New York

16,000 NY Kids Lost a Parent to COVID — How This New ‘Baby Bonds' Bill Could Help

New York lawmakers are introducing new legislation to create savings accounts for children who had lost a caregiver to COVID-19.

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Two New York legislators are proposing a new bill that would alleviate some of the financial burdens for the children who lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19.

State Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-NY) and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (D-NY) worked together on introducing the New York COVID-19 Children's Fund, a program that would establish savings accounts for those grieving children.

This comes on the same day as the official end to the nation's COVID public health emergency, which winds down certain resources, such as at-home vaccination programs and test kits. Within New York City, other resources like long COVID care centers will stay open, as well as the Vaccine Finder site.

"What this bill would do is create a government-funded bond program. $1,000 per kid and $1,000 extra every year until that kid goes to college. It's meant to finance their higher education, buy a home or start a business," Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz told NBC New York during an interview outside of her district office in Jackson Heights, Queens.

More than 16,000 children in New York state alone have lost a parent or caregiver to the pandemic, with an estimated 300,000 nationwide, according to a report by Hidden Pain.

Along with the two NYC lawmakers, a COVID support community worked hand-in-hand to craft the bill after tackling the same in California, which became the first state in the country to launch a similar program for COVID orphans last year.

Christopher Kocher is the founder of COVID Survivors for Change, a not-for-profit advocating for stronger pandemic response and continued public health measures to prevent future health crises.

"We would love to see that policy that was introduced in California -- $100 million for baby bonds for those kids who lost a parent to COVID," said Kocher to News 4. His group is currently looking to bring this to other states, such as New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.

The proposed legislation was introduced to the state senate late last month and still has to be passed by the senate and assembly before delivery to Gov. Kathy Hochul to either be signed or vetoed.

Hank Sheinkopf is a longtime political strategist and founder of Sheinkopf Communications. He says that it is hard to confirm the likelihood that the bill will pass but thinks the government should step in for these kids.

"The early data shows that people have been injured psychologically and financially with a sense of dislocation. The only way to solve that is to make sure those people have the resources because the children of this generation will remember this forever, and because of their losses, have an opportunity to get back into the mainstream," noted Sheinkopf, who continued to say $1,000 is not enough.

Pamela Addison, 39, lives in Waldwick, New Jersey, with her daughter, Elsie, and son, Graeme. Her kids who were a toddler and an infant when their father, Martin, died from coronavirus complications at the age of 44 on April 29, 2020.

Addison believes the bill represents is a step forward but worries that if this is the only action taken for these children, it still would not be enough.

"It's a nice start, but when you think about it, $1,000 a year -- that parent was not just making $1,000 per year. There needs to be something to make sure these kids who are now in a solo income family household have the same opportunities if their parent hadn't passed away from COVID," Addison said over a Zoom interview.

Other concerns toward the bill are what would happen to the children who are on the cusp of turning 17 or 18 years old, especially if the legislation could take a while to begin if it passes.

It's a question New Jersey resident Rima Samman, whose brother Rami Samman died after COVID difficulties on May 10, 2020, poses for lawmakers to consider -- on top of those who died during the pandemic but do not have COVID listed on the death certificates.

Maya McNulty, a 49-year-old mother, is a long hauler from Niskayuna, New York who runs support groups COVID Wellness Clinic and Walking Warrior. She also rallied for a previously introduced state bill on COVID scholarships for children.

McNulty agrees that the New York COVID-19 Children's Fund is etching the surface of what needs to be done, but is glad this is recognizing those who died from long COVID.

"We didn't see this second pandemic of long COVID coming. Parents have also chosen to unlive, and it's devastating because the children don't understand why, and so this bill we're proposing is a similar fund for the children who were affected by 9/11," said McNulty.

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