City Council wants fed funds for Avonte

By Kelsey Durham

The City Council released its federal agenda this week and named securing funds for Avonte’s Law as one of its top priorities alongside education, housing and Superstorm Sandy recovery.

In a 17-page request made to Washington, the Council outlined several goals for the upcoming fiscal year that it said could not be accomplished without help from the federal government. One request, seeking $10 million in federal grants, would pay for the implementation of Avonte’s Law, named in honor of Avonte Oquendo, the 14-year-old autistic student who disappeared from his Long Island City school in October 2013.

His remains were washed up on a College Point shore three months later.

Avonte’s Law seeks federal grants, which would be administered by the U.S. Department of Justice, to allow local law enforcement to provide parents and schools with voluntary GPS tracking devices for children with autism.

The bill, originally introduced by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), would expand a similar program Justice currently runs for adults with Alzheimer’s disease that allows law enforcement agencies to more easily locate a person if he is missing.

Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), who has since written his own version of Avonte’s Law that would expand the program to cover all children with disabilities, said he was glad to see this initiative placed on the federal agenda.

“I am proud to stand 100 percent with my fellow Council members and our speaker as we recognize the important role that Avonte’s Law could play in protecting our children with autism,” Vallone said. “After Avonte’s remains were found in my district, I have fully backed Avonte’s Law so that no parent will have to deal with this type of tragedy ever again.”

The agenda released by the Council identifies more than 30,000 children across New York City who currently have autism.

The Council also called on Congress to pass a bill introduced earlier this year by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would allow college graduates to refinance their student loans. The Federal Student Loan Refinancing Act would allow graduates with a current interest rate above 4 percent to refinance to a lower rate, helping them save thousands of dollars over their repayment periods, according to Gillibrand.

The federal agenda also included a request to have Congress fully fund the New York City Housing Authority’s operating and capital needs. The release said federal capital grants for NYCHA have declined by 36 percent, about $162 million, from 2001-13 and has contributed to a multimillion-dollar fund balance deficit.

The Council also asked for $9.7 billion to fund the Project-Based Rental Assistance Program that would give 1.2 million low-to-mid-income families the ability to maintain affordable housing.

Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts were also included as the Council asked for additional federal funding to help repair the $5.8 million in damages the city has already suffered as a result of the October 2012 storm.

The Council asked Congress to expedite the reimbursement of billions of dollars’ worth of FEMA funds the city says it is owed and to reform the Build It Back program by abolishing a rule requiring that homeowners could only be reimbursed for repairs made to their homes if the work was completed before the one-year anniversary of the storm.

After it was released, Council members praised the federal agenda and said it outlined strong priorities that were critical to the well-being of New York City and its residents.

“In order to move forward on some of the Council’s legislative and budgetary priorities for the residents of New York City, the Council needs the cooperation of other partners in government,” said Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), who serves as chairwoman of the state and federal Legislation committees. “The submission of this federal agenda should have a positive influence on attempting to achieve these priorities.”

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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