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New bill seeks to minimize adverse impacts on minority communities

(Tuesday, March 5, 2019, ALBANY, NY) – More than 750 social workers and social work students from across New York State gathered in Albany today to call on the legislature to pass a bill (S.1739/A.2116) that would establish a legislative committee on racial equity in the NYS Legislature and conduct a racial equity impact assessment on legislation that is reported to that body. The bill has garnered robust support from social workers, who confront the real-world results of longstanding systemic inequity in their daily work.

Sponsored by the New York State and the New York City Chapters of the National Association of Social Workers, the New York State Association of Deans of Schools of Social Work, and the New York State Social Work Education Association, the Racial Equity Assessment in Legislation in New York State (REALNYS) rally began at 9:30 AM at West Capitol Park, with remarks delivered by bill sponsors Senator Luis Sepúlveda (D-Bronx) and Assemblymember Victor Pichardo (D-Bronx) and leaders of the social work community.

“The racial equity bill provides for a central legislative committee that will help consider racial inequities in all proposed state policies. This bill is important because as a member of the Senate, it is our responsibility to ensure that legislation does not have negative outcomes on our society. If we are fighting for a better tomorrow, our bills should be passed with complete certainty that it is the right set of action. A racial impact assessment would make that happen,” said Senator Luis Sepúlveda.

“As a state elected official representing a large Latinx and African Americans community, it is my top priority to ensure that the laws we pass as a state do not continue to have unintended consequences. Under legislation A.2116, a racial equity impact assessment will be conducted to determine how a proposed action or decision might impact minority communities. I am thankful for New York City Chapters of the National Association of Social Workers for the work they do in combating and raising awareness regarding institutional racism,” said Assemblymember Victor M. Pichardo.

Unintended consequences of laws aimed at tackling social problems, such as Stop and Frisk, the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and the Adoption and Safe Family Act, have rippled through minority communities for generations. Some of these devastating effects, such as mass incarceration of African American and Latinx populations, could have been significantly minimized or completely avoided had there been an initial assessment of the harm the legislation posed to communities of color. Racial equity impact assessment, a systematic examination of how different racial and ethnic groups will likely be affected by a proposed action or decision, is a vital tool for preventing institutional racism and for identifying new options to remedy longstanding inequities.

“Social workers strive, every day, to help people reach their greatest potential but this work is stymied when systems do not consider or fully understand the impact of their actions. While legislation is generally intended to better society, it can fall short. The Racial Equity Assessment in Legislation bill demands that the New York State Legislature take steps to ensure that they pay due respect to the intentional and unintentional impacts of their actions, particularly on communities of color. Such steps will help protect New Yorkers and will support the work of social workers throughout the state,” said Samantha Howell, Esq., Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers – New York State Chapter (NASW-NYS).

“I am immensely proud of the work NASW-NYS and its partners are doing to advance the Racial Equity Assessment in Legislation bill. The strong participation in our legislative advocacy, especially gratifying to witness in social work students and new social workers, highlights the central role all social workers play in reducing racial and ethnic disparities. We see these disparities all too often in our clients’ lives, and it is critical we address them on both the individual and systemic levels. The REAL bill is an important part of that call to action,” said Marcia Schwartzman Levy, LCSW-R, President of NASW-NYS.

“The New York City Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers is especially proud to support the REAL bill as our volunteer leadership has been at the forefront of advocating for racial equity in legislation for a number of years. As the new executive director of the New York City Chapter, it is incredibly humbling to carry on this legacy and for NYC to participate in such a historic moment. As we join voices with social workers and other activists from across the state to advocate for this necessary assessment in our laws, the social work profession reaffirms our commitment to justice and equity for all individuals,” said Dr. Claire Green-Forde, LCSW, Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers – New York City Chapter (NASW-NYC).

“The systemic and institutional inequities that have harmed and traumatized communities of color must be ended. Discriminatory action in legislation, such as the implications of inequitable drug sentencing laws, disproportionate child welfare actions, and criminalizing people of color for being asked to respond to police questioning, will be mitigated through the Racial Equity Assessment in Legislation (REAL) Bill. The New York City Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers is proud to be a lead organization in championing this legislation. We are eager to work with our many partners striving to undo racism across the state to have this bill passed,” said Benjamin Sher, MA, LMSW, President of NASW-NYC.

Spearheaded by the NASW-NYS and NASW-NYC Chapters, REALNYS seeks to bring such racial equity assessment to the state by requiring the Legislature to evaluate new policies through a racial-equity lens, which means considering how a proposed action or decision might impact minority communities. Many states, including Iowa, Connecticut, Oregon, and New Jersey, have developed some type of mechanism to vet policies and proposals and evaluate their likelihood of increasing racial and ethnic inequities — though specific requirements and how they are used vary by state.

In addition to establishing a racial equity assessment committee, the bill in New York proposes to evaluate the process used to draft state policies, identify any interdepartmental gaps and inconsistencies for implementation, and make recommendations of any new laws, regulations, or budgetary priorities that are needed to ensure and promote the desired conditions of racial equity. If passed, the bill would be an important step toward correcting historic injustices and ensure laws passed to support and benefit New Yorkers, do so for all New Yorkers.

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Amelia Lochner Malavé
Author: Amelia Lochner Malavé