By Carlotta Mohamed
State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) met with Brooklyn City Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush) to discuss a number of statewide issues affecting immigrants and minorities.
At a roundtable discussion held Sept. 10 at Mulan restaurant — located at 136-17 39th Ave. in Flushing — Kim addressed issues including quality healthcare, helping small businesses and affordable housing. Above all, Kim focused on tackling the state and nation’s rising student debt crisis.
According to Kim, there are about three million borrowers in the state of New York in student debt totaling $82 billion and a total of 13 percent of that debt has not been paid on time.
“That’s around $10 billion and 400,000 New Yorkers who are delinquent,” said Kim. “At the national level, by the conclusion of this year’s general election, there will be close to $1.6 trillion dollars of student debt and 45 million education borrowers in America.”
There are millions of talented and hard-working New Yorkers and Americans across the nation who are stuck in a lifetime of debt, defaulting on billions of dollars to the government and banks, according to Kim.
“We had a real chance to take the right steps in New York through Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo’s Excelsior Program to bring more affordable higher education to more students, freeing them from student debt,” said Kim. “However, this administration’s unwillingness to collaborate and listen to the members of the legislature who foresaw some of the problems with the program has led to a colossal failure.”
Williams weighed in on the issue, saying debt is an unfortunate and sometimes inescapable reality for New Yorkers.
“I myself have dealt with debt, and I know that far too often, we demean those with financial difficulties rather than lifting them up or enacting policies to help insulate against such debt,” said Williams. “For students in particular, debt is a crushing weight that hinders future opportunities, and our current state policies from this administration have not delivered on their promises. We need real action, not photo ops and headlines.”
In their efforts to help alleviate the statewide student debt crisis, Kim and state Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Flatbush) have sponsored statewide legislation to establish a full-time office dedicated to helping more money flow to their constituents in debt, instead of being constantly extracted from local communities by large corporations.
The Office of Financial Resiliency (A.11309) bill introduced Aug. 15 in the Assembly will help design local cooperatives and peer-to-peer community economies that will attract, retain, and circulate as much revenue as frequently as possible on a local level, said Kim.
Instead of letting the revenue be siphoned away into corporate vertical supply chains, ultimately feeding a relentless cycle of borrowing, debt, and leveraging, the resilient programs will create local jobs and stimulate regional economic growth, according to Kim.
The Office of Financial Resiliency will be part of the New York State Department of Financial Services and run by a Chief Cooperative Economist and Chief Financial Resiliency Officer. They will lead a team to help local communities design and sustain resilient economies, Kim said.
“We can no longer allow student debt to deter college graduates or even aspiring college students from moving forward in their career and become discouraged,” said Parker. “The Office of Financial Resiliency will provide New Yorkers the support they deserve and build long term local communities such as the 21st Senate District I represent in Brooklyn.”
According to Kim, from chain-stores, to e-commerce sites, to social media companies, to Uber, the government has supported entities that mine profits from communities while crippling local growth. The Office of Financial Resilience will help to reverse this trend and build stronger and more independent local economies.
“By rethinking the way we build the different levels of our economy and designing an entire office to create a more resilient system, I believe we can better prepare for the next inevitable global financial crisis,” Kim said.
Douglas Rushkoff, a professor of Media Studies and Digital Economics at CUNY/Queens College, the host of Team Human, and author of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, said this solution is the one they’ve been long waiting for.
“Finally! Instead of using taxpayer dollars to bail out banks or provide subsidies to extractive corporations, New York state is exploring how to support bottom-up, local economic activity in our towns and cities,” said Rushkoff.
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha