Governor Cuomo proposed an ambitious 2020 Women’s Agenda to continue to lead the nation in not only protecting, but also advancing women’s rights until we achieve true gender equality for all New York women.
Despite the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, New York forged ahead to pass groundbreaking policies including paid sick leave, the legalization of gestational surrogacy, and the creation of a new survivor-centric model of domestic violence service provision. The tenacity of New York women and the Governor's commitment to gender equity keeps these issues at the top of the agenda.
Continue reading for a breakdown of 2020 victories, work that's underway, and what's coming next to continue to make New York a model of equity and opportunity for the nation to follow.
In the early stages of the pandemic, the New York State Council on Women and Girls quickly established two critical COVID-19 task forces on Domestic Violence and Maternal Healthcare to ensure women’s health and safety was prioritized.
COVID-19 Maternity Task Force
The COVID-19 maternity task force examined the best approach to authorizing and certifying additional dedicated birthing centers in an effort to support pregnant people and reduce the patient load in stressed hospitals amid the ongoing pandemic.
The task force developed a report of initial recommendations, including measures to diversify birthing site options and review the impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy and newborns with special emphasis on reducing racial disparities in maternal mortality. Based on those recommendations, the Governor directed the State Department of Health to develop a streamlined process to accept applications from licensed healthcare facilities. Two new birthing centers have already been approved through that process.
COVID-19 Domestic Violence Task Force
Following a spike in domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa and the New York State Council on Women and Girls announced in May 2020 the creation of a new task force to find innovative solutions to this crisis.
The recommendations identified by the task force recognize that the needs of domestic violence survivors vary greatly and there are different tools needed to allow each survivor maximum control over their situation including: mobile advocacy, flexible funding and housing choice.
Sick Leave for Working New Yorkers
Paid sick leave has been a vital issue for women, allowing them to both care for their own health and that of their families without fear of losing a paycheck. Women of color in particular are overrepresented in low-wage industries where workers have no paid sick days and often are fired or not paid for absence.
Under the new law, businesses with five to 99 employees or businesses with four or fewer employees with a net business income greater than $1 million must provide their employees at least five days of job-protected paid sick leave per year and businesses with 100 employees or more must provide at least seven days of paid sick leave per year. Smaller businesses, with four or fewer employees and a net business income of $1 million or less, must guarantee five days of job-protected unpaid sick leave to their employees every year.
Elimination of Gender-Based Pricing Discrimination
The “Pink Tax” is now illegal in New York. Gender-based pricing discrimination for substantially similar or like kind goods and services has been prohibited by law, and businesses that violate the law will be subject to civil penalties.
Legalization of Gestational Surrogacy
Governor Cuomo legalized gestational surrogacy in New York, making it possible for LGBTQ couples, cancer survivors, single people, and couples struggling with infertility to fulfill their dreams of becoming parents and build their families in New York.
Watch Cynara's story of how she built a family and why she became a fierce advocate for legalizing gestational surrogacy in New York.
Protection of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Services
To help ensure New York's values are reflected in the reproductive healthcare its residents can access, this year New York State launched an exclusively state funded family planning program. This was necessary since New York could no longer accept federal funding due to changes in federal regulations implemented in 2019. This state funded program helps ensure the continued availability of family planning services and a stable provider network and enable New York State to continue to provide the highest quality family planning care in the nation.
Pay Equity at State and Local Authorities
Governor Cuomo’s efforts to achieve pay equity in the state have made New York a leader in this field, with the narrowest gender pay gap in the nation. This year, Governor Cuomo passed a law mandating equal pay for similar or substantially similar work at all state and local authorities as part of the FY 2021 Budget.
Removal of Guns from Domestic Abusers
Governor Cuomo passed a law in the FY2021 budget authorizing law enforcement to remove guns from the scene of a domestic violence incident, and also establishes a domestic violence misdemeanor to ensure abusers lose access to firearms immediately upon conviction. Law enforcement officers are also authorized to seize weapons from the home of an individual who becomes subject to a protective order arising out of a domestic dispute.
The budget also included legislation to prohibit individuals from obtaining a gun license who commit serious offenses out-of-state that would disqualify them from obtaining a gun license if committed in New York. This will provide greater consistency in New York's licensing scheme and ensure individuals who are prohibited from purchasing a firearm are not able to do so.
Equitable Distribution of Assets on Divorce Proceedings
Under a new law, judges must consider domestic violence and its impact while determining equitable distribution of marital property, which will help victims remain financially secure after leaving their abuser.
Creation of the Women's Corporate Leadership Academy
The Governor established the Women's Corporate Leadership Academy, a program of SUNY Empire State College, to prepare women for executive and board positions, and to work with organizations across New York State to improve their gender representation.
Economic and Workforce Equity
To support students and young people of color, the Council on Women and Girls and the Department of Financial Services launched a statewide initiative with Girls United by Essence Communications to address the impact of the student debt crisis experienced by women of color in New York State. At a roundtable event at University at Buffalo in March and a virtual panel hosted by Essence in July, Black student leaders and experts in student debt spoke to the disproportionate impact of the student debt crisis. These events, in addition to raising awareness, are designed to ensure student borrowers know their rights and the resources available to them to finance their education, as well as inform the development of a robust policy agenda that will leverage resources across state government to address this critical issue.
Last year, the Governor signed legislation that requires the New York State Department of State and the Department of Taxation and Finance to conduct a study of female representation on corporate boards. The agencies are analyzing the number of women who currently serve on the boards of directors of all domestic and foreign corporations in the state. The data will provide a comprehensive understanding of the issue that will guide policy decisions designed to address these inequities. This report is the next step in ensuring that New York is on track to eliminate the gender wage gap and to provide truly equal workplace opportunities to women.
Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa and Financial Services Superintendent Linda A. Lacewell convened the Committee for the Advancement of Women in Leadership in Financial Services, a new subcommittee of the Governor’s Council on Women and Girls in October. The Committee is tasked with promoting women’s leadership in the financial services sector, and will also focus on increasing representation of women of color in financial services leadership roles. The inaugural meeting of the committee took place on January 24th, 2020 and is continuing its work to find innovative ways to support women leaders in financial services and identify the barriers that women face in the industry.
Transforming Our Response to Domestic Violence
There is a critical need to create additional innovative options to better address immediate and long-term service and housing needs of survivors. Governor Cuomo directed the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, and all agencies providing services to domestic violence survivors, to implement an innovative, survivor-centered service delivery system.
Among the programs already underway are a new 24/7 text and chatline for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence, a housing navigator pilot to enhance housing options for survivors, the creation of a statewide data collection system, new training and resources for those working with incarcerated populations and immigrants, a listening tour to speak directly with survivors regarding their needs, and enhanced communication regarding shelter availability.
Addressing Maternal Mortality
Governor Cuomo is committed to improving women’s healthcare and reducing maternal mortality in New York State. In both FY 2020 and 2021, the Governor invested $8 million to support the activities of the Task Fore on Maternal Mortality and Disparate Racial Outcomes, as well as expand and enhance Community Health Worker services across the state, implement implicit bias training and post-birth training for medical providers, and create a comprehensive perinatal data warehouse to increase timely access to maternal health data for Regional Perinatal Centers and birthing hospitals and support targeted quality improvement efforts by the State, hospital and healthcare providers.
An ongoing commitment to this work will ensure that structural and institutional changes in healthcare systems can occur, disrupting systemic racism and creating a safer birth experience for mothers and families across New York State.
Supporting Young Women
Governor Cuomo will launch the “Every Body Loved” campaign. This statewide campaign will enlist the support of social media influencers across New York State to help promote body positivity. The Governor will also convene the major social media companies to discuss ways to make social media a safer space for young people. Lastly, he will direct the New York State Department of Health to work with their adolescent Center for Community Action to ensure the programs they support are being implemented through a body positive lens.
The Governor, who has annually recognized Teen Dating Month each February, also directed the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence to develop and implement a robust training and technical assistance program to address teen dating abuse.
As New York builds back better, Governor Cuomo will continue to find new and innovative ways to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on New York women and girls.
The Governor will also continue to fight for an inclusive Equal Rights Amendment, stronger protections for survivors of gender-based violence, and progressive, real world solutions that serve New York women and families.