8 hours ago by
Facing intransigent Republican opposition, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, announced on Tuesday that he will delay a vote on his legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, dealing President Trump an embarrassing setback on a key part of his agenda. Republican leaders had hoped to take a page from the playbook used to get a bill over the line in the House, appeasing the most conservative members of their conference while pressuring moderates to fall in line with fewer concessions. But as opposition mounted in both camps, even against a vote just to take up the bill, Mr. McConnell decided he would delay consideration until after the Senate’s weeklong July 4 recess. “We will not be on the bill this week, but we will still be working to get at least 50 people in a comfortable place,” Mr. McConnell said. That delay does not guarantee the senators will come together. Opposition groups will mount pressure campaigns on lawmakers in their home states, and policy divisions are deep. Negotiations on Tuesday that leaders hoped would move senators toward yes only exposed the fissures in the Republican Party. Conservatives were demanding that states be allowed to waive the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition on insurance companies charging sick people more for coverage and are asking for a more expansive waiver system for state regulators. They also wanted more money for tax-free health savings accounts to help people pay for private insurance. Senators from states that expanded the Medicaid program — and Senator Susan Collins — would not brook many of those changes, especially the measure to severely undermine protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. They wanted more money for mental health benefits for people addicted to opioids and money for states to cover people left behind by the rollback of the Medicaid program in both the House and Senate versions. Three Republican senators — Ms. Collins, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — had announced they would vote against the motion to begin debate that had been scheduled to hit the Senate floor on Wednesday, joining Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who made the same pledge on Friday. A bevy of other senators from both flanks of the party seemed headed in the same direction if they did not see changes made to the Senate health care bill, leaving the measure in deep peril, since Republicans can only lose two votes from their own party. The release of a Congressional Budget Office evaluation on Monday did little to help leaders roll up votes from either side of the fence. The budget office said the Senate bill would leave 22 million more uninsured after 10 years, while sending out-of-pocket medical expenses skyrocketing for the working poor and those nearing retirement. The budget office did not provide conservatives with support for their demands either. The state waivers already in the Senate bill “would probably cause market instability in some areas” and “would have little effect on the number of people insured” by 2026, the analysis concluded. Adding still more waivers, including one that could allow insurers to price the sick out of the health care market, could deprive even more people of health care. Even before Mr. McConnell’s decision, White House officials had braced for the likelihood that the procedural vote would fail and that they would have to revisit the measure after the Fourth of July recess — when they hoped to be able to woo Mr. Johnson, who has been a surprisingly fierce critic of the bill from the right. The senator has repeatedly warned that this week is too soon to vote on the health care measure, as Republican senate leaders have insisted they need to do. Senator Susan Collins, center, said she would vote against the motion to begin debate scheduled to hit the Senate floor on Wednesday. Vice President Mike Pence, attended the Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday and then broke off for private meetings with Mr. Heller, a seemingly firm “no” and the first moderate Republican to break with Mr. McConnell over the bill, and Rob Portman of Ohio, who is feeling pressure from his state’s governor, John R. Kasich, to oppose the bill and defend Ohio’s Medicaid expansion. Mr. Portman was the subject of a spirited evaluation of his open criticism of the bill by Mr. McConnell, who was frustrated with the expansion-state senators who showed their hand early to other wavering colleagues, dooming the bill for now. Mr. McConnell was unhappy that Mr. Portman seemed to be abandoning his previous stance on fiscal rectitude by opposing Medicaid cuts in the bill. But the Ohio senator was getting it from both sides. Mr. Kasich appeared in Washington on Tuesday to sharply criticize the Senate bill. The governor said he was deeply concerned about millions of people losing coverage under the bill. “Who would lose this coverage?” Mr. Kasich said. “The mentally ill, the drug addicted, the chronically ill. I believe these are people that need to have coverage.” At the same news conference, Colorado’s Democratic governor, John W. Hickenlooper, said his state’s Republican senator, Cory Gardner, “understands the hardships and the difficulties in rural life.” “This bill would punish people in rural Colorado,” Mr. Hickenlooper said, raising the pressure. Doctors, hospitals and other health care provider groups came out strongly against the Senate bill, as did patient advocacy groups like the American Heart Association. But business groups were ramping up their support. In a letter on Tuesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed the Senate bill and urged senators to vote for it. The Senate bill “will repeal the most egregious taxes and mandates” of the Affordable Care Act, allowing employers to create more jobs, said Jack Howard, a senior vice president of the group. The bill, he noted, would repeal a tax on medical devices and eliminate penalties on large employers that do not offer coverage to employees. A separate letter expressing general support for the Senate’s efforts was sent by a coalition of 28 business and employer groups including the National Association of Home Builders, the National Restaurant Association and the National Retail Federation. But Senate conservatives found themselves squeezed between business sentiment and their conservative base. Club for Growth, an ardently conservative political action committee, came out strongly against the Senate measure on Tuesday. “The Club for Growth and the American people took Republicans in Congress at their word when they promised to repeal every word – ‘root and branch’ – of Obamacare and replace it with a patient-centered approach to health care,” the group’s president, David McIntosh, said in a statement. “Only in Washington does repeal translate to restore. Because that’s exactly what the Senate GOP healthcare bill does: it restores Obamacare.” Even the Trump administration is divided over what comes next, especially on the payment of subsidies to health insurance companies to compensate for reducing out-of-pocket costs for low-income people. Mr. Trump has threatened to withhold the monthly payments as a way to induce Democrats to bargain with him over the future of the Affordable Care Act. Administration officials said Mr. Trump did not want to make the payments if the Senate did not pass a health care bill this week. But they said Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, had urged the White House not to cut off the payments abruptly. A federal judge has ruled that the payments are illegal because Congress never appropriated money for them, but that ruling is being appealed. Any interruption of the payments could have a dire destabilizing effect on markets, insurers say. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina recently blamed the Trump administration’s mixed signals on the subsidy for most of its proposed 23 percent spike in premiums next year. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, defended the administration’s position at his briefing on Friday. “If the president were to hypothetically say that he’s going to make the payments in perpetuity or for a year, I think that continues to prop up a failed system,” Mr. Spicer said. “It continues to do wrong by the American taxpayer. And it also doesn’t lend itself to the expediency that I think we want to — help get a new health care system in place.” source

14 hours ago by
New York City real estate companies' attempts to rename a Harlem neighborhood "SoHa" have enraged long-time residents of the historically black enclave, who say the move erases the community's rich cultural history. The neighborhood served as home and inspiration to generations of leading African Americans, including activists W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X, who dubbed it "Seventh Heaven." Artists such as poet Langston Hughes and singers Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald also lived there. The "SoHa" name, echoing the high-priced, largely white Manhattan neighborhood of SoHo in lower Manhattan, has begun appearing in real estate listings for apartments located between 110th Street and 125th Street, and Realtor Keller Williams boasts a "SoHa Team" of agents on its website. Keller Williams did not respond to a request for comment. Harlem's U.S. Congressman Adriano Espaillat vowed to introduce a House resolution to protect Harlem from being renamed. "#WeRHarlem! And we refuse to be called by any other name! #NY13 #HarlemStrong," @RepEspaillat wrote on Twitter on Monday. The tweet accompanied a photograph of the famed Apollo Theater, where Fitzgerald made her singing debut at age 17 on Amateur Night in 1934. Espaillat said the congressional resolution he plans to introduce this week "supports imposing limitations on the ability to change the name of a neighborhood based on economic gain." "I along with leaders and constituents of this community stand united to vigorously oppose the renaming Harlem in yet another sanctioned gentrification," he said in an email. "This is an incredibly insulting attempt to disown Harlem's longtime residents, legacy, and culture." Jamie McShane, a spokesman for the Real Estate Board of New York, an industry association, said the group supports existing state regulations, which prohibit real estate brokers from using "a name to describe an area that would be misleading to the public." Historian Billy Mitchell poses outside the Apollo Theater in the Harlem section of New York June 11, 2014 Harlem is not the only historically black U.S. neighborhood to have its image challenged by eager real estate agents. Further north, parts of the South Bronx have been christened the "Piano District," a reference to its former instrument manufacturing base. In Washington, D.C., real estate firms have recast the Shaw neighborhood around historically black Howard University as North End of Shaw. Both sparked outrage among long-time residents, particularly after developers who pushed the Piano District name change threw a "Bronx is Burning" themed Halloween party in 2015 that focused on the neighborhood's 1970s decay, complete with a bullet-riddled car sculpture. source

June 26, 2017 by
Here is the third item from my "Albany Insider' column that was cut from Monday's print editions for space: The leader of a government reform group is taking the head of the Bronx Republican party to task for joining a coalition of more than 100 groups opposing a convention to make changes to the state constitution. "Given the Bronx Republican Party’s history of corruption, I would like to know why you have joined this coalition and what you are hoping to achieve," Citizens Union Executive Director Richard Dadey wrote in a letter to Bronx Republican Chairman Michael Rendino. Dadey cited the case of former Bronx Republican Party Chairman Joseph Savino, who in 2013 was sentenced to two years of probation after pleading guilty to two federal counts of bribery conspiracy and wire fraud stemming from a $15,000 bribe he took as part of a scheme to get disgraced former State Senator Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, on the mayoral election ballot as a Republican. "The corruption that has so deeply damaged the Bronx Republican Party is just one example of what we are hoping to fix by urging New Yorkers to hold a state constitutional convention," Dadey wrote. "At a time when the regular state legislative process has failed to achieve ethics reform that just doesn’t punish corruption but seeks to prevent it, a constitutional convention would empower New Yorkers to write a constitution that limits opportunities for corruption and in doing so, create fairer elections and a government system that truly serves the public interest." He also took aim at the name of the coalition opposing the constitutional convention--New Yorkers Against Corruption. "By joining an anti-convention coalition that is absurdly called 'New Yorkers Against Corruption,' you are making a disingenuous, cynical argument that would only perpetuate the cycle of corruption in city and state government," Dadey said. Rendino couldn't be reached for comment Sunday. Every 20 years, including this year, New Yorkers are asked to vote in a public referendum whether to hold a constitutional convention. The public would have to vote on any recommended changes developed at a constitutional convention. Supporters of a convention, like Dadey, view it as the best way to fix many of the problems in Albany, including ethics. But the Daily News on June 19 reported that a coalition of more than 100 groups from across the political spectrum has formed to oppose a constitutional convention. New Yorkers Against Corruption is made up of an array of labor unions, liberal and conservative groups, and environmental organizations. Among the groups involved are the state AFL-CIO, the city and state teacher unions, the state Rifle and Pistol Association, Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, the state Conservative and Republican parties, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Environmental Advocates. Many of the interest groups say they fear a constitutional convention could result in changes that hurt their respective causes. source

June 23, 2017 by
The actual policies contained in the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Senate Republican plan introduced on Thursday to repeal and replace Obamacare, would help some Americans a lot. The biggest winners are households making $250,000 a year or more, which would see two different taxes targeting them repealed; households with millions in investment income would come out particularly far ahead. But vastly more Americans would come out behind. We don’t know for sure how many people will lose health coverage, but there are a number of reasons to think the number will be bigger than the 23 million the Congressional Budget Office estimated would lose insurance under the bill that passed the House in May. The Senate bill cuts Medicaid more slowly but more deeply, and unlike that bill, it lacks any incentive for individuals to stay insured. It repeals the individual mandate and replaces it with nothing. Terminally ill patient Jim Staloch caresses a dove on October 7, 2009, while at the Hospice of Saint John in Lakewood, Colorado. And because the bill substantially weakens regulations for both individual and employer plans, millions of people who still get insurance will see the extent of their coverage shrink, and see themselves forced to pay out of pocket for expensive procedures that would otherwise be covered. The list of people losing out from the bill doesn’t end there, though. Here are a few of the main groups that will be negatively affected if this legislation becomes law. 1) Working poor people who gained Medicaid under Obamacare Of the 23 million people the CBO projected would lose coverage under the House bill, 14 million are currently covered by Medicaid, which the House bill would’ve slashed by about $880 billion over 10 years. The Senate bill promises larger cuts, for reasons we’ll explain shortly. These are the poorest and most vulnerable people who’ll lose insurance under the bill. In the 31 states (and Washington, DC) that expanded Medicaid following the Affordable Care Act, all adults earning up to 138 percent of the poverty line are eligible for Medicaid. Non-expansion states often feature much lower income thresholds to qualify for Medicaid, particularly for non-parents — but they will also see people lose coverage. The BCRA would effectively end the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion starting in 2021. Under current law, the federal government initially paid 100 percent of costs of Medicaid expansion beneficiaries, a percentage set to wind down to 90 percent in 2020 and stay at that level permanently. Under the BCRA, the federal government would gradually wind down that percentage to the states’ normal matching rates for Medicaid — rates that are as low as 50 percent in certain states. The Congressional Budget Office has argued that this will mean no more states pursue expansion. It will also spark states with “trigger laws” — which end the expansion if there’s any reduction in the federal match — to automatically abandon it starting in 2021. Those states are Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Washington. Joan Alker, a Medicaid expert at Georgetown University, estimates that those eight states alone could lead to 3.3 million Medicaid enrollees losing coverage. But many of the other 24 states will abandon the expansion due to the lower match rate as well. And keeping it going will be even harder due to other, fundamental changes the bill makes to the Medicaid program. 2) Seniors, disabled people, and others who qualified for Medicaid even before Obamacare But it’s not just people who gained coverage under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion who would lose out. The law would also adopt a policy known as a “per capita cap” for Medicaid that would hurt all beneficiaries. Currently, the federal government matches state spending on Medicaid, offering about $1 to $2.79 for every dollar states spend on it. Poorer states get a bigger match. But the BCRA would change all that. Rather than matching state Medicaid spending, the AHCA would give each state a set amount of money per person. Until 2025, the amount would grow from year to year according to the medical component of the Consumer Price Index, to account for inflation. Then it would switch to the overall CPI. The medical component of CPI is growing more slowly than Medicaid costs are expected to grow right now, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the CPI as a whole grows far more slowly. So switching to a per capita cap is essentially a federal cut to Medicaid amounting to hundreds of billions over 10 years. We’ll have to wait for the CBO report to know exactly how many hundreds of billions. A per capita cap is at least somewhat responsive to changes in Medicaid enrollment — unlike a block grant, which gives states a set amount of money, it gives them a set amount of money for every person who’s eligible. But it could lead to cuts in some other ways as well. Take a state like Florida that’s aging fast. The BCRA includes separate caps for different groups of beneficiaries — the elderly, disabled, non-elderly adults, etc. — so states can’t get more money by dumping lots of seniors in favor of 24-year-olds. However, there is still a lot of variation in cost within those categories. “Within your elderly group, you have the young and old, 67-year-olds and 85-year-olds, and the latter are much more expensive,” Georgetown’s Alker told me in March. A state like Florida, which has a large senior population, could see costs rise fast as its population ages with time. But a per capita cap wouldn’t keep up with that. To get around that, the state might be motivated to kick off older seniors and focus enrollment on younger ones. There are some federal requirements as to whom states must cover, but they only go so far, and most states now provide additional coverage that they can roll back. “You do have to cover people on Supplemental Security Income” — a program for disabled, elderly, and blind people with low incomes — ”but a lot of folks in nursing homes [are] optional coverage,” Alker continued. This helps explain why disability rights activists are appalled by the per capita cap plan. “People with disabilities who rely on home- and community-based services through Medicaid — such as personal-attendant care, skilled nursing, and specialized therapies — could lose access to the services they need in order to live independently and remain in their homes,” the Center for American Progress’s Rebecca Vallas, Katherine Gallagher Robbins, and Jackie Odum note. As if that weren’t enough, the bill has also been changed to allow states to impose work requirements on Medicaid, a policy that would not effectively spur people to work or reduce poverty but that could meaningfully reduce access to care for poor families, and which even many conservative health care experts oppose. 3) People hard hit by the opioid crisis Dora Reynolds, who is currently unemployed, sits along a road downtown on October 24, 2016, in East Liverpool, Ohio, a state hurt by the opioid epidemic. A per capita cap would also cause problems if a new, expensive, but necessary drug comes on the market, or an epidemic hits. Those are both changes that would raise the per capita amount Medicaid has to pay year to year, but which a per capita cap wouldn’t budget for. For instance, the opioid epidemic has taxed state Medicaid programs as more patients need treatment for substance use disorder. Today, an increase in need leads to an automatic increase in federal funds flowing to states. But the Republican plan would halt that and put the whole burden on states. To try to make up for that, it adds a mostly symbolic $2 billion fund to address the opioid crisis, which almost certainly wouldn’t be enough to address this problem. 4) People in states that take a Medicaid “block grant,” who could see dramatic cuts in coverage The BCRA also allows states to forgo the per capita cap and adopt an even more drastic reform if they want to: a full block grant. States would get a fixed pot of money for Medicaid over a 10-year period, increasing every year only with the normal inflation rate. There would be absolutely no allowance for increased population, or for increased need during recessions. States would be forced to raise taxes or restrict eligibility when federal funds inevitably prove inadequate. Seniors and people with disabilities would be exempted, but would inevitably be hurt as the program itself undergoes cuts. Why would states choose to take this much less money from the feds? Because, as Edwin Park, Judith Solomon, and Hannah Katch at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explain, the block grant also provides states with "virtually unfettered flexibility to decide how to spend the federal funds they receive. … Under the block grant, states would no longer have to comply with most federal Medicaid requirements for children and adults. States could immediately cut eligibility and benefits to avoid any shortfalls and they would be allowed to carry over unused funds to the next year." States would no longer be required to cover poor parents. They could charge unlimited premiums, deductibles, and copayments. They could impose enrollment caps and waiting lists, and they could cut the range of services provided to poor children. "Over time, states electing the block grant would be forced to use this flexibility to make increasingly draconian cuts to their Medicaid programs, as the block grant funding cuts became increasingly severe," Park, Solomon, and Katch write. 5) People in states with above-average Medicaid spending A new provision in the Senate bill, not in the House version, offers additional federal funding for states whose per-beneficiary spending on Medicaid in various categories comes in more than 25 percent below average, and reduces funding for states where it comes in more than 25 percent above average. This change, flagged by Slate’s Jordan Weissmann, would affect a wide number of states. According to Kaiser Family Foundation data from 2014, that year 25 states (including DC) exceeded average national per-beneficiary spending in at least one category (whether on disabled people, seniors, adult, or children): Arkansas Connecticut Delaware District of Columbia Georgia Indiana Iowa Kansas Maryland Massachusetts Minnesota Missouri Nebraska New Hampshire New Mexico New York Ohio Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island Tennessee Vermont Virginia Washington West Virginia The bolded states exceed the mean by more than 25 percent in multiple categories. There's an exclusion for low-population-density states, which would exempt Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming from this provision. But the affected states still include many places with at least one Republican senator, and which Trump won, like West Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Indiana, Georgia, and Arkansas. These are both states that are unusually generous (like New York) and states that have higher-than-average health costs due to underlying poor health, like West Virginia, which struggles with coal-related health problems among other issues. Several states, like New Hampshire and Vermont, are heavily hit by the opioid epidemic. “States have higher spending for a number of reasons, many of which are outside of their control — like higher costs because of geography or less provider competition,” CBPP’s Katch notes. What happens to these states? They get a cut of 0.5 percent to 2 percent in their per capita caps. Some years, Katch notes, that would totally wipe out the growth in caps due to inflation. The CPI often comes in lower than 2 percent, meaning that a state in a year with 2 percent inflation that got dinged 2 percent due to this provision would have to freeze spending. The provision “just goes after higher cost states, blindly, it would appear,” according to Sara Rosenbaum, professor of health policy at George Washington University who serves on a board advising Congress on Medicaid policy. The bill, she elaborates, “pushes the highest-cost states to an arbitrary mean regardless of conditions on the ground that may be causing the state variations and then imposes an even more punishing growth cap over time.” 6) Pregnant women and new mothers Like the House bill, the BCRA has a provision letting states waive essential health benefits, a key reform from the Affordable Care Act that required all insurers to cover 10 types of procedures and medical services: Outpatient care without a hospital admission, known as ambulatory patient services Emergency services Hospitalization Pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care Mental health and substance use disorder services, including counseling and psychotherapy Prescription drugs Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices, which help people with injuries and disabilities to recover Laboratory services Preventive care, wellness services, and chronic disease management Pediatric services, including oral and vision care for children “This means that plans in the individual market could once again decide not to cover maternity care — like 88 percent of plans did before the Affordable Care Act passed," as Vox's Sarah Kliff explains. 7) Low-income Americans not on Medicaid The BCRA offers tax credits to buy health insurance that are markedly smaller than those in Obamacare, and which are used to cover less coverage. Under Obamacare, tax credits were tethered to the cost of plans covering 70 percent of medical expenses. The BCRA would reduce that amount to 58 percent. That means higher deductibles, copayments, and other cost-sharing devices to make up for lower premiums than a more generous plan would have. That’s particularly bad news for the people being kicked off Medicaid, who would get tax credits but would be forced to use them to buy coverage that has cost sharing. Medicaid, by contrast, has minimal or no premiums, deductibles, or copays, depending on the state. It’s true that people in states that didn’t expand Medicaid would get tax credits where they currently get nothing, but the coverage they’d receive would be inferior compared with if their governors and legislatures had simply adopted the expansion. Moreover, the changes to credits are also bad news for low-income people already on the exchanges, who would get smaller credits for worse coverage. 8) Older people on the exchanges But older people not yet old enough to qualify for Medicare who get their coverage individually by buying on Obamacare’s exchanges would also be out of luck. Under Obamacare, premiums are capped as a share of income, and the caps don't vary by age. Under the BCRA, the caps would vary by age. While a single person earning three times the poverty line ($35,640) pays no more than 9.69 percent of their income on premiums under Obamacare, under the BCRA the caps would vary from 6.4 percent for people under 30 to 16.2 percent for people over 59. So for a 60-year-old at 300 percent of the poverty line, the maximum premium would go from $3,442 a year to $5,773, per Vox’s Sarah Kliff. And the plan would be less comprehensive, only being required to cover 58 percent of health costs, not 70 percent as under current law. 9) Children in special education programs This is a less noticed element of the House and Senate bills, but many school districts rely on Medicaid to provide services to disabled students. Because of the cuts implied by the per capita cap and block grant provisions, AASA, a group representing school superintendents, is warning that school services for disabled children could be cut back or rationed as a result of the federal Medicaid cuts. “"A per-capita cap, even one that is based on different groups of beneficiaries, will disproportionally harm children’s access to care, including services received at school," AASA’s Sasha Pudelski, along with the National Alliance for Medicaid in Education's John Hill and the National Association of School Psychologists' Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, said in a statement. "Schools are often the hub of the community, and converting Medicaid’s financing structure to per-capita caps threatens to significantly reduce access to comprehensive health care for children with disabilities and those living in poverty." 10) Planned Parenthood patients If you rely on a Planned Parenthood clinic for non-abortion services, such as birth control, pregnancy and STD tests, and cancer screenings like breast exams and Pap smears, the Better Care Reconciliation Act affects you as well. For at least one year, Planned Parenthood could no longer receive Medicaid reimbursements, even though it’s already barred from using federal Medicaid money to get abortion services. In more than 100 counties across the country, Planned Parenthood is the only full-service birth control clinic, so denying the organization Medicaid funds would drastically reduce access to contraception and related services for people in those regions. source

June 22, 2017 by
Closing New York City’s troubled jail complex on Rikers Island will take at least a decade and will require a big decline in the inmate population, a continued drop in the city’s already low crime rates, a wellspring of funding and political capital, according to a strikingly blunt proposal that Mayor Bill de Blasio intends to unveil on Thursday. A 51-page report Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to reveal Thursday solidifies his stance on closing the troubled jail complex on Rikers Island. The plan, laid out in a 51-page report, solidifies the mayor’s stance on closing Rikers, a goal that he was reluctant to embrace and that a few years ago seemed politically and practically unfeasible. Mr. de Blasio came out publicly in support of closing Rikers only in April, after increasingly well-attended protests and calls from civic and political leaders, including the City Council speaker, who created an independent commission that unveiled its own plan for closing Rikers three months ago. The report describes a “credible path” that “will not be easy,” a message intended for the mayor’s critics who have demanded that he move more quickly to shut down Rikers and end the abuses that continue to plague it. “It would be much simpler for us to tell people what they want to hear and say we can achieve this goal quickly and easily, but we won’t do that,” Mr. de Blasio writes in the introduction. “Instead, we are realistic.” Crucial to the plan’s success, the report says, is driving the inmate population at Rikers down to 5,000. The current average daily population, 9,400, is already at a historic low. For much of the 1990s it hovered around 20,000. City Hall estimates that the population can be cut by an additional 2,400 in the next five years through changes in the bail system and the expansion of jail diversion programs, among other initiatives. But reducing it would depend on more fundamental changes in the city’s criminal justice system. Crime rates would have to be driven down still further and case processing times reduced significantly for people charged with violent offenses, who typically spend the longest time at Rikers. The way the city deals with people accused of serious crimes would also have to be rethought. This could mean keeping people charged with felonies, even violent ones, out of jail, fitting them with electronic monitors or confining them to their homes. “In order to get there, it will require a really seismic change in the way in which people think about violent offenses and the willingness of New Yorkers to accept that,” said Elizabeth Glazer, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said he was optimistic about shrinking the jail population because many of the innovations required to do so were already underway. His office has allocated $14 million for a supervised release program in all five boroughs and another $30 million for re-entry programs aimed at preventing people from returning to jail. Even if the population reaches 5,000, the city will have to build new jails outside Rikers and renovate existing ones in Brooklyn, in Manhattan and elsewhere, a politically fraught topic that the report barely touches. Instead, nearly half is devoted to planned efforts to shore up the crumbling infrastructure at Rikers so it can remain standing for the next 10 years, even as city officials work to shut it down. This would include $1 billion in capital improvements and more housing for people with mental health problems. By the end of the year, the city hopes to finish installing thousands of surveillance cameras, which research shows help prevent violence. The city will also spend $100 million to build a training academy for correction officers to replace the current one housed in a Queens shopping center. New Yorkers will be able to monitor the city’s progress on the proposal on a new website: nyc.gov/rikers. The city’s already low crime rates would have to be driven down further and case processing times reduced significantly in order to close the jail complex, the report says. Even as the mayor looks to the future, immediate problems at Rikers must be addressed. The correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte, was forced to resign last month after revelations that he and his top aides had misused their city-issued cars and accusations that the department’s head of internal affairs had spied on city investigators while they were looking into the matter. His successor has yet to be chosen. Stabbings and slashings among inmates continue to be a problem and will most likely get worse as the temperature rises. “This is really a much bigger thing than simply closing Rikers,” Ms. Glazer, of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said. “We devoutly hope and are working hard to get to that goal, but all these things — population reduction, culture change and rehabilitation, and building the physical plant — are all things that have to happen no matter what, and they have to happen now.” The mayor’s proposal comes nearly three months after an independent commission that was led by New York’s former chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, and created by the Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, released its plan to close Rikers. That plan is similar to the mayor’s in many respects, including its 10-year estimate, although the commission called for the construction of new jails in all five boroughs, something the mayor has refused to commit to. Ms. Mark-Viverito said she looked forward to working with the mayor on the project and urged his administration to immediately begin exploring options for building community-based jails. Less conciliatory was Glenn E. Martin, the president of JustLeadershipUSA, part of a coalition of activist groups that have protested Mr. de Blasio’s events around the country over what they see as his unwillingness to act more quickly to shut down Rikers. Mr. Martin said that 10, or even five, years was too long to wait and vowed to continue protesting. “Any elected official, including the mayor, who continues to stand in the way of speedy movement toward closing Rikers will continue to feel the wrath of the Close Rikers Campaign,” he said. source