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Congressional Corner With Antonio Delgado

Congressman Antonio Delgado
Antonio Delgado, official portrait, 116th Congress
public domain

It’s hard to work from home if you’re relying on dialup.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Democratic Representative Antonio Delgado of New York’s 19th district continues his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

This interview was recorded on May 22.

Alan Chartock: I'm here in the Congressional Corner, virtually anyway, with Congressman Antonio Delgado. Congressman, you've been working on the issue of rural broadband. Based on people working and schooling remotely during the pandemic, what needs to be done on this issue? A lot. I take it?

Representative Antonio Delgado: Absolutely. I mean, this was an issue that I have flagged well before the pandemic is one that we have to make sure we're focusing on. It is so vital in so many different ways. And it's clear how important it is. When you think about the ability to educate our young kids online, the ability to receive telemedicine, the ability to enable our small businesses to conduct business online. I mean, the notion that we're in the 21st century, and we are still a country, the richest and powerful on Earth, the most rich and most powerful on Earth, and we still don't have communities, or we still have communities without broadband access is just ridiculous. And I've introduced legislation to make sure that we have better mapping. I've introduced legislation to make sure that we do right by the folks who are receiving the internet, the access, because currently, our providers right now aren't even obligated to provide the most accurate information, just what they advertise, not what they actually provide. Try change that up as well. And then currently, the last bill we just introduced here in the Heroes Act puts forth $5.5 billion to make sure that we're doing right by the communities out there who were struggling and this $5.5 billion would go to emergency home internet connections, and the creation of Wi-Fi hotspots for broadband service. So there is some stuff in the Heroes Act, and I'm constantly fighting for more relief. I know Columbia County and Greene County just received some assistance from the FCC rural broadband program. So we're going to keep fighting. It is an urgent need and we must treat it like electricity was treated back when FDR passed a rule, Electrification Act, we need the same type of robust approach.

Coming out of the COVID bill where everybody's in their houses, and Congressman Delgado has twins at home who needs to be instructed over the internet, and so does everybody else, it seems to me that we might not have ever gotten to quite this place without, this maybe one of the silver linings if there is such a thing as from the pandemic.

Well, I mean, I, I look at it, like, you know, like this, Alan. We have got to reassess sort of the gaps in our system. Whether it's health care, whether that's, you know, education, whether that's infrastructure, whether that's broadband, whether that's the fact that 40% of folks, families, making $40,000 have lost their jobs. 40% are really shouldering the burden of this crisis. Well think about that. The folks who are least likely to be able to carry the weight of this economic burden by virtue of the money they earn are being asked to shoulder the most. And I think that speaks volumes to our set of priorities in this country in terms of equity, in terms of access, in terms of good paying jobs, in terms of quality education, in terms of affordable health care, affordable housing, and of course, making sure that all of our young people, no matter where they're situated in this country, have a real shot at opportunity. So yes, I think, at least for me, as somebody who works at the federal level, I'm certainly wrestling with what this says about our country and how we move forward collectively in a way that truly meets our value set.

So Congressman, let me ask you this. You are in a district which has a lot of farms and you're on the Agriculture Committee. What's really irking the farmers these days? What is it that we should be doing for them?

Well, you know, the farmers that I represent, small family farms have been hurting for some time, particularly our dairy farmers. You know, we don't have you know, big, corporate commodity based ag. We have very diversified farming practices that are ongoing here, small family owned farms, and they've been getting marginalized for some time, even well before the pandemic, and I've been trying my best to be an advocate, pass legislation that’s been signed by the president to assist our family farms and work to get milk back into school and do things that would create more of a local ecosystem of distribution and supply chains here for our farmers. That being said, though, in the middle of this pandemic, it's been imperative that we provide meaningful relief to our farmers to get through and I've done that. In the CARES Act we secured $9.5 billion of assistance and the USDA just announced how it intends to distribute those funds on a price loss basis. We are going to be monitoring that very closely to make sure that it actually accounts for our types of farms here. We also have worked mightily to make sure that our farmers are eligible for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the CARES Act. We created this grant program, put $10,000 advance on top of the loan for small businesses and farmers. Nonetheless, the SBA decided it would only apply to small businesses. I led a bipartisan letter at 86 colleagues of mine, including myself, urging the SBA to make this change when they didn't, we then passed the interim 3.5 bill and made it happen on our own. And now our farmers are indeed eligible for this critical loan, Economic Injury Disaster Loan. So between the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which is utilizing the $9.5 billion in securing the CARES Act and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, as well as the Paycheck Protection Program, our farmers are eligible for that as well. There are some sources of funding now that our farmers can rely upon to get through these very challenging times.

We've heard stories about overproduction, milk being thrown out in some farms. Is that is that happening in our farms too?

Yes. The short answer is yes, it is. It's happening. I've heard it directly from our farmers. And one of the things that we've done and the USDA has done is develop a food purchase program. That's going to include purchasing dairy, specialty crops, and meat. And then partnering with distribution companies and delivery companies to make sure that that product gets delivered to food shelters, or food banks or nonprofit or faith based organizations. About $100 million a month is going to be spent by the USDA for this purpose, up to $3 billion, I think, in total. So this is something that is now underway as well. And, you know, I want to encourage folks to be mindful of that. And again, I want to encourage our farmers to apply for the price loss assistance that the USDA is announcing. I believe that date where you can begin filing for that is May 26.

I'm still interested in the farming aspect of it, as I know you are, you know, Mitch McConnell says this whole thing, it's a blue state bailout. Obviously, there are farms in other states. And you must hear from your colleagues in the House about that.

Yeah, I don't know why he said that other than to I guess maybe try to figure out a way to establish his negotiation position. I found it incredibly unhelpful, politically charged, and misguided. And to your point, you know, you know, there are a lot of rural districts across the country and a great many of them are Republican. And so when you're talking about the ag culture, you're talking about communities that you would think McConnell would be aware of, a great many of those communities are made up of Republicans. So the notion that we're going to make this a red or blue issue is just, it's just ridiculous. And the fact of the matter is, we have farmers who are hurting, as you as you talked about with dumping out the milk. And that's just uncalled for. And we should not be in a position where we have to turn everything under the sun into a partisan issue. If we can't figure out how to put that aside, in times like this, then I don't know when we'll be able to. And the good news for us is that we have been able to do so with four significant bills, bipartisan bills that have met the moment to some degree, not without imperfections, but certainly we have tried as a collective body to get things done. And we have. The fact that we've come this far and want to just throw our hands up and say mope, now we're going to go back to our old ways of dysfunction and draw a line in the sand is entirely misguided, and inappropriate. And it's offensive. It's offensive to the people who are still going through the process. It's offensive to the people who are relying on unemployment. And they know that that time table is ticking when it's going to run out. It's offensive to the people who receive that direct payment and have utilized it to pay their rent and their groceries and what have you. And now they're looking for some more relief because they don't have enough in their bank accounts. So it's offensive to our small business owners, who are relying on PPP and only have a short window of time, that eight week window, to maintain the loan. So we can't put anything on pause when most of the country can't put any of its pain on pause. So I would encourage McConnell to rethink the mindset that he currently possesses.

We're talking to Congressman Antonio Delgado of the 19th district. Congressman, we'll be back one more time with you. And I have to tell you, we're very appreciative that you've come on and dealt with us this way.

Thank you. My pleasure.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.