Queens lawmakers call for legislative action to protect street vendors

Ausencia Crus, a vendor in Corona Plaza (Photo by Julia Moro)

Two Queens lawmakers are calling for the state Legislature to prioritize a bill that will protect street vendors by eliminating the cap on licenses, allowing small businesses to receive relief aid.

This week, the state announced its 2022 Executive Budget, which included a proposed $1 billion relief package for small businesses. However, many street vendors in New York City are without licenses — making them ineligible for the much-needed relief.

In response, state Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas proposed the state Legislature prioritize S1175A/A5081. This legislation would formalize and regulate street vending in cities with a population of 1 million or more people, as well as lift the license cap and eliminate the waitlist for street vendors, allowing them to pay their taxes and comply with regulations.

Getting a license is nearly impossible for street vendors due to a cap to limit how many vendors are allowed to operate in the city, advocates have said.

“When Queens was enduring the worst of the pandemic, it was immigrant-owned street vending operations providing outdoor dining and shopping experiences that allowed many people in our neighborhoods to access what they needed,” González-Rojas said. “A5081 has been featured in the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus’ 2022 People’s Budget as a piece of legislation that is necessary for a just recovery. We need to pass A5081 to legalize street vending, bringing revenue back to our cities and state while honoring the valued contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs.”

Last June, agencies started issuing $1,000 fines to unpermitted mobile food vendors, even though licenses are unavailable. Advocates from the Street Vendor’s Project (SVP) gathered to protest these regulations over the summer.

“How is this city so cruel as to issue a $1,000 ticket to a mother selling tamales to take care of her family, after barely surviving the pandemic, simply for a lack of business licensing which she has no way to access due to the cap on permits and licenses,” said Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, SVP’s deputy director.

Ramos said that a lack of licenses means these small businesses can not adequately provide for their families and communities.

“People of color who are answering the call to build and create are penalized and overpoliced because they lack the recognition that a business license grants them. Street vending is as old as New York City, and it is in the interest of every consumer and business for this industry to be formalized,” Ramos said. “NYC has a mayor who not only has a personal history with street vending but has signaled his support for street vendors and their ability to formalize their small businesses. The timing is right for this bill.”

Mayor Eric Adams has said in the past that he stands with SVP and the push to lift restrictive permit caps.

Intro 1116 in the City Council passed last year, which lifted the cap and added 4,000 permits after closing the waitlist in 2017. However, considering thousands more are waiting to be licensed, Ramos and González-Rojas are working to eliminate the cap altogether.