BY BENJAMIN FANG
PHOTO: EBRU YILDIZ
For a legislator who is unabashedly progressive, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz has been highly supportive of the business community, particularly small mom-and-pop shops and street vendors in her diverse Queens district.
The second-term lawmaker, who represents Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, says understanding small business owners’ dreams, hopes and pitfalls, is key to helping them, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis continue to ravage stores across the city.
“These small businesses give many families a job and an opportunity to survive,” she said. “Especially in my district, many people who used to work in low-wage jobs save up their whole lives to open up a shop.”
In Albany, Cruz has proposed and helped pass legislation to provide support for struggling small businesses. In mid-January, the state legislature passed the COVID-19 Emergency Protect Our Small Business Act, which protects restaurants from eviction and foreclosure, restricts third-party delivery fees, freezes unemployment insurance rates and establishes a partial-unemployment system.
Governor Andrew Cuomo also rolled out a $130 million proposal to provide tax credits to small businesses, including restaurants, that have been impacted by COVID-19 to hire additional workers through 2021. That proposal, Cruz said, is similar to a bill she introduced last year to provide incentives for businesses to hire local community members.
“If we don’t help small businesses, if people can’t get back to work, if we still have expenses that are going to increase because of the pandemic,” she said, “the need is only going to get bigger.”
Not only are small businesses struggling from the pandemic, but the state is facing a $15 billion budget gap. Cuomo warned in his State of the State Address that without federal funding, he would be forced to raise revenue and cut important services that would “cause pain for New Yorkers.”
The governor has called on the federal government to provide New York with $15 billion to not only fill the budget hole, but also make investments in infrastructure, sustainability projects, rent relief, pandemic recovery, school aid and more.
Among the governor’s proposals to raise revenue is the legalization of marijuana, which would generate an estimated $300 million in tax revenue, and legalizing mobile sports betting, which is expected to raise another $500 million. In response to Cuomo’s State of the State, Cruz said while the proposals would get the state “on the road to be in a good place,” they would not be enough without federal help.
“We need to apply force to our federal colleagues to do their fair share,” she said. “We have to get more creative and more forceful to ensure we have a surplus, not just fill the gap.”