Tuesday marked the beginning of Agudath Israel of America’s Albany advocacy day series with a delegation from the Hudson Valley region visiting the State Capitol. Constituents traveled from Orange, Rockland, and Sullivan Counties to meet with their legislators and discuss issues of importance for the upcoming legislative session.
New York, as home to the largest population of Jews in the United States, and with over 500 Jewish schools, is unfortunately no stranger to antisemitism. Following the October 7th Hamas attacks in Israel, the antisemitic incidents in the United States have skyrocketed to previously unknown levels. Visibly Jewish schools are a vulnerable target for antisemitic attacks. One of the most helpful tools for ensuring children’s security is the Nonpublic School Safety Equipment Grant (NPSE) program which reimburses nonpublic schools in New York State for certain safety and security equipment and services. For the past two years the NPSE budget has stayed at $45 million; this amount is insufficient for schools to keep their students safe, especially given the rising antisemitism and hate crimes in New York. Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris (D-12) and Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi (D-28) circulated letters calling for doubling the NPSE allocation to $90 million. During Albany Day, Agudah’s delegates met with many legislators and encouraged them to sign on to the letters and support the increase.
This week’s Albany Day emphasized the issues raised in last Thursday’s testimony from Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Agudath Israel’s director of New York government relations, in front of the New York Joint Budget Committee. As Rabbi Silber explained in his testimony, “For most schools, enhanced security is no longer an option or a luxury. It is now a necessity. That is why the NPSE program is so essential and why it is critical to fund it at a higher level.”
Agudah delegates also advocated strongly for Mandated Services Aid, the largest source of funding for nonpublic schools in New York, which reimburses schools for services mandated by the state. In recent years, the allocation for reimbursements in the budget was insufficient, leaving schools unreimbursed for services required by the state that they had already performed. In his testimony, Rabbi Silber thanked Governor Hochul for allocating $234 million for MSA in the proposed 2024 budget, which is anticipated to fully reimburse the 2023-24 school year’s costs as well as compensate for a two-year shortfall, and encouraged all legislators to support that proposal.
The group also advocated for universal school lunch. Last year’s budget partially funded universal school meals; this year Agudah, along with other advocates, is strongly advocating to fully fund breakfast and lunch for all students.
The mission’s members met with Deputy Secretary of Education Maria Hernandez and Assistant Counsel to the Governor Terry Pratt, who were eager to hear about the challenges that yeshivas and other Orthodox schools face.
The delegation also had the opportunity to speak with Assemblymembers Karl Brabenec (R-98), Chris Eachus (D-99), Aileen Gunther (D-100), Dana Levenberg (D-95), Brian Maher (R-101), John McGowan (R-97), Amy Paulin (D-88), and Nader Sayegh (D-90); Senators Peter Harckham (D-40), Shelley Mayer (D-37), Peter Oberacker (R-51), James Skoufis (D-42), and Bill Weber (R-38); and staff of Assemblymember Chris Burdick (D-93), and Staff of Senator Michelle Hinchey (D-41).
“Spending a day in Albany with Agudah is an eye into the outstanding advocacy that Agudath Israel is known for,” said Rabbi Shalom Horowitz from Yeshiva of Spring Valley. “Agudah employees, lay leaders and askanim get to work together for the betterment of the klal in a unified and professional manner.”
“We are grateful to all those who joined us to advocate on behalf of our community, and to all the legislators who made time in their busy schedules to meet with their constituents,” said Rabbi Shragi Greenbaum, director of Agudah’s Rockland County Office. “The annual missions to Albany accomplish a tremendous amount in advocating for issues of importance and connecting with our legislators.”