State Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-46, held her first town hall meeting Wednesday.
Hinchey took office in January. The town hall was held in a virtual format on Zoom and Facebook Live.
“When we first ran and got into office, we promised to be as accessible as possible and to make sure we would show up in every community to address the needs across the district and to continue to learn about the issues, the challenges and the things that are going really well across the 46th District and across New York state,” Hinchey said.
Since taking office, Hinchey said she has hosted community events across the district including Narcan training to teach people about treating drug overdoses, park cleanups, blood drives, food drives and other events, including a document shredder program in Greene County where residents could take confidential documents to be destroyed at no cost.
There are plans in the works to begin doing in-person events in communities across the district, she said. A schedule will be released this summer.
“As more businesses begin to open, we will also be launching our Meet Michelle events across the community so we can begin having regular updates in person supporting our local businesses, breweries and cafes,” Hinchey said.
Mobile office locations will open this fall at libraries and other public spaces where constituents can bring their concerns and issues.
“We have so far helped over 100 people access the unemployment that they are owed,” Hinchey said. “We have helped hundreds more get their vaccine appointments. We have secured COVID resources at a time when communities lacked the necessary infrastructure, including setting up vaccine pop-up sites across the district, making sure our underserved communities were getting access to the vaccine when many of our rural communities were being left behind.”
Hinchey talked about programs funded in the state budget since she took office, including education funding that restores full foundation aid to public schools and funding for full-day pre-Kindergarten.
Infrastructure funding has also been increased for rural communities, she said.
“The CHIPs (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program), which provides direct road funding to municipalities and hasn’t seen an increase in nearly a decade, will receive an increase of $100 million,” Hinchey said. “Local governments saw an almost 20% increase in funding next year to fix potholes, repave roads and to make sure that all our roads are more storm-resilient. These are transformational investments in infrastructure.”
Increasing broadband access is a top priority, Hinchey said.
“Many of our upstate New Yorkers are still struggling without access to broadband,” Hinchey said. “We were able to secure in this budget the Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act, which for the first time will give us accurate level, household level mapping data so we can start to really close the gaps for where broadband does and does not exist so we can hold companies accountable and they can build out the way they need to.”
Environmental issues are being addressed through various legislative measures, including the $3 billion Mother Nature Bond Act, which will be on the ballot later this year after being removed last year.
“It will allow the state to reduce the impacts of climate change as well as restore our natural resources,” Hinchey said. “This bond act will include $1 billion for restoration and flood risk mitigation, $700 million for climate change mitigation, $550 million for water quality improvements and $550 million for open space land conservation and recreation.”
Legislation passed by the state Senate last week would permit ambulances to perform blood transfusions when needed, Hinchey said.
“New York right now is the only state in the country that does not allow our air ambulance EMS providers to carry, distribute or transfuse blood when they are called to oftentimes a horrific accident,” Hinchey said. “This is a life or death issue and one that we are behind on.”
Additional legislation would create a task force to devise ways to assist rural ambulance services with acquiring the funding they need to stay in business.
“Our rural ambulance services are struggling for funds and many are closing across the state,” Hinchey said. “This is a crisis.”
Leah Goldman, Hinchey’s chief of staff, read questions local residents submitted for Hinchey to respond to during the virtual town hall.
Betty, a constituent from Altamont, asked Hinchey how qualified young women can be encouraged to run for elected office.
“We have to normalize young women in office,” Hinchey responded. “I can’t tell you how many events I go to where people don’t realize I myself am the senator. It is encouraging young women to do it, recognizing and telling them that they can — women are not encouraged in that space. Running for office should be as normal as seeking a career in law or going to college.”
An Ulster Park resident asked how Hinchey can help to ensure a sufficient number of climate bills are passed.
“Climate legislation and supporting our climate is incredibly important and it’s one of my top priorities,” Hinchey said. “I was really proud that one of the first bills that I ever voted on and my first time speaking on the floor of the Senate was on the constitutional amendment we passed to make the right to clean air, clean water and a healthy environment part of the New York State Constitution. That is a huge step.” Tim, a Catskill resident, asked Hinchey what has surprised her the most since taking office.
As a new senator from a rural upstate district, Hinchey said she was unsure how much impact she could have on state legislation, but was pleasantly surprised.
“The fact that our colleagues have been so receptive to the issues that we are dealing with and fighting has been wonderfully surprising,” she said.
After showing pictures to her downstate colleagues of washed-out roads following severe storms, their response surprised her.
“They said, ‘We have a new Penn Station and you don’t have roads?’” she recalled. “A few months later into the budget, as we were talking about infrastructure funding, we had a host of people who never knew much about CHIPs or tree winter recovery fighting for those things and backing us up for the increases that we got in those areas.”
Dolly from Woodstock inquired about affordable housing. Hinchey said affordable housing is a critical issue for upstate New York, particularly as more downstaters moved north during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new state budget has funding for rural housing through the Rural and Urban Community Investment Fund including $45 million for mixed-use housing developments, $125 million for affordable housing for low-income seniors, $41.5 million to promote home ownership among low- and moderate-income families, $13 million for mobile and manufactured homes, $5 million to expand supportive housing for veterans and $10 million to reinvest in residential Main Street housing, Hinchey said.