March 22, 2024
Kowal, UUP advocate for SUNY Downstate and TAP
uupdate 03-22-24

By Kate Morano, special to UUP

UUP President Fred Kowal pushed back hard against the planned closure of SUNY Downstate University Hospital and urged greater funding for TAP at consecutive press conferences March 20 on two issues of urgent importance to the union.

Lawmakers and advocates first gathered for a noon press conference at the Capitol’s Million Dollar Staircase to discuss SB 8843—newly proposed by state Sen. Gustavo Rivera—which would require public notice and public engagement before closing a general hospital.

UUP President Fred Kowal joined the Rivera press conference, and he cited the state’s plan to close the Downstate hospital without any advance notice to the community as a prime reason the state needs such a law.

“The plan SUNY developed is idiotic, malevolent, and racist,” Kowal said. He called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to stop the plan from going forward.

Lawmakers stand by Downstate

Rivera noted that the state has consistently struggled to provide health care to those most vulnerable. He emphasized that the proposed law would make it impossible for community members to be stepped on and ignored in these situations.

“There needs to be a process so that change won’t be done without the involvement of those impacted by those changes,” Rivera said.

State Sen. Zellnor Myrie, a co-sponsor of the bill and a fervent advocate for Downstate, criticized the covert way SUNY put the hospital’s closure plan into motion, as well as the community outreach panels that SUNY held afterwords to mitigate the damage—all of which were closed-door meetings.

“Government is about choices and priorities,” Myrie said. “We are standing united to say that we must make the decisions about our health care.”

In his remarks, Kowal hit back at claims that Downstate’s financial condition necessitates the closure of the hospital.

“The state of New York must take responsibility to keep Downstate open,” Kowal said. “It was lifesaving during COVID and now it’s too expensive? Never.”

UUP advocates were joined by supporters of the Burdett Birthing Center in Rensselaer and Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan, both of which face closure along with Downstate.

TAP needs an update

Later that day, Kowal joined Assemblymember Patricia Fahy and state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky—the respective chairs of the Assembly and Senate higher education committees—to celebrate the 50th birthday of New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), and to push for more funding for the program in the state budget for the fiscal year of 2025.

“It is vitally important to understand that TAP has been life-changing and can continue to be so with the right investments,” Kowal said. “Give students the opportunity to succeed and live out their dreams.”

Stavisky noted that since TAP started in 1974, students have become “more diverse. Some are veterans, some are facing food and housing insecurity. We need to do something to help those students.”

The Senate and Assembly one-house budget resolutions include an increase in the income threshold for TAP from $80,000 to $125,000 for dependent students. Additionally, the state Senate called on state officials to eliminate the distinction between dependent and independent students, thereby extending TAP to the latter group, a proposal Fahy commended.

“Seventy percent of students say affordability is the number one reason why they don’t go to college,” Fahy said. “We are urging the governor to commit to more funding.”

Kowal and PSC/CUNY President James Davis thanked the Legislature for standing with the higher education unions and urged the governor to do so as well.

“The cornerstones of public higher education are access and quality,” Davis said. Both union leaders and the lawmakers urged people to convey their support for additional TAP funding to the governor.

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