The Shocking Thing You Don’t Know About Asian American New Yorkers
How Only $30 Per Person Can Have a Big Impact; Now It’s Up To Governor Hochul and the Legislature
This essay was published in a shorter form by the Times Union.
We Asians are not your model minority. To you, we may be doctors, technologists and business owners but that’s the shiny tip of our iceberg.
We Asians are also among your poorest New Yorkers. Until recently, Asian New Yorkers had the highest poverty rate of any ethnic group. Today, 1 in 3 Asian New Yorkers are low income.
We are families lining up around the block at local food pantries. We are isolated elderly in East Harlem foraging for deposit cans and bottles. We are undocumented workers making sub-minimum wage so you can have affordable takeout. We are struggling teenagers trying to excel at school while caring for younger siblings so that our parents can work 2 or 3 jobs. With limited or no English proficiency we wander fruitlessly within the healthcare system and government bureaucracy.
Over 500,000 Asian New Yorkers live in poverty, struggling to pay rent, put food on the table or pay our bills. For poor Asians, language barriers create a whole new level of hurt.
We are invisible and below the waterline, unseen. It’s no surprise that stark and disproportionate inequalities exist for Asian communities in government funding. Despite our needs, less than 2% of New York’s social services funding goes to Asians, although we are 11% of New York’s population.
Governor Hochul and the Legislature have a high-impact and inexpensive solution right in front of them. In the budget being debated at this moment is the $66.5 million Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Equity Budget. This number carries symbolic importance as the most substantial investment to fight AAPI poverty in the State’s history and at $30 per Asian New Yorker, it’s a relative bargain.
The AAPI Equity Budget will have an immediate impact across New York’s AAPI communities by funding over 100 hyper-local, in-community grassroots organizations to fight poverty and address systemic violence, racism and discrimination as appropriate to the diverse cultures represented and in the native languages spoken. Key programs funded include the NYS AAPI Community Development Fund to support small community organizations that are often the lifeline of immigrant communities, implementation of AAPI History curriculum in K-12 schools statewide, establishment of the first-ever AAPI NY State Commission to ensure AAPI representation on key State decision-making tables, formation of a Racial Literacy and Solidarity Network to build solutions grounded in racial solidarity, and APA Voice, an initiative to increase AAPI voter participation and civic engagement.
Funds have been woefully inadequate in meeting our vast and growing needs. Organizations have stretched what little they receive to meet the needs of a community that is growing exponentially. For example, the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) is making it their life’s mission to create equity for AAPI communities. CACF has distributed more than $20 million to over 140 community based organizations in the past ten years to benefit hundreds of thousands. These funds have helped grow and sustain trusted community-based organizations and support the most marginalized among us with culturally responsive and language accessible services and programs. CACF’s support includes highly focused organizations like Minkwon, United Chinese Association of Brooklyn, Adhikaar, Mekong, and United Sikhs who provide overlooked communities access to government services normally out of reach due to language barriers or lack of knowledge.
Inclusion of the AAPI Equity Budget in the final budget would be especially fitting on the eve of May’s AAPI Heritage Month, where we look forward to celebrating the diversity and beauty of our Asian communities. And what a way to recognize our legislative champions, Iwen Chu, the first Asian American woman in the NYS Senate and Grace Lee, the first Korean American NYS Assemblymember. Thank you for your leadership.
We call on Governor Hochul, NY Senate Speaker Andrea Stewart Cousins, NY Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the entire Legislature to fully fund this budget.
Update: the final budget passed provided $30 million for the AAPI Equity Budget.