AARP members in New York’s 19th congressional district had the opportunity to ask their representative questions about the federal response to COVID-19. The nonpartisan AARP held a telephone town hall with Democratic Congressman Antonio Delgado Monday about the concerns of older Americans.
Associate State Director of Advocacy Joe Stelling says AARP New York fought for a number of programs, including the distribution of $1,200 stimulus checks, expansion of unemployment insurance benefits and extension of deadlines to take required minimum distributions from retirement accounts.
“It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention but the law also allows employers to delay payment of their Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. This could negatively affect the finances of these critical programs, so AARP successfully fought to ensure that the trust funds are replenished,” Stelling says. “Finally, and this is important, AARP fought to ensure that Social Security recipients will not have to file tax returns to get their coronavirus stimulus checks.”
Delgado highlighted portions of the COVID 3.5 relief package passed last week, the fourth coronavirus measure that Congress has supported. The emergency legislation provides funding to replenish Small Business Administration (SBA) programs, support hospitals and increase COVID-19 testing capacity.
He says the package helps small business owners and farmers, as farmers are now eligible for the Economic Industry Disaster Loan. Or so he thought. In a statement Tuesday morning, Delgado says the SBA on Monday announced it will not accept new applications for the program until understanding how many loans are currently in the system. Delgado says that after successfully leading the effort for farmers to be eligible for the EIDL program, the SBA announcement renders farmers’ eligibility in theory only. Delgado wants to ensure the next federal relief package includes funds for state and local governments.
“The CARES Act did not include funding for any state and local governments serving a population less than 500,000, and that’s my entire district,” Delgado says. “So we have a lot of work to do in that space to make sure that we’re providing real, meaningful support for our state and local governments.”
There were a few AARP member questions about this, including one from a woman in New Paltz. Delgado commented that he has been on the phone daily with municipal leaders, including with the mayor and deputy mayor of New Paltz before the telephone town hall. In addition, Delgado says it’s important to protect Medicare and Social Security.
“What this crisis has exposed, more than ever, is the need for increased access to affordable health care, affordable quality health care; for a real need to truly lower the cost of prescription drugs so folks can pay for lifesaving mediations that lowers the risk and keeps folks safe. The fact that we are being exposed in this way really should make us want to prioritize these programs, not cut them and make sure that we truly have a safety net for folks all across this country, particularly our seniors,” says Delgado. “I have not forgotten about these needs, and will continue to highlight the need to pass H.R.3 through the Senate, which includes my bill — The Enhancing Retirement Security for Medicare Beneficiaries Act — which would exclude covered retirement accounts from counting as income for the purposes of determining eligibility under the Medicare Part D low-income subsidy program.”
AARP asked a poll question during the call: What is your greatest need for information about the coronavirus? The majority responded preparation and prevention; local resources came in second. Medicare and insurance coverage information was number three while supporting loved ones was fourth.
Delgado responded to an online participant who wanted to know what Washington could do to ensure that people have access to nutritious food.
“Right, one is we want to make sure that we’re providing real support for the folks who are growing and producing that nutrition, that food that is so necessary, particularly as you read about some of the issues we’re experiencing on the macro level when it comes to the supply chain of things and how there could be disruptions,” says Delgado. “I think there needs to be more and more focus on connecting folks to their local producers, to their local farmers.”
He says it’s useful to connect local producers to nonprofits that are providing food to residents in need. Delgado pointed out that the USDA and New York have announced programs to purchase local food for donation to food pantries. Goldie in Accord in Ulster County is concerned about post offices remaining open.
“I live in a rural community and, very frankly, the shelter at home, I don’t think I would have been able to shelter at home if I didn’t have the post office delivering packages to my door when I needed to order stuff so that I wouldn’t have to leave my house or delivering food things that I ordered that I would not have to leave my house and go into a supermarket to get,” Goldie says.
She wanted to know Delgado’s stance and what Congress can do.
“Number one, I signed a letter calling for $50 billion in immediate financial relief for the USPS and an additional $25 billion in borrowing authority. And I fully support the appropriation of emergency funds for the post office,” Delgado says. “So as we go towards this next package, and there’s going to be a lot to think about in terms of state and local funding and all the like, to me, this is definitely a piece of that puzzle that we must be advocating for in the next package. It is of absolute importance to me, and I totally agree with what you’re saying, Goldie. And the notion that there is going to be a fight is shameful.”
Other callers wanted to know why unemployment checks were not arriving so quickly. Delgado acknowledged the logjam. A couple in Greene County now running their businesses from home pleaded for rural broadband, an issue Delgado has been working on since taking office.