Hochul contemplates special session in Albany as she weighs state work permit program

Governor Kathy Hochul.
Darren McGee/ Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday said she’s entertaining the prospect of calling for a special session of the state legislature to deal with New York’s worsening migrant crisis, while emphasizing her administration is looking at granting migrants work permits at the state level.

Hochul said she spoke with both state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday about the possibility of calling state lawmakers back to Albany to tackle the challenges caused by the influx of over 113,000 migrants to the city. The special session would take place outside the regular legislative calendar, which runs from January through early June.

But she made it clear to reporters, at an unrelated Sept. 13 news conference, that she hasn’t yet made a decision on whether to reconvene the legislature.

“Of course I can call anyone at any time but it has to be for a certain objective,” Hochul said. “What I did talk about was, for the first time, just entertaining … all of our options. And we have to look at what would a session do? What would not a session do? Do we keep funding? Do we take on more responsibility with the case management and asylum processing? Which we are doing. And continue to press Washington?”

One piece of business that could be tackled in a special session is instituting a state program to issue work permits to migrants — an authority that belongs to the federal government.

Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams have both pushed for months to get more migrants legal work authorizations, so they won’t be as dependent on the city’s shelter system, which is currently housing nearly 60,000 newcomers. Those entreaties haven’t so far pushed the feds to take action, with the Biden administration arguing it’s the Republican-controlled House and not the executive branch that has the authority to get more migrants working legally.

State Senator Luis Sepúlveda (D-Bronx) and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) have introduced legislation to establish a state work permit program called the “New York Emergency Expedited Temporary Work Permit Act,” or NEXT-WP Act. If enacted, the measure would allow new arrivals who’ve already applied for asylum to obtain work papers within 45 days — a far shorter timeframe than the 180-day waiting period mandated by federal law.

Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar (D-Queens), a close ally of the mayor’s, has introduced a bill that would do the same thing.

The governor and her team are looking at language for a similar proposal. She said she shared her intention to pursue a state work permit program with White House officials when she met with them in the West Wing last month.

“We are in a situation where the status quo will not hold any longer,” the governor said on Wednesday. “I’m looking at possible language, I want to make sure that it’s going to be successful.”

However, senior White House officials on Tuesday cautioned states like New York against taking the authority to grant legal work status into their own hands.

“The provision of employment authorization is very clearly a federal authority,” they said in a Tuesday teleconference briefing with reporters. “And so it is not something that we would encourage states to pursue. If someone was seriously on that, we’ll take it as it comes.”

Hochul said she’s aware of the feds’ objections but that their inaction has left her with few options.

“I’m saying, it’s a federal problem, we need your help, do something,” Hochul said. “I can tell you right now, we’re leaving no stone unturned to find some way to get these people out of the shelters, into legal jobs and get them part of our economy.”

Hochul argues there’s a labor shortage across the states that recently arrived migrants could help address if they’re allowed to work legally.

During a separate Wednesday press briefing, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Anne Williams-Isom said the Adams administration would be “very supportive” of Albany enacting a work permit program.

“I was very excited to see the governor talk about work permits because it’s something that we have on our list of innovative things to do,” she told reporters. “I think that finding a way to do that in the absence of the federal government doing that would be very important … We would be supportive of that, especially since we know there’s so many industries that need jobs, restaurants, you know, things of that sort.”