With gatherings limited, public officials have had to adjust. In today’s Congressional Corner, Democratic Representative Antonio Delgado of New York’s 19th district speaks with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.
This interview was recorded May 22.
Alan Chartock: Here we are in the Congressional Corner with Democratic Representative Antonio Delgado of New York's 19th. District, in office since 2019. How goes the war, Congressman?
Representative Antonio Delgado: Well, you know, I think the last several weeks have been very challenging for the country. And just trying to make sure that I continue to be present be accounted for, and advocate for the district, and make sure that we're helping folks through these very difficult times, which are undoubtedly unprecedented. So I’ve certainly been very focused in trying to manage through some times here that I think we're all learning a lot about ourselves over this period of time.
Let's go. Let's dig a little deeper into that. So how is the Coronavirus impacting your job as a congressman?
Well, if you know, you know, sort of what I've tried to pride myself on during my first term, it's always been about connecting with the community. It's always been about, you know, human to human contact. It's making sure that I'm doing the town halls in person, it's making sure that I'm meeting with my advisory committees, that I'm meeting with small business owners, that I'm visiting farms, and I'm engaging with folks on a human level. And as you might imagine, when you have to keep your distance when you have to self-quarantine, as we have done, you know, all of that changes. And so just from a purely practical level, we've had to readjust our approach, have telephone town halls, a lot of Zoom virtual meetings, and just get accustomed to doing that. But once we were able to set that up, you know, the work continues. The community still is able to inform me about the needs on the ground, and then I take that work with me. When I think about the bills I want to keep introducing, which we've done so, in the bills that I want to support in the house, as I have done, to keep the focus on helping us through these rather challenging times,
But do you feel a loss of that face to face that when you go to somebody's farm or home?
Well, absolutely, that's a loss. And there's a lot of value in that human to human contact. You know, and I think I'm just, on a personal level, just processing that myself. Trying to understand what that really means, psychologically, but, I do think, though, that as long as there is still a mechanism through which people can connect with our office, with me directly, I'm comforted by that fact that there is still modes of communication, both audio and visually, that allow us to make those connections and have that important dialogue. So I try to focus more on that piece than anything else.
So what's life like at home, I mean my grown children are finding it challenging in terms of educating their kids, and you have kids. What's that like?
Well, it is challenging. I mean, we do have twin boys. They're certainly rambunctious. They're six years old, so they're in first grade. So, you know, it's been a challenge to homeschool. My wife and I, we sat down pretty early in the process, and tried to figure out what the routine needs to be and how we're going to keep it. I think what I've learned about our young kids is that routine helps, repetition helps. And of course, that means that mommy and daddy have to be very disciplined too in keeping to our schedule and making sure that there's an ebb and flow to the week, and we've been able to do that. It certainly has been challenging, and we've certainly had our moments as a family, but overall, I think we've tried to really come together collectively, understand that we all have our own space, we all need our own space, we all have to do things over the course of a day. And I just had to also be grateful for the fact that I'm able to spend so much time with my family, , when typically that might not be the case.
I wasn't gonna ask you about this, of course, but being a twin myself, I wonder, what are the challenges of raising twins?
God, where do I start? I mean, that's a challenging task in many ways. It's, you know, you're dealing with a two headed monster all the time. I mean, I love my boys. They're awesome. They're really great. They make me laugh and, but, you think you got one figured out and the other one, you know, decides he wants to do something, they just kind of play off each other. The energy is very rarely in sync, which makes it challenging for parents.
We also have two six year old grandchildren. And we know what that so you know what that's like also a little bit of hell.
And as I tell my mom and my dad, you know, you guys can go home, you can leave whenever you want. We can't, we can't.
You cannot. Okay. So Governor Cuomo says this, the summer schools won't meet in person and summer camps of any type seem unlikely. As people start to go back to work this summer, what should they do if they have childcare needs?
Well, that is a challenge. And we certainly are trying to do our part at the federal level to support childcare, and make sure that we're funding those programs, and continuing to help families through that challenge. I will say, you know, there's no easy answer. And this is part of the issue. When it comes to trying to balance the family piece, and the lack of what are typically there for our families to rely upon by way of childcare. And so there'll be some tough decisions that families will have to make in terms of how to orient themselves. And moving forward, I do think that we have tried the federal level, to provide relief, whether that's through direct payments, whether that's through unemployment insurance to assist folks in trying to make those decisions, and of course, making sure we support those folks who are providing these critical services, particularly in the case of our essential workers, for example. Think about the folks who throughout this process are frontline workers who have had to continue working out of necessity. They have needed childcare throughout this process. So it's a real challenge, but it's one that I think, you know, I've certainly been focusing on and I think we've tried, to some extent at the federal level, to provide some support in that regard.
And that, of course leads to the big question about the Heroes Act. Now the House passed it. Mitch McConnell, who is in a very tough race in Kentucky himself, announced that there wouldn't be one. Now they've changed their minds, apparently, and there will be one. What kind of negotiations are going to go on between the Senate and the House, do you think? And what's in the Heroes Act that we won't see when the final version emerges?
Well, I can't sit here and tell you what in the Heroes Act we won't see. But what I can tell you is what I think we have to see. And what we have to see is the state and local funding piece. That needs to be in the bill. That is at the heart of the bill. The bill’s, a little over $3 trillion. A third of that comes down to state and local funding about $916 billion for our states and local governments. And this is a big, big issue, and is not an issue that is a partisan one. You have Republican and Democratic governors all calling for more support. You have county executives across the political spectrum, mayors, all of whom have made it clear that the loss of revenue has really made it difficult to sustain local government and provide meaningful services. And I was able to devise a bipartisan formula with my colleague, Lee Zeldin in the House, that has now been included in the Heroes Act, which will guarantee that all local governments, all localities will receive some form of relief as they manage through this crisis. So my focus chiefly, is to make sure that we end in a place where we can look at a bill that has significant state and local funding ,and that that funding gets its way to directly to our towns, our cities, our counties.
Well, as you know, the governor is intense on this. He's told me about this on a number of occasions. Have you talked to him about it?
We've certainly had calls with the governor as a delegation. The New York delegation has had several conference calls with the governor, speaking about this very issue, speaking about the need to close the budget gap. I think the state's budget gap now is about $14 billion. And this bill would provide $22 billion the first year. So we're talking about a significant piece of legislation that can go a long way. And keep in mind, when you think about the breakdown of that nearly trillion dollars, the 500 billion would go to states, and then half of that, 250 billion would be dispersed the first year, and of that 250 billion, 49 billion would be awarded based on the state's share of COVID cases. And as you might imagine, New York, with the most cases, will certainly receive relief in that regard. So I think based on our discussion with the governor, as a delegation, where we currently are with this bill in terms of the number is a good place.
We've been talking with Congressman Antonio Delgado of New York's beautiful 19th district. Congressman, thanks a lot when we come back. I have other questions for you.