New York State of the State Agenda Advances Reimagine Commission’s Recommendations to Improve Connectivity, Telehealth, Workforce Equity, and Support for the Arts

January 21, 2021

Read about the Commission’s work, including background research reports, on the website here.

This month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined his State of the State agenda, including a series of proposals that build on the work of the Reimagine New York Commission. These proposals include first-in-the-nation policies to ensure broadband is affordable for all New Yorkers and improve access to and quality of telehealth, as well as multi-sector partnerships to help New York’s workforce recover from the COVID-19 crisis and support arts workers who are vital to the state’s culture and economy.

The Commission is chaired by Eric Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Futures, and comprises 16 Commissioners from across the state focused on leveraging technology to build back a better and more resilient New York with greater opportunity for all. Schmidt Futures supported the Commission’s efforts in collaboration with a team from Governor Cuomo’s office. 

Ensuring Universal Access to Affordable, High-Speed Internet

The Commission reported to Governor Cuomo that equal access to affordable, high-speed internet connectivity is a prerequisite to building back a better and more equitable New York. Inspired by the Commission’s findings, Governor Cuomo proposed a first-in-the-nation mandate that internet providers offer a low-cost, high-speed internet plan to all low-income households. To bridge the gap during the COVID-19 emergency, Schmidt Futures and the Ford Foundation will launch an emergency fund to pay for internet subscriptions for students who cannot afford them. The State will partner by expediting existing funding to help school districts purchase laptops, tablets, and other remote learning tools. 

Governor Cuomo also introduced measures to promote broadband competition and consumer protection, including creating a “dig once” policy to facilitate fiber build-out and establishing a universal “broadband disclosure” that requires internet providers to clearly state all charges. Learn more here.

Richard Parsons, Chair of the Rockefeller Foundation and Co-Chair of the Reimagine New York Commission’s Connectivity Working Group, said, “Governor Cuomo’s broadband program enacted in 2015 represented a best-in-nation approach to addressing fixed broadband coverage for rural New Yorkers. Yet, over 2 million New York households remain without a fixed broadband subscription at home. We must now build upon the foundation of New York’s broadband program to address remaining barriers in coverage, affordability, and digital inclusion. A multi-pronged approach is key to addressing these remaining challenges for underserved communities across New York State.”

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation and Co-Chair of the Reimagine New York Commission’s Connectivity Working Group said, “Internet access is a human right, yet historically marginalized communities are still denied affordable broadband. New York must continue to strive for digital equity and universal internet connectivity, so that all New Yorkers have the internet access and skills they need to fully participate in all aspects of society. Through the Ford Foundation’s work addressing digital equity and the digital divide, we have seen that it is essential for both government and internet service providers to do their part to address this critical need. New York can shine a light on what could be possible if we had a robust, diverse, competitive market to deliver affordable, fast broadband to every single home and business. This is a first and crucial step in building back a better and more just New York.”

Introducing Comprehensive Telehealth Legislation

Based on the Commission’s recommendation, Governor Cuomo also announced comprehensive telehealth policy reform to expand access to and quality of telehealth services. The Governor’s proposal would expand coverage and reimbursement for telehealth, modernize outdated regulatory limitations on the technology, and take specific steps to expand the availability of tele-care for individuals seeking treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues. This suite of regulatory and statutory changes is complemented by several initiatives to support patients and providers as they navigate telehealth services, for example through expanding training resources for providers. In partnership with the Commission, Schmidt Futures is supporting an innovative telehealth facilitator program conducted by AIRnyc and Mt. Sinai Health Partners that aims to improve comfort with and access to telehealth for underserved populations. Learn more here

Dr. Toyin Ajayi, Chief Health Officer of Cityblock Health and Co-Chair of the Reimagine New York Commission’s Telehealth Working Group, said, “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth showed the potential to expand access to high quality healthcare to traditionally underserved communities. And since the beginning of the pandemic, millions of New Yorkers have experienced firsthand telehealth’s ability to deliver quality and convenient care. As we build back better, we have an opportunity to ensure that all New Yorkers are empowered to participate in telehealth. Doing so will bring us one step closer to ensuring all New Yorkers have access to the healthcare they deserve.”

Martha Pollack, President of Cornell University and Co-Chair of the Reimagine New York Commission’s Telehealth Working Group, said, “Throughout the pandemic, use of telehealth by New Yorkers soared and patients and physicians alike saw proof of its power. We can unlock the potential of telehealth going forward by changing the ways in which New Yorkers access healthcare. This starts with comprehensive policy changes that give providers and patients greater flexibility to use telehealth as they deem appropriate. And we can and must ensure that those New Yorkers who are most in need have greater access to care, through new investments in telehealth infrastructure, and through the creative integration of telehealth technologies with the kinds of human support that cannot be replaced.”

Improving Workforce Development in Partnership with Employers

Governor Cuomo announced a suite of programs that will help vulnerable workers to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure employers play a role in improving workforce development opportunities. Together with the Reimagine New York Commission, the State announced an innovative “Pathways Pledge” intended to make workforces more inclusive and expand access to training and meaningful career paths for lower-income workers. Learn more here.

Already, 16 employers, representing more than 120,000 workers in New York, have signed the pledge. The founding employers are IBM, Chobani, Con Edison, Google, JPMorgan Chase, Mastercard, AIG, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Montefiore, Globalfoundries, TEKsystems, Loretto, Cognizant, Clarkson University, Berkeley College, and Athenex. 

Ginni Rometty, Former Chairman, President, and CEO of IBM and Co-Chair of the Reimagine New York Commission’s Work Working Group, said, “Jump-starting New York’s economic recovery depends on creating new career opportunities for those hit hardest by the pandemic, especially New Yorkers without a college degree. That’s why I’m encouraging all New York companies to adopt the Pathways Pledge, which commits employers to hire people based on their skills, not just their degrees. The pledge also calls for retraining programs to help workers build the skills that matter most in a fast-changing digital economy. Committing to the Pathways Pledge is a way for companies to expand opportunity, make the workforce more inclusive, and put skills first in rebuilding New York’s economy.” 

Charles Phillips, Former Chairman and CEO of Infor and Co-Chair of the Reimagine New York Commission’s Work Working Group, said, “In a rapidly evolving digital economy, it is now more important than ever for New Yorkers to be able to acquire new skills. Having spent my career in the technology industry, I have seen first-hand how innovation can require individuals to acquire new skills to succeed in the workplace. We must provide New Yorkers with increased access to job training and the financial support needed to pursue it; we must ensure that training programs in the state are high-quality and equip workers to succeed in their careers; and we must help workers to access the digital tools required to both receive training and participate in the workplace. The Reimagine New York Commission has advanced new policies and programs designed to help New Yorkers in each of these ways.” 

Supporting New York’s Vital Arts and Culture Workforce

Developed in partnership with the Commission, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and New York State announced a Creatives Rebuild Initiative. This initiative will put back to work 1,000 artists who have been impacted by the crisis and will invest in dozens of small arts organizations, in recognition of the critical role that the arts play in sustaining the cultural and economic lifeblood of New York. Learn more here.

Path Forward

In the coming months, the Reimagine New York Commission will support implementation of these and other initiatives critical to building back better in New York, including through the establishment of a pooled philanthropic fund. Further announcements from the Commission will be posted on its website.

In the meantime, for more detail on the State of the State, see the full book here

Eric Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Futures and chair of the Reimagine New York Commission, said, “The COVID-19 crisis has been devastating for all New Yorkers, but most of all for residents from marginalized and vulnerable communities. The Commission has focused on helping the state build back better and more equitably. I’m encouraged by Governor Cuomo’s announcements this month, which represent important steps to ensure universal access to the internet, better-quality and more accessible remote healthcare, jobs and wage growth for low-wage and service-industry workers, and critical support for arts and culture producers. I look forward to our continued partnership as the Governor takes action on these and other initiatives, and as the Commission completes its work in the coming weeks.”

About the Reimagine New York Commission

Created by Governor Andrew Cuomo and chaired by Eric Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Futures, the State’s 16-member Blue Ribbon Commission is leveraging advanced technology tools to build back a better and more resilient New York with greater opportunity for all. 

The Commission includes educators, innovators, labor organizers, business leaders, and artists from across the state to ensure the outcomes that it delivers reflect the diversity of the communities that it serves and are developed through continued engagement with the public.

The Commission is focused on recommendations to increase opportunity in three essential ways: reducing the digital divide, improving access to healthcare, and creating more and better employment in an increasingly digital economy. In each one of these areas, it counts on New Yorkers to share ideas and to propose new solutions. Learn more here.

About Schmidt Futures

Schmidt Futures bets early on exceptional people making the world better. Founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, Schmidt Futures is a philanthropic initiative that brings talent together into networks, bets on the most promising ideas through competition, and equips people to scale through partners and thoughtful application of modern tools. Learn more here.