Good morning from home…
Two months after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in New York, the Empire State faces a new set of battles on the other side of the apex.
The next federal stimulus package—another anxiously awaited wave of fiscal relief for cash-strapped businesses, state and local governments, and other stakeholders across the nation—looks to be more than a month out. Members of the United States House of Representatives were originally scheduled to return to Washington a week ago but with Washington D.C.’s stay-at-home order in effect until May 15, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer postponed session until further notice. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is bringing the Senate back tomorrow for session, despite the lack of testing capacity for members and staff. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was not consulted by McConnell about whether to return and was not sure if McConnell consulted with medical experts.
While the State Legislature has mostly taken a back seat to Cuomo and his daily briefings for more than a month, Assembly Speaker Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins announced two joint virtual hearings to address the COVID-19 impacts on New York—one hearing will be on economic impacts on small businesses, including farms, and the federal response and the second focused on disparate impacts of the pandemic in minority communities. Lawmakers in both houses of the Legislature have also introduced hundreds of bills relating to COVID-19, but have yet to settle on a date for session to convene in order to consider those measures.
For the first time in its history, New York City’s subway system will not run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Governor Cuomo, a loud and frequent critic of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (which he controls, appointing the board and the leadership) said the service cuts as an unavoidable disruption, given the scale of the desired cleaning operation and the overriding need to protect the health of the essential workers who rely on the service. He made the announcement last Thursday alongside Mayor de Blasio (via webcam) and MTA Chairman Pat Foye and NYCT President Sarah Feinberg. This was the first time that New York’s top two officials appeared together since a press conference marking the first COVID diagnosis in the state, more than seven long weeks ago.
Much of that time has been filled with uncertainly, especially for parents, children, and teachers throughout New York looking for a decision on when—or even if—schools would re-open. Friday, Cuomo extended all school closures until the end of the academic year, leaving the possibility of summer school and continued uncertainty around classes resuming in September.
On April 11, almost a month ago, Mayor de Blasio had extended New York City’s public school closures through the end of the academic year only to be thwarted by Cuomo who said the announcement was merely the Mayor’s “opinion”. Now, with the same extension officially in place, de Blasio stated that the governor finally understood, “that I fundamentally believe it is not safe to bring back New York City public schools for this academic year, period.”
One issue where Cuomo and de Blasio are aligned is in pressuring the federal government to pass legislation that includes billions of dollars in aid for states and municipalities. Cuomo’s Fiscal Plan includes $10.1 billion in cuts, outlined in a 463-page document of which $8.2 billion could come from “aid-to-localities” funds, which cover a vast array of resources for local governments across the state, including New York City. Almost everything falls under this umbrella: public school budgets, CUNY and SUNY, Medicaid, mass transit, social services like foster care and substance abuse programs, and those involved in the pandemic response, including nurses and EMTs.
Cuomo also found time this week to take a swing at Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) after the Congresswoman asked for clarity about whether summer camps will open amid the coronavirus crisis: “What you can say to Rep. Stefanik and all our great Washington representatives: We could provide rental assistance, child care for essential workers, you know what it takes? Money. Funding. Money.” Cuomo reserved his sharpest criticism for Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) and Florida Senator Rick Scott who, according to the Governor, are making the pandemic “blatantly political”. His barbs came after Scott wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that Democrats want to use federal dollars to “bail out poorly run states” and that Cuomo mismanaged New York State’s budget.
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