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Hudson Valley News

Schumer Pitches Bill To Help Schools Reopen Safely

New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer was in the Hudson Valley Thursday, pushing legislation to ensure educators get the funding they need to open schools safely this fall in light of COVID-19. School administrators say their calculations for needed equipment and services show the funding is sorely needed.

After visiting an elementary school in Middletown in Orange County, the Democratic Senate Minority leader carried the same message to FDR High School in Dutchess County.

“And I am here to say we can have our cake and eat it, too, in the sense that we can open the schools safely but only if, underline, the schools have enough money to make them safe, because it’s an expensive proposition,” Schumer says.

Schumer says legislation he crafted with Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington state would increase funding schools received in a previous coronavirus aid package, the CARES Act.

“This school received $723,000. Hyde Park schools or is it Dutchess County schools?  Dutchess County schools received $6 million,” says Schumer. “They would get about 13 times that under our bill. So this school would get about $10 million and Dutchess County schools would get about $78 million, and that would be enough money to open safely. Now is that expensive? Yes. Is it worth the price? You betcha.”

Schumer says schools will incur costs for personal protective equipment, or PPE, including masks, as well as for additional cleaning supplies, overtime for those disinfecting schools, and more.

“If the schools don’t open, parents, about one-third of the workforce has a child that’s below 13 years of age. Who’s going to watch the kids? If the schools aren’t open, it’s going to hurt the whole Dutchess County economy and the whole Hudson Valley economy,” says Schumer. “So there’s a real imperative for us to open the schools but open them safely for everybody. And I am here to say there’s a way to do that in the next few weeks. It’s called CCERA.”

CCERA stands for the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act, and would provide $50 billion for a Child Care Stabilization Fund. It also contains $345 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund, including $175 billion for K-12 schools to help a safe reopening. There is $132 billion for higher education and $33 billion for a governors’ fund to allow governors to allocate funds for educational services to areas of their states hardest hit by COVID-19. Aviva Kafka is deputy superintendent of the Hyde Park Central School District.

“It is true that we would need funds to be able to open safely. When you talk about masks, we had a projection for the whole district, because this is one school in our district, of half-a-million dollars a year for masks alone,” Kafka says. “And, as we have started our planning for reentry, it really would require more staff to supervise social distancing for students, which is in hallways and bathrooms, doing health checks, coming and going on the bus to make sure that we’re taking temperatures and doing health checks, as we see the Department of Health guidance. So it’s primarily along PPE and also staffing.”

Again, Schumer:

“We go back to Washington on Monday, and I pledge to these folks here and to all of the schoolchildren, teachers, administrators and employers here in the Hudson Valley, I’m going to do everything I can to get it passed,” Schumer says. “I’m very hopeful it can happen because it has bipartisan support and it’s a necessity.”   

He would like to see CCERA added to a larger Senate relief package.

“Even Mitch McConnell, who has been stingy and standing in the way, the other day in Kentucky, pressured by parents, teachers and others, said he thinks we may have to do something to help open up the schools,” Schumer says.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is reported to have said he will present a bill next week to provide coronavirus relief funding to help schools reopen, as part of a larger package.

Also on Thursday, Schumer visited Putnam Hospital Center in Carmel to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to deliver emergency funding for the hospital’s doctors, nurses and staff along with surrounding communities. Schumer says the Department has overlooked the hospital for months in what he calls arbitrary and unfair distribution of additional emergency relief funding from the $175 billion Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund. It’s a fund that Schumer championed in the CARES Act.

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