Recently, State Senator. Michelle Hinchey [D-NY46] held a community forum at the Hudson Ale Works in Highland to inform her constituents on what she has been doing at the state level during her ‘freshman’ year in office, pointing out that it was a bit challenging, “to start a new job in the middle of a pandemic.”
Hinchey said this event is, “our very first community chat, meet and greet that we’re hosting and we’re hosting it here in Highland because where else would you want to kick that off?” She has familial ties to Highland; her uncle Michael was a Principal in the school district, “so it’s always great to be here with so many friends.”
Hinchey said since winning her seat in a close race last November, she has come to realize just how important her campaign message was about having more representation for upstate communities in Albany. She said her geographically large five county district keeps her traveling a lot just to keep in touch with her constituents. In the aftermath of several storms that wiped out a number of strategic roadways in the district, one of her New York City colleges incredulously asked, “We have a new Penn Station and you don’t have roads? I said yes, that’s exactly what’s happening.”
She said during budget discussions when she was fighting for infrastructure funding, “I was getting messages from those same colleges saying this will really help, this is what you were talking about, this is what you need to fix those roads that were damaged in the storms?” She said their understanding of the needs of her mostly rural district allowed them to support record infrastructure funding for upstate.
“We had $100 million in the budget in the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program that we’ve never had before,” she said. “[From this] Highland got an additional $100,000 for infrastructure funding, specifically for things we’ve never had before.”
Hinchey chairs the Agricultural Committee and is a member of a number of additional committees: Environmental Conservation; Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business; Energy and Telecommunications; Local Government; Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation and Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. She said the topics covered in these committees are very important to the 46th Senate district, especially work done in the Alcohol and Substance Committee, as Ulster County has some of the highest number of overdoses and deaths in the state in recent years.
Hinchey said she and her staff are there to help with any issue facing her constituents.
“We’ve solved over 800 constituent cases so far across the district and that’s everything from unemployment assistant to rental and mortgage assistance and food assistance; anything you name it we can help,” she said.
Hinchey said in this legislative session, “we passed 43 bills [and] 30 of them passed both houses.” She said that her 63 person conference, “is highly effective in the work that we’re trying to do.” She is particularly proud of sponsoring a bill that will allow air ambulance paramedics to carry, distribute and transfuse blood. Presently, New York is the only state that prohibits this activity. She urged people to write to the Governor, urging him to make this bill a priority for his signature. She said this may be a life or death situation for someone who has suffered an accident far away from a hospital.
Hinchey touched upon the need to expand broadband service, especially in the more rural parts of the district that have no service at all. She said many utility companies charge small log-in companies significant fees for full access but in a recent bill, those cost barriers have been removed to help them with that financial burden in order to help them expand and grow. She is working towards its passage.
“We can’t function in 2021 anymore without access to the internet,” she said, adding that the pandemic has brought to the forefront how important broadband is to everyone.
Hinchey said there are ongoing discussions about expanding broadband not only in her district but across the state. She said she will look into whether Altice is considered a monopoly and if legal action can be taken against them. She added that getting the data to find out who is being served and who is not, may be a first step in the process of holding them accountable.
Hinchey said they successfully fought to get funding for the Catskill State Park on par with that of the Adirondack State Park. She said there are now two line items in the state budget that will allow more funding for the Catskill Park, “as more and more people are coming and finding our spaces and our trails and that is great for tourism and for people to see what a special and beautiful community we live in.”
Hinchey explained a $1 billion allotment in the state budget for small business, recognizing that they have been struggling financially during the pandemic, “through no fault of their own. We thought really hard in the conference to make sure that we weren’t putting loans as assistance [but] we we’re doing actual grants and tax credits and we were able to get an additional $500 million for small businesses, giving the total relief to them of $1 billion across the state.”
Hinchey said the state has also expanded educational funding to school districts throughout New York.
“Foundation Aid has always kind of been that undelivered promise from many, many years ago and in this budget we put in a plan to fully pay Foundation Aid over the next three years,” she said, adding that the Highland School District has received a 7.1% increase in Foundation Aid.
Hinchey said the state has also expanded funding for universal pre-k across the state, pointing out that the Highland community did not have it before, but it will be rolled out in September.
“So we’ve been busy doing a lot of really good stuff for our community,” she said. “A lot of things that had been left on the table for a really long time, we are now able to talk about, deliver and to push forward.”