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Congressional Corner With Paul Tonko

No matter where you live, cuts are probably coming.

In today’s Congressional Corner, New York Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat from the 20th district, wraps up his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

Alan Chartock: So Paul Tonko of New York's 20th district, I guess I want to ask you this. Localities are seeing stiff reductions in their budgets. If the governor's plan to get the feds to give some big money, billions of dollars to make up for the $16 $17 billion shortfall doesn't happen in New York, teachers are gonna lose their jobs, terrible things are gonna happen to local governments. What do you think about that?

Congressman Paul Tonko: I think is a disaster that doesn't have to happen. You know, we had really worked hard on the Heroes Act, we've made certain that from every perspective, there were those resources that would go toward making things to avoid some of the collapse in services and to restore some of the revenues which were, were dropping tremendously, precipitous drops in revenue. And that was understandable. People were told to stay away from emergency rooms, delay elected surgery, elective surgeries. People just didn't trust going into a situation where they thought they would be contamination by the COVID coronavirus. So that's understandable. But, you know, while we did do a first installment of Cares, and then an interim bill that further measured up to the needs out there, there's no denying that this virus has not gone away. And it's gotten to be a more deep concern. And so we need to pass that effort, which would provide for some $44 billion, I believe in New York State and $1.3 billion in the capital region that I serve. So these are revenues that are desperately needed. And it's not just the dollars we're talking about. We're talking about the continuation of essential services, you know, sanitation workers doing their thing, water treatment workers doing their thing, making certain that our police and fire forces are there to protect the community. These are important elements that need to be resolved. And the Senate needs to take up the bill. And I will point out that there's an element in this Heroes Act that we worked very hard to get in there that spoke to the health care dollars that are needed by our institutions. There's a shot in the arm in Cares for $100 billion for hospitals and nursing homes and health care providers. But there's also in the interim package an additional $75 billion and now in Heroes yet another 100 billion and beyond that, we're able for the capital region in our negotiations with the House leadership to secure a Medicare wage index factor that will provide for a much more fair outcome in reimbursement for our local hospitals in a five county region for Medicare patients that they served, and that change from an 86 cents, factor to one that is $1.08, it's all a reimbursement quotient will provide for an additional $100 million a year for the five counties including Ellis hospital, Albany Med St. Peter's Health Partners, St. Mary's Hospital in Amsterdam and Saratoga Hospital. They have operated within an unfair situation where neighboring regions were getting far more reimbursement on Medicare. This will provide a great bit of assistance at a time that couldn't be more appropriate, where they have cumulatively lost, I believe, somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 million. But you know, while the Cares Act and hopefully the Heroes Act will assist in that regard, there there's an opportunity to go forward was it a better chance for their operations as we go forward with this wage index factor, if it's if it makes it through the Senate negotiations.

Now Paul Tonko, you've been working right along since the great tragedy with the stretch limousine. You've been working right along on, on that question of how to achieve more safety. And there was the great Schoharie crash. Can you give us an update?

Well, yeah, in fact, you know, the, the important thing is that this limo safety bill will be part of the Moving Forward Bill, which is the infrastructure bill that will be passed, I'm convinced on the first of July. And so as we take up this measure, the effort will be successful. And so I'm very pleased that we are able to introduce the reforms that are essential. We've been working very closely with the families from the Amsterdam Schoharie area and Capital Region area that were impacted, families from Long Island that had similar experiences and worked with Congressman Delgado and Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand. And these are common sense reforms that includes seat integrity standards, not only the design of the seats, but the installation of the seats, crash testing that will be made the requirement and incentives for states to get unsafe limos off the road. This effort closes loopholes, it provides for security that will be taking it to a higher level of respect for those who purchase this activity of transport via limos. So we share that good news with the families with whom we've worked. They have been champions. They have worked through their grief, they've worked through their pain, through their loss, to advise us and to assist and to respond to the language that we kept working on. It's been almost two years since this tragedy, and there were a lot of reports being done and investigations. We needed to wait for that information to come our way. But we will see improvements now that have passed with the bill for infrastructure.

So Paul Tonko, I know that you're working hard on something that is of great concern to many of us and that’s drinking water infrastructures that we all, you know, either live or frankly get sick or die from. What's the latest on that?

Well, I think you know, the efforts that we've made to our subcommittee which I chair, the environment and climate change subcommittee, we've made that a long standing priority, and so PFOS grant programs that can assist communities where PFOS is found in their drinking water is all being made part of legislation here that's approved by the House, along with funding to help schools replace lead service lines, is especially important for schools considering reopening. So that's very, very important, along with a significant boost to federal drinking water infrastructure funding, so that the payment of this is relieved by having additional federal assistance coming from Washington. And I'm also looking forward to the efforts that will go to communities that were driven as an effort by the House to add more than $20 billion in additional funding to replace lead service lines in drinking water systems. You know, the concern for PFOS, the concern for lead contamination in our drinking water systems and in our supplies is a real one. There's tremendous damage that comes by not addressing this. People are impacted with severe health problems. And it's important for us to go forward and fund these efforts in a way that will continue to assist local governments. The water infrastructure requirements over the next 20 years are somewhere near the $380 billion. You know, we're going to continue to fight away so that we reach those goals. But the federal government has got to respond to water infrastructure, as an important element of not only economic development, but quality of life components that reach households and make certain that their environment is safe.

One thing which we really like to get around here at WAMC, are initials. PFOS is?

They're fluorocarbons that are part of a contaminant in the drinking water supplies. The PFOS issue that PFAS and PFOS are all in different designated categories of contaminants that can be cancer agents, they can cause diseases of various organs. And, you know, I just think that taking this up with a scientific approach where we rely on experts that have examined these systems have done the research know what the contamination levels are retesting that has been conducted. It's time for us now to put a plan of action together that will address these contaminants that, again, are of serious concern to many communities, some within the 20th congressional district, that have become national in their focus to fight these efforts to clean up their own situation.

Thank you, Paul Tonko for that wonderful amount of time that you've given us once again here and we so appreciate it.

Thanks, my pleasure and always a pleasure to join the crew at WAMC.

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.