NEW YORK - New York City taxi drivers protested outside Gracie Mansion on Tuesday hoping the mayor would hear their concerns.
"He sold us out," said Dorothy LeConte, who started a cab 34 years ago. She still owes half a million dollars on the medallion she bought thinking it would be her retirement. Instead, she is drowning in debt.
"I can't even make a living. We can't even eat. There's nothing I can pay," LeConte said. "My credit card is piling up. I have a debt collector calling me day and night. So, it is hard for all of us."
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Taxi and Limousine Commission are planning to use federal stimulus money for a $65 million relief fund aimed at helping financially strapped taxi drivers restructure their debt.
"A new approach that will provide money directly to drivers and will help restructure the loans that they have," de Blasio said, "so they can end up in a better situation for their future and for their families' future."
Under the plan, each driver would be allowed to apply for a $20,000 zero-interest loan plus another $9,000 to restructure the debt on the money borrowed for a taxi medallion.
"This plan will offer real relief to many owners and has the power to transform the lives of our hardest-working essential workers," TLC Commissioner Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk said.
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The New York City Taxi Drivers Alliance objects to the plan. The group said that drivers want debt forgiveness instead of another loan to pay off.
New York Taxi Drivers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai called the plan a "joke" and an "insult upon injury."
"It is a cash giveaway to the biggest lender in the industry and does absolutely nothing for the thousands of families that have been suffering and struggling," Desai said.
Many of these taxi drivers have faced financial hardship well before the pandemic started. They've faced competition from for-hire drivers using services like Uber and Lyft.
The ongoing global health crisis has pushed many to a breaking point.