WAMC's David Guistina speaks with New York State Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul about the coronavirus and how New York is doing statewide so far.
Hochul: We are in a much better position this week than we were even a week ago. Now we have 7 out of the 10 regions of New York State. Again, these are regions that are defined for economic development purposes, but they do make sense in terms of having a regional strategy, and these are counties that are accustomed to working together. So I've been overseeing the western region but also communicating throughout the state on what our efforts have been. I think we're in a good place in terms of the compliance from businesses. In western New York alone, we had over 800 businesses go online and certify that they're willing to follow the protocols that we've established based on Centers for Disease Control guidelines, which is important. And those are primarily in construction, manufacturing, and some limited retail, which is what phase one is all across the regions that have been given the green light to go ahead. So that' what we’re monitoring and certainly making sure that they adhere to what they're doing, and that's up to the local law enforcement authorities. But we don't expect to see problems because think about this, the business community's interest in maintaining a secure safe place for their employees is aligned with the public's interest, and government's interest. We all want the same outcome here, which is to contain the spread, limit exposure to people, to each other with the social distancing, wearing masks taking the hygienic precautions about the cleaning and washing hands. So if every worksite is doing that we should be in a better place as we start to slowly reopen the economy. But this first phase one is really important for us to monitor how people are adhering to our requirements and distancing guidelines to allow us to get to phase two, which a lot more people are going to be excited about. And that’s the hair salons and the barber shops and the retail, and a lot of other industries that we've all been waiting for.
Guistina: Everyone needs a haircut. Well, let's talk about the specific regions that are open. You mentioned seven.
Hochul: Western New York was open since Tuesday, Capital Region just went online as far as being open, which is great. So it's, you know, it's basically all of Upstate, the only regions that are still having to get their metrics in a little better place would be mid-Hudson, which includes Westchester, the site of one of the earliest outbreaks, New York City, of course, and Long Island, but you can follow the progress of each of these regions by going to forward.ny.gov, which is really an innovative way to show very clear transparency to everyone who's paying attention. And then you can see exactly how their region's doing in terms of meeting those seven metrics, but also continuing to meet them as we go forward into the next phases. So it's a great tool that the governor has insisted upon, that the public be kept apprised of everything that's going on. It's why he does his daily press conferences. That's why he has this information updated in real time. So it's a real lesson in what good government looks like.
Guistina: So as we look into these next phases, we are in those spots that are open only in phase one. And amidst this, we have a Memorial Day holiday, and a weekend which weather-wise points to some very good weather on the holiday. That means people will be out, but it shouldn't be treated as if it's anything other than phase one. We still have to be very careful, don't we?
Hochul: We sure do. And you know, we've been very thoughtful about this understanding that the risk of spread if people stay apart 6 feet is less outdoors let's it's not a confined space, you’re not touching common surfaces. So outdoor activities like golf courses and parks have been open to make sure that people who have been cooped up with their families, or trying to work from home, or trying to teach their kids from home and the teachers that are trying to do God's work educating children under these dire circumstances. They all need to get outside and Memorial Day, certainly the remember the reason we have Memorial Day we have to continue to honor those individuals whose shed blood gave their lives to protect our freedoms. But for people, many people, it's the unofficial start to summer, and they want to get back to some sense of normal, but let me just give a cautionary note right here. Normal this year is not normal. It means you can go outside, the state has allowed beaches to be open and our state parks. I know that up in Lake George which is of interest to many people in the Capital Region is going to have the million dollar beach open, but it's going to be at 50% capacity. So either get there early or hopefully people won't stay all day they'll be able to share the beaches with others. Social distancing and masks are still going to be required. So it won't be normal. But it's going to start making people have more of an emotional lift a psychological feeling that you know what, guess what, this isn't going on forever, there is an end. And truly, if the numbers hadn't plateaued and started heading downward, we wouldn't be having this conversation, we'd still be in a very intense phase of trying to contain the virus, staying at home, except for the various central businesses. So this should be viewed as progress, but also progress that could see a setback if people get complacent, and this weekend does worry me. And so I want to make sure that everyone shows their interest in not just protecting each other, but also those who want to reopen economy and get back to work and open all of our facilities, and it all comes down to who's wearing a mask and who's not if you want to reopen this economy, start wearing a mask, and if you haven't been already, shame on you will forgive you but start this weekend.
Guistina: We're listening to New York State Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Lieutenant Governor, an aside here for a moment, the Memorial Day holiday obviously so important in America, you've made that point. But I presented our political observers this morning with this fact: Less than half of Americans know the true meaning behind Memorial Day. It's a survey which looked at 2,000 Americans and only 43% were aware that the holiday honors military members who died while serving in the US Armed Forces.
Hochul: That to me is tragic. When I was a member of Congress, I served on the House Armed Services Committee, I traveled to Afghanistan, I saw the danger that ordinary citizens put them into an extraordinary times. And we owe such a debt of gratitude. Veterans Day we honor those who are living, Memorial Day’s for those from the back to the Revolutionary War, throughout the ages, these are individuals who were part of our military to defend the homeland. And we should honor them in every way we can and if you do not get out to a Memorial Day celebration, we have allowed them, as long as there's 10 people or less, we want to make sure that we can we can go to his grave site and, and play taps and have the normal rituals that make us feel connected to the real story behind Memorial Day, and lay a wreath on a grave site. This is something that we do as Americans. And I think that you know, what you're doing today allowing us to talk about this and others should just really make sure that for generations to come that people will continue to do we do and to honor the individuals who fought for the very freedoms that we treasure, and take advantage of every day, and one of them, if I can as an aside here say, one of them is the right to vote. And because of this pandemic that we're experiencing right now, a lot of people are hesitant to go out and cast a vote. Governor Cuomo understood this and he said, that's why we're going to have the ability to have absentee mail-ins. So I just received my own notification. A postcard came in the mail. It said check the box here if the coronavirus is the reason you're not able to go vote on Election Day. Everybody should check that, send that in, they'll send you out the official application, you get that back, you'll get your ballots sent to you. And then you can still participate in one of the many freedoms that brave people fought for, and lost their lives for that we enjoy in this country that many around the world are jealous of. I mean this is a freedom that we should never take for granted.
Guistina: I don't want to get too further afield from what we're talking about here. But you know, you mentioned voting and we know that the President of the United States is equating mail-in voting with fraud in some cases. Are you worried about what's coming in November?
Hochul: I worry about November all the time. I will say that it has been established for a long time in many states like Oregon, and Washington where all they have is mail-in voting they have about 90 to 95% participation from everyone in the state electing their leaders. I think this crisis has shown us now more than ever, who our leaders are at the federal level and at the state level, are more important to people's lives than they ever realize, the people that are determining and making life and death decisions that affect people and their families profoundly. And so I think this year people are going to wake up. Those who've been complacent, have not exercise their right to vote will realize that leadership truly matters whether it's the federal government, the state government on down to your local government, and I really hope that this will be a turning point in our nation's history. As we create more access to the ballot box, absentee ballot voting is safe. It's been done for a long time. I've had to do it since I was a freshman at Syracuse University voting in my first presidential election. It's something that we've done a long time. So now to introduce the idea that it's now fraudulent. That's just a scare tactic and no one should fall for it.
Guistina: You know, NYPIRG, the New York Public Interest Research Group, Lieutenant Governor Hochul, has called for voting polling sites on the SUNY campuses. Do you like that idea post-pandemic?
Hochul: Of course in the future, yes. That makes absolute sense. College students are busy. They’ve got classes from morning till night, a lot of work on campus or have off campus jobs, or they’re in sports and activities. And, you know, I want to see more participation in voting among younger people, particularly since this is a right that I'm old enough to remember when you when you could be drafted and go off to the Vietnam War. My uncles did when I was a little kid, and they couldn't drink a beer and they couldn't they couldn't vote. So they're old enough to fight for their country and die on a battlefield, as we talked about Memorial Day. And that right has been now been there since the 1960s. I would love to see more young people participate in electoral process and polling places on campuses is a step in that direction. I've been working with NYPIRG since I was a student myself. And I understand that we need to do more to open up the access to the ballot box in every way we can.
Guistina: Well, let’s talk about the other problem here, which is the huge economic toll that this virus is taking on the country and the world. We know in New York, the center of economic activity, we got some real problems. And the governor, speaking of leadership, has been banging the table over and over again about the federal money that New York needs. So far, the state is $14 billion in the hole. And we need that money. Are you confident we can get the money we need?
Hochul: We better get that money. We have experienced a huge shortfall in our revenues. And couple that with the extraordinary expenses, we've had to incur to cover the cost of additional frontline workers, support our hospitals, paying for paying exorbitant prices for something as simple as a mask that we had to scour the earth looking for, supplies to keep our frontline workers or healthcare workers safe. Particularly in the early months of this, the amount of money we've had to spend on ventilators to prepare for the worst case scenario which we were absolutely heading toward just a few short months ago. So yes, we are in trouble financially. The governor has sounded this alarm from the very beginning asking for federal government help. And it is appalling to me that the first stimulus that they came out in the in their so called “Help for States” was basically spread around evenly like pork barrel, like all 50 states were treated equally. And you look at the numbers, in terms of the states impacted by the coronavirus and COVID-19 infections. New York State being the hardest hit in the whole world knows that. We receive per coronavirus case about $23,000 per individual per case. You look at a state like Montana, it averaged out to be about $2 million per case and in Alaska over $3 million. So there's no logic behind how our representatives in Washington decide to allocate this necessary money. It was supposed to be there to help the states that were hard hit because of this. And those that are fortunate enough not to have seen an increase in cases did not have the same expenses as we did. They did not have the same drops in revenue as we have. So it's absurd. They need to right this wrong immediately. I know the House attempted to over the weekend with a bill that would have solved this problem for New York State and places like New Jersey and others that have really seen a spike in the numbers, and have uncontrolled costs and a hit to their state finances. But if they don't do it, we're going to have to make some really, really draconian decisions that we don't want to take. We do not want to have to have cuts to our frontline workers, our hospital workers, our local governments, our fire, police, everybody has been asked to put their lives on the line. And now we get to say, sorry, thank you for saving our lives, but because of the federal government, we don't have enough to pay you what we would have. That's disgraceful. And congress and the president better not let that happen.
Guistina: Lieutenant Governor Hochul, I can't thank you enough for taking all this time with us today. Of course, we'd love to speak to you again as we move in, perhaps to the next phase. Let's keep our fingers crossed for phase two.
Hochul: We'll get there together. And I'd be I'd be an honor to come back on the show again and I appreciate the conversation. Thank you.