New York, NY – Calling the city’s plague of rat infestation “a horrific, daily insult to the quality of life in New York,” Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer on Tuesday demanded a new crackdown—and more resources to eradicate the problem. The Borough President blasted the city’s recent decision to terminate 63 pest control workers as “an absurd decision that could only be welcomed by New York’s huge rat population.”
“You don’t slash the ranks of public health workers on the front lines of an epidemic, but that’s what the Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) has proposed,” the Borough President said, joined by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Lillian Roberts, Executive Director of District Council 37, Fitz Reid, president Local 768, DC 37, and community members with personal horror stories to tell about rat infestation. “DOHMH claims this would save the city $2 million—but the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget has estimated that these crucial positions would generate close to $6 million annually in fees during the exact same period.”
“New York logged a staggering 21,800 pest control complaints last year, and any New Yorker who has ever seen rats scurrying down sidewalks and streets, in parks, public plazas and across street medians knows that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Stringer continued. Beyond the disgust factor, he said, rats pose a health risk to untold numbers of people suffering from asthma, allergies and other respiratory problems.
The Borough President and others gathered in Mitchell Square Park in Washington Heights, which has the city’s highest rate of rat infestation (73.5%) according to a 2008 health department survey of inspections by Community Board district.
New York’s rat eruption is relatively recent, Stringer said, noting that the city once had America’s most effective rat-control program. Shortly after World War II the federal government opened an office to fight rodent infestation within the Centers for Disease Control, and by the 1970s experts considered New York’s program a national model, The city’s rodent problems began increasing, however, as pest control programs suffered crippling budget cuts beginning in the 1980s.
“I’m challenging our city to reclaim the honor of being a national role model for rat control,” but New York’s proposed cutbacks “just do not add up,” the Borough President said in a letter to Commissioner Thomas Farley, head of DOHMH. “It’s time for New York to do the right thing and hire enough pest control workers to wipe out this infestation once and for all.”
“It’s outrageous that, to date, the City has failed to rehire the 62 Pest Control Aides and Supervisors that were initially laid off almost a year ago,” said Lillian Roberts, Executive Director of District Council 37. “This leaves less than 20 Pest Control Aides left to battle a growing rat problem throughout the entire city. And, of course, everyone knows so far the rats are winning the war. Why the City’s Department of Health has so far failed to acknowledge the importance of this issue is beyond me. Yet, after the union successfully convinced the City Council to restore a significant portion of the funds needed for pest control, the DOH opted to devote half of those funds to a website rather than responding to the immediate needs of all New Yorkers.”
"In light of continued infestations, the rat has unfortunately maintained its place alongside the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of New York City,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. “This is by no means inevitable, though; after the city implemented a rat mapping program in the Bronx in 2007, pest control workers were able to reduce infestations from 3,100 to 1,850; a 40% drop. 67 of these same workers who worked hard to maintain these improvements have recently been laid off, which can only mean an increase in rat infestation. While we've constantly heard the refrain 'do more with less' when it comes to our budget, in this case it will be the rats doing more with less pest control workers to get in their way."
"If you want to know how we're doing as a city, just look for the rats," said Council Member Dan Garodnick. "Like crime on the streets or unplowed snow, rats are a clear, visible indicator of the level of service being delivered in our communities. Even in tight economic times, rats are a problem we cannot allow to get out of control."
“Every year my office receives calls about rat sightings. As the weather gets warmer, rats come out and destroy tree pits, gardens, and even car engines,” said Council Member Gale Brewer. “Rats are a serious public health issue. We collaborate with DOHMH to hold Block Association walk-throughs, building Superintendent trainings, and emergency exterminations. Without DOHMH’s extraordinary staff, residents are being placed in a severe disadvantage to resolve this public health issue.”
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