A Conversation with Haitian-American Councilmember Rita Joseph

A Conversation with Haitian-American Councilmember Rita Joseph

By CAW Editorial Staff

New York City Council Member Rita Joseph was elected in 2021 to represent Flatbush, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Kensington, Ditmas Park, and Southern Crown Heights. Before serving in the City Council, Ms. Joseph was a public school teacher, a community activist, and a proud union member. People, Power & Politics (PPP) chatted with Ms. Joseph (CMJ) about her first few months as a City Council member.

Listen to an interview with New York City Council Member Rita Joseph below:

PPP: What has been your experience as a City Council member for the first few months? What are your plans for the rest of 2022?

CMJ: I’ve really enjoyed being a Council Member! Before joining the Council, I was a public school teacher for 22 years, so my job title is very different from what it was previously. At the same time, the work I’m doing as a Council Member is the same as what I’ve been doing for decades. Whether it’s organizing backpack giveaways and community events, advocating for policy change, or connecting people with government resources, this new job of Council Member is what I was doing long before I got the fancy title. The biggest difference now that I’m a Council Member is that when I’m causing good trouble now, the powers have no choice but to listen to me!

PPP: You represent the 40th District, which is very diverse with a large immigrant population, particularly Haitians. As an immigrant, what are your thoughts on migrants sent to New York by Republican Governors? What are you doing to protect the immigrants in the 40th District?

CMJ: Xenophobic Republic Governors sending migrants to New York City are motivated by racism. I was elected to speak truth to power, so I will call it what it is. It’s so disgusting that elected officials who were voted into office to help people instead use real human beings as political props. I’m so proud of New York City for standing with the migrants and embracing them with open arms. These people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and I think, as a city, we’ve made it clear that we won’t accept the bigotry that the Governors of Texas and Florida are offering.

Regarding how I’m working on behalf of immigrants: we’ve done a lot already! I’m proud that my office organized a community ID NYC event where we were able to distribute IDs to the public. If you’re unfamiliar, IDNYC is a card for all New Yorkers from all backgrounds and five boroughs. Your immigration status does not matter. The free municipal identification card for New York City residents ages ten and up provides access to a wide variety of services and programs offered by the City. IDNYC cardholders enjoy benefits and discounts offered by businesses and cultural institutions across the five boroughs.

My office also allocated significant funding to diverse organizations serving immigrant communities.
Lastly, I’ve also been trying to pass legislation benefiting immigrant communities! The Council just passed a bill; that I helped to introduce alongside my colleague, Council Member Sandra Ung, that requires the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications to publicly report on wait times for when 311 connects callers to an interpreter. Non-native English speakers often have to deal with unfairly long wait times to get the assistance they need, and the passage of this bill will go a long way to bring some much-needed transparency and reform toward cutting down wait times. This bill is a positive step towards the more comprehensive language justice we need to see more broadly in NYC.

PPP: Health parity is another issue that was a priority, in particular, maternal health. What strides have you made in this regard and health generally?

CMJ: For the first time in the history of the Council, the majority-women Council passed a package of legislation addressing significant disparities in maternal health, mortality, and morbidity. While about 30 women in New York City die each year of a pregnancy-related cause, statistics indicate that approximately 3,000 women “almost die,” or experience morbidity, during childbirth, with the majority of cases being people of color. In New York City, Black women are eight times more likely than white women to die from a pregnancy-related cause and nearly three times more likely to experience severe maternal morbidity than white women. To address this national maternal health crisis that impacts New York City, the Council passed a package of bills to expand maternal health services and address systemic inequities that affect women. This package has many bills, but I want to highlight Intro. 472, which would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish a program to train doulas and provide services to residents of marginalized neighborhoods in all five boroughs at no cost to the resident. Doulas will be trained in birth equity, trauma-informed care, perinatal mood, and anxiety disorders, navigating the hospital environment, and support services available to low-income women and their families.

PPP: Before being elected, you had always been a community activist and proud union member. As a City Council member, how are you continuing to advocate for immigrant and non-union workers vulnerable to wage theft and unsafe working conditions?

CMJ: I’m thrilled you brought that up because, to my knowledge, I’m the only member of the City Council that’s been part of not one, but two unions. As a teacher, I was a member of the UFT but also part of RWDSU way back in the day!
I’m a proud co-sponsor of Intro. 617, which would expand the Earned Safe and Sick Time Act (the Act) to extend the Act’s benefits to independent contractors who are not currently covered by the law.
I’m also a co-sponsor of a bill calling on the state to raise the minimum wage annually by a percentage based on the inflation rate. Prices are going up, but wages aren’t. That’s not right, and it needs to change. The truth is that $15 an hour just isn’t cutting it anymore.

PPP: You were recently elected, and with redistricting, you have new elections in about two years. How can one support your campaign?

CMJ: Go to ritajoseph.com and sign up for our email list! You can follow me on social media at @ritajosephnyc to stay in the loop on volunteer opportunities. Feel free to donate $10 our way too! New York City has a matching funds program, so every $10 you donate is matched 8 to 1 by the City. Your $10 donation will actually be worth $90!

This article was edited for brevity. Listen to the full interview at pppradio.nyc.

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