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New York Reps Come Together For Virtual Town Hall

From left to right: Rep. Anthony Brindisi, Rep. Antonio Delgado, Rep. Paul Tonko, Rep. Elise Stefanik

Upstate New York’s Congressional representatives gathered for a televised virtual town hall about the effects of the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday night. 

Hosted by Nexstar Media Group and broadcasted across its television and radio stations in New York, the virtual town hall convened seven upstate House representatives.

Coming together on the issues related to reopening New York state amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Democrats and Republicans mostly put politics aside for the night and stressed their ongoing cooperation.

In alphabetical order, the representatives included Democrat Anthony Brindisi of the 22nd District in Central New York, Democrat Antonio Delgado of the 19th District in the Catskill and Hudson Valley regions, Democrat Brian Higgins of the 26th District in Western New York, Republican John Katko of the 24th District in Central New York, Democrat Joe Morelle of the 25th District in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region, Republican Tom Reed of the 23rd District in the Southern Tier, Republican Elise Stefanik of the 21st District in Northern New York, and Democrat Paul Tonko of the 20th District in the Capital Region.

The panel discussed their united support for the federal stimulus packages that have been passed to boost the economy during the pandemic, but also shared similar concerns.

Delgado said the first federal CARES Act included $9.5 billion in disaster assistance for farmers, but with many small farms in his district, particularly dairy, he is frustrated with the pace of the rollout of the relief aid.

“We just got word from the USDA, will be implemented in about a month or so, so that’s difficult to hear for our farmers. There will be some direct programs that are part of that, there will be some assistance programs that are part of that, but the time is ticking. They are eligible, our farmers, for the paycheck protection program. But as we know, those funds are drying up quickly,” said Delgado.

The Representatives also shared concerns over the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which has seen long queues and an overloaded application website.

Rep. Brindisi said New York does not receive its fair share of PPP loans approved nationwide.

“In fact, New York is second-to-last in terms of the number of PPP loans that have been handed out where Texas is number one. We have double the unemployment right now that Texas does and New York is the epicenter of this pandemic. So the attention of Congress is not being followed through right now by the Small Business Administration and Treasury and we have to make sure that happens,” said Brindisi.

Brindisi said one his top priorities in future relief bills is to include more funding for state and local governments, which Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly called necessary to support schools, first responders, and other services. Cuomo recently proposed $10 billion in spending cuts from the enacted state budget, including $8 billion in aid to localities.

Representative Tonko highlighted disparities in hospital funding. Tonko said of the first $50 billion of aid to hospitals, New York only received $1.5 billion.

“Of that 50, 1.5? That’s 3 percent for the state that’s been the epicenter of this pandemic where we’ve had 1/3 of the deaths, where we’ve had 30 percent of the cases of COVID-19…when you contrast that with Texas and Ohio, we pale in comparison,” said Tonko.

Representative Stefanik focused on the importance of re-opening trade along the New York-Canadian border in a safe way. She said the issues facing New York’s cross-border trade are bipartisan.

“I serve as the Northern Border Caucus Co-Chair with Brian Higgins, a fellow New Yorker. And so much of the manufacturing supply chain in my district is dependent on U.S.-Canadian trade. I’ve also raised dairy issues and I’ve worked very closely with other folks on this call, especially Congressman Delgado and Congressman Brindisi and Congressman Katko, and we who have a lot of dairy in their district as well,” said Stefanik.

When asked about re-opening states, Stefanik reiterated her support for a regional approach, a strategy being utilized in New York State by Governor Cuomo. Stefanik serves on the Bipartisan Northeast Congressional COVID-19 Regional Recovery Task Force, and the Task Force to Reopen the Economy, appointed by President Trump.

“So I think where the president has been right is really deferring to the governors and stepping up the needs of New York State,” said Stefanik.

Together the representatives say they disagreed with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s earlier suggestion that struggling states and localities could consider declaring bankruptcy instead of waiting for federal aid.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.