By Lizette Borreli (Cohort 17)
Through the long, narrow halls of the Legislative Office Building in Albany, New York, team M7 consisting of CUNY ( City University of New York) students Audrey Zapata (team leader), Charlotte Alvarez, Barbara Didick, Isaac Silvera, Sarah Pomar, Miranda Junge and this writer walked into the office of New York State (NYS) Senator Carl L. Marcellino.
Senator Marcellino represents the 5th Senate District (parts of Nassau and Suffolk Counties) and has made tremendous contributions in these South Shore communities. As a firm believer in education, Marcellino has sponsored legislation which “requires that a fixed percentage amount of school district budgets will be dedicated and utilized solely for classroom expenses” (NYSENATE.GOV) additionally, the Senator acted to amend NYS education law to ensure that in the 21st century, young Americans will receive a first class education to be well-equipped for a first class economic future.
Our group was thus encouraged that Senator Marclellino would work for the passage of bill S2323 which would amend the Social Services Law (SSL) to allow for four-year degree programs to count toward an individual’s public assistance 35 hour weekly employment requirement and at no cost to the state.
This writer along with her teammates was disappointed to hear that the 2:30 P.M. appointment with Marcellino was not in the schedule for March 7th. The next best thing that could be done was to leave a packet of information about the S2323 bill that we seek passes not only the assembly but the senate. Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI) an Hunter College CUNY leadership training organization, has unanimous support from the assembly but needs to gain further support from the senate to ensure the successful passage of this bill.
Marcellino, a Brooklyn-born, New York resident, attended public schools in Queens, attained his Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Master of Science (MA) degrees at New York University (NYU) and Professional Diploma in Administration and Supervision from St. John’s University (NYSENATE.GOV). From being a science teacher for 20 years to an administrator in the New York City School system, Marcellino knows the importance of acquiring an education in New York City and the opportunities that arise from receiving a post-secondary education.
Just as luck would have it, team M7 ran into Senator Marcellino on their way to the elevators to the Legislative Office Building. Marcellino, over six feet tall, walked over to M7 with a graceful but hesitant gait dressed in a suit with his glasses firmly in place. This writer introduced herself as a member of WRI, a grassroots organization that is committed to the goal of equal access to education for all. The brief one minute encounter took place in a tightly-crowded elevator that left no elbow room for an individual. Despite the murmurs in the background, this writer was dedicated to her cause of informing the senator about the bill S2323. Marcellino told this writer that he is not familiar with the bill and thus began the 30 second breakdown of the bill’s purpose. The flow of the conversation coincided with the speed of the cables that held the elevator in place. “The passage of this bill would allow four-year degree programs to count toward the federal welfare work participation rate of NYS” said this writer as the ding indicated the arrival to the second floor. “On a federal level, four-year degree programs and two-year degree programs have been approved, but on a state level, only two-year programs count,” said this writer as another ding was heard. It was brought to Marcellino’s attention that a multitude of his constituents attend Nassau Community College (NCC), a two-year college. There are NCC students who receive public assistance and want to attain more than just an Associate’s degree because higher education for them is a route out of poverty. The federal law only allows welfare recipients to receive 12 months of education and training; therefore it is imperative that this bill get passed to expand the choices of programs that they can pursue.
The last ding heard indicated that the dialogue between Marcellino and this writer was over. The final words said by this writer were “Will you advocate this bill?” The senator responded “I need to know what the bill is about.” The one minute debrief on S2323 in a crowded elevator may not have convinced Marcellino to advocate the bill, but with the information packet and follow-ups that have been directed has most certainly educated him. Not only was the Senator an educator for two decades but his wife, Patricia Marcellino, is currently a Ed.D, an Associate Professor in the Adelphi University School of Education also believes in empowering the youth of New York. It is proven that students, who receive their BA degrees in New York, end up staying in the state and contribute to the work force. Statistics show that almost 90% of women receiving welfare move out of poverty when obtaining a college degree. Most people receiving welfare are women and children, the vast majority children. After a family is stabilized from the crisis that brought them to welfare, it makes good policy sense to allow access to education including 4 year college. Education is a right, not a privilege and the passage of this bill would have a positive fiscal impact in New York State. Families receiving public assistance nurture the leaders of tomorrow.