totaled nearly $600,000. On an annual basis, particularly with warmer weather luring out gamblers, the fees from Tioga Downs could equal the full town budget.
In northern Seneca County, the Town of Tyre recently began reaping the monetary rewards of the new del Lago Resort and Casino, which opened in February. So far, Tyre has generated monthly revenues ranging from $175,000 to more than $211,000.
And the new-found deluge of money doesn’t stop with the host communities. Counties that include Broome and Chemung are getting casino money.
Despite the influx of cash, many local leaders say they’ll use their quarterly checks to fill gaps in their budgets, instead of going all in with one-time expenses.
The money locals get comes from a tax the state imposes on the gross gaming revenues of the three non-Indian casinos to open so far — Tioga Downs, del Lago, and Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady.
New York imposes a tax of 37 percent on casinos’ gross gaming revenues — the difference between players’ bets and wins, minus any promotional credits given out — for slots and electronic table games, and 10 percent on revenues from table games.
New York retains 80 percent of the Tioga funds for statewide education and property tax relief. In April, that figure came to $1.55 million, leaving nearly $400,000 for distribution to the host town and county and surrounding counties.
April’s payouts netted $97,213 for the Town of Nichols and Tioga County, $104,347 for Broome County, $52,831 for Tompkins County, $21,639 for Chemung County, $10,412 for Wayne County and $5,196 for Schuyler County.
The surrounding counties receive even more money from del Lago, which in April had $13.15 million in total gross gaming revenues — more than twice that of Tioga Downs.
Seneca County and the Town of Tyre each received $188,843 from del Lago in April, while Broome County received $202,702, Tompkins received $102,628, Chemung received $42,036, Wayne received $20,227 and Schuyler received $10,094, according to gaming commission figures.
The payouts add up for communities facing declining revenues in recent years from sales tax drops, tax base stagnation and a state-imposed property tax cap.
Having the $460 million del Lago instantly boosted Seneca County’s total assessed value by about 20 percent.
To County Manager John Sheppard, that boost — and the ongoing revenues the county stands to receive from gaming taxes — represents the only path to staying under its tax cap. Without it, there’s “no way we’d be compliant with the tax cap expectation,” he said.
The revenues generated by building del Lago in the 35,000-person county — and the economic development implications beyond the facility’s February opening — could provide a boost to a struggling rural area, Sheppard said.
Through May 30, the county had received $764,766 in ongoing gaming funds. Seneca’s 2017 general fund budget included $1.5 million in anticipated revenues that are planned to fund general operations. Sheppard says he’ll likely recommend budgeting the money for operations again in 2018, with little choice if he wants to stay under the tax cap.
“With (gaming revenues), that doesn’t eliminate all the other complications of governance,” Sheppard said. “We’re still watching every dollar.”
The New York Comptroller’s Office doesn’t have specific recommendations on how municipalities should spend their casino revenues, and they aren’t subject to special oversight, said spokesman Brian Butry.
However, becoming too reliant on non-recurring revenues could open a municipality to scrutiny, Butry said.
A 2013 comptroller’s office audit of the City of Niagara Falls highlights how funding general operations with casino revenues could backfire.
In 2009, a dispute between the Seneca Nation and the state resulted in the suspension of payments of a portion of gaming revenues to the state and city.
Niagara Falls officials expected the dispute to be settled quickly and began to use its fund balance to finance expenses previously covered by casino funds. Even as the dispute dragged on, the city continued budgeting for those revenues, leading to a fund balance deficit of about $5.2 million by the end of 2012, according to the report.
Lowering residents’ overall property tax burden is a more responsible use for the funds than new spending, said Ken Girardin of the Albany-based Empire Center for Public Policy.
“Every local government’s situation is different, but they all need to resist the urge to add new unrelated spending. For one thing, there’s no certainty about how much casino revenue can be counted even one year out,” Girardin said.
Many municipalities “have old road and water infrastructure that could present sudden costs down the line, so it makes more sense to place money in reserves than to spend it on amenities,” he added.
Schuyler, Wayne, Broome and Chemung counties are among those who’ve budgeted casino revenues for their general funds.
Broome County used an unbudgeted license fee payment of $3.7 million to cover budget shortfalls in 2016, said County Executive Jason Garnar. This year, the county’s budget includes $2.2 million in gaming revenues. Through May 30, the county had received $1.43 million.
Tioga County legislators will soon discuss where the $571,208 it’s received so far will go, said Martha Sauerbrey, chair of the county legislature. A $1 million license fee payment replenished a capital reserve account, and it’s possible the continued revenues would end up there, too.
Chemung County will also offset increased expenses with the $1.32 million it budgeted in anticipated gaming revenues. However, $250,000 of that comes from the Seneca Nation, which stated earlier this year it will no longer make payments previously required in an agreement with the state.
“We might not get the $250,000. Right now, it doesn’t look good.” said Budget Director Steve Hoover. “If those funds don’t come in, we’re going to have a hole in our budget.”
So far, the county is slated to receive $297,384 from Tioga Downs and del Lago through May 30.
About 53 percent of residents, including much of the City of Elmira, falls west of Route 14, the dividing line between the Salamanca payments and the Tioga Downs and del Lago revenues.
“That hurts us because we have more than half our population included in a calculation with a more remote casino,” Hoover said. “It would have been a lot more beneficial to us if our entire population had been included.”
Honolulu lawmaker proposes bill to have armed park rangers to deter homeless
A state lawmaker is proposing stationing armed park rangers at Honolulu city parks, where homeless encampments are common, because of a growing amount of trash and safety concerns.
Residents have taken issue with piles of trash and smell they claim come from homeless encampments, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.
Honolulu city Councilman Trevor Ozawa wants residents to vote on a 2018 City Charter amendment to place armed park rangers in the city’s biggest parks. The rangers would be able to address illegal camping, littering and vandalism and enforce no-smoking policies should the bill come to pass.
“We continue to see enforcement issues, continue to have issues with our homeless population in our parks, and need to make our children’s safety a priority,” Ozawa said. “We need to continue exploring ways of keeping our park users safe and our facilities free of vandalism and destruction.”
The city already has an unarmed park ranger program in place at Kapiolani Park, Hanauma Bay and the city’s most-used park, the Ala Moana Regional Park, said Mayor Kirk Caldwell. City park employees also have a new shift that runs from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Jen Tema, who lives in the Waikiki neighborhood of Honolulu, said she avoids passing through lookouts at Diamond Head Monument because of the overwhelming stench coming from the area.
Her son no longer surfs at the lookouts because of feces left in the water by homeless campers and her kids need to wear shoes instead of slippers over fears of discarded drug needles and used condoms on floors at parks, Tema said.
With Lake Ontario as his backdrop yet again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to the local shoreline Thursday afternoon to tout a $55 million aid package that includes relief for homeowners, businesses and municipalities affected by the extraordinary flooding this year.
The governor spoke for about a half-hour before several hundred residents and supporters at Westage at the Harbor, a lakefront condominium complex in Irondequoit. He used the opportunity to praise state legislators for approving a negotiated bill that includes $45 million for shoreline interests.
“You have businesses that have been devastated by this. You have homeowners who have been wiped out,” he said. “We can’t solve the problems Mother Nature created, but we can make it better and we can make sure it’s not economically devastating.”
The legislation, which Cuomo signed ceremonially on the shoreline Thursday, also includes $10 million to reimburse local governments, including those in Monroe County, for expenses related to the fierce March windstorm.
Behind Cuomo as he spoke Thursday was a 250-foot-long temporary breakwall that the state provided last week to protect the apartment complex from further flood damage. The state has purchased 8,000 feet of the long fabric bladders, which are filled with water, and deployed about 2,000 feet so far.
In his remarks Thursday, the governor said he would be sending a letter shortly to federal officials informing them he intended to seek a White House disaster declaration and accompanying federal assistance.
“I believe the federal government owes the state of New York reimbursement for the cost of this relief program,” Cuomo said.
In order to seek a disaster declaration, municipalities must document spending at least $27.7 million responding to the shoreline flooding. If the president declares the shoreline a disaster area, Washington would reimburse the municipal expenses and federal emergency officials would assess whether the flooding was severe enough to merit aid to individuals and businesses.
Cuomo said he believes the state will surpass the $27.7 million threshold, though emergency officials have said it is a reach to think that the shoreline flooding would qualify for individual aid.
Cuomo also said Thursday he would ask President Trump to appoint “qualified” new representatives to the International Joint Commission, the U.S.-Canada treaty organization that oversees the regulation of Lake Ontario water levels.
The governor and others have been critical of the IJC’s response to the high water this spring and summer. IJC officials have said they’ve taken every reasonable step possible to lower the lake and minimize flooding.
Cuomo came to Edgemere Drive in Greece on Memorial Day to announce his own aid program for shoreline interests, and he visited Edgemere Drive again in June to tout the program and the state’s acquisition of the temporary breakwalls.
The final state aid package, approved by state lawmakers in late June in the waning hours of the session, was a compromise deal.
It improved upon the aid levels the governor had implemented but scaled back lawmakers’original plan for $90 million in aid. Cuomo had questioned whether the state had the money to fund the original bill.
Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, and state Sen. Pam Helming, R-Canandaguia, brokered the deal. Cuomo praised both of them Thursday, and said the work of Helming, a first-term senator, had been “extraordinary.”
Here are key highlights of the legislation, which offers $15 million each for homeowners, businesses and municipalities as well as an additional $10 million for other storm recovery efforts:
Cover damage caused by flooding that happened between Jan. 1 and June 30.
Provide homeowners with grants of no more than $50,000 for fixes that aren’t covered by insurance. There is no income cap for primary homes. For non-primary homes, there is a household income cap of $275,000.
Provide small businesses, farms, homeowners associations, not-for-profits and owners of rental units with grants of up to $50,000 for repairs, although grants are capped at $20,000 for owners of multiple dwellings.
Allow local governments to reduce property assessments of homes damaged by flooding, and let homeowners take state income tax deductions if they have to pay for repairs by tapping their retirement accounts.