Searching the Portal Through the Second Floor By Brad Williams

Williams

I watched the Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelt’s and was taken by their leadership and commitment to social issues impacting people on the domestic front, despite the advantages of their upbringing and individual differences.

Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican and former Governor of New York, pursued a “Square Deal” domestic program when he was President. It led to the conservation of natural resources, control of corporations and consumer protection pushing the agenda to more progressive issues.

Franklin Roosevelt, also a former Governor of New York, got “New Deal” legislation advanced through Congress during his first two Presidential terms establishing programs that would provide relief to millions of unemployed Americans. Unemployment decreased from 25% to 2% over his time in office. Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) still exist to this day. FDR was a Democrat who led our country through a depression and a world war.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Teddy’s favorite niece and FDR’s wife, was the moral compass for Franklin. She was an active volunteer and supported a wide range of organizations during and beyond her time as First Lady that were not limited to the Red Cross, League of Women Voters, National Youth Administration and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  After FDR died in office, she was appointed as the US delegate to the United Nations and continued to work on humanitarian issues.

I found it interesting that the amazing success and impact of the Roosevelt’s were initially funneled through the portal of New York’s Capital. There must be something about Albany politics and the “second floor” where the office of the Governor is located that provides an opportunity to do great things for constituents and people in need.

In the fall of 2013, the New York State Independent Living Council (NYSILC) sent a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that urged him to prioritize an initiative in his upcoming State of the State address to improve the employability of people with disabilities similar to the National Governor Association’s (NGA) “Better Bottom Line.” The letter identified the 31% employment rate, near 30% poverty rate and $12,600 income gap faced by New Yorkers with disabilities and called for an overarching goal with specific targets and strategies to implement the plan.  A change.org petition gained the support of 1,500 signatures. Stakeholder support came from the New York Association on Independent Living (NYAIL), New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYPARS) and the New York State Self-Advocacy Association (NYSSAA).

During the State of the State, the Governor did identify support for veterans with disabilities but nothing related to the “Better Bottom Line” or the overall need. However, the “second floor” reached out to NYSILC and made a commitment to meet with advocates on the issue in 2014. The first item established and confirmed was the need. Concepts and potential strategies were discussed in detail over a series of meetings.

In late August, the Cuomo Administration announced the launch of an interactive online portal for state job seekers who are veterans or people with disabilities. This action bridged both groups and was one strategy out of many, to address the issues. The online portal put a process in place to identify the positions currently available for individuals classified as 55-b (people with disabilities) and 55-c (veterans with disabilities) by making it interactive and allowing candidates to indicate interest in employment by providing contact information; academic background; occupational, employment and geographic preferences; and employment history and upload a resume.

Any State agency can then be more responsive in getting back to candidates. These entry-level positions provide access to multiple ladders including management. For more information on disability certification eligibility requirements and available positions, go to the site at www.cs.ny.gov.

On September 17, 2014, Governor Cuomo issued an Employment First Executive Order #136. It prioritized the employment of New Yorkers with disabilities and committed to increasing the employment rate and decreasing the poverty rate by 5%. The order empowers a commission to start working on solutions to facilitate peers to meet the overall goals by March 2015. Click here to read the official press release and executive order.

The portal through the “second floor” helped to launch the national aspirations of the Roosevelt’s. Many Americans benefitted as a result of their actions. Who knows what this “second floor” portal could do for Andrew Cuomo. What would he accomplish on the national scene? New Yorkers with disabilities are grateful for the Governor taking the lead on this priority issue. Early estimates of the 5% targeted in the Executive Order suggest a potential transformation for up to 60,000 New Yorkers with disabilities. What will this mean to these peers to move out of poverty and be employed – to the quality of their lives and the overall economic impact? Will they use the online portal? How will it change their futures and that of our State and Nation?

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