New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul joined the Ulster County executive Thursday afternoon for a small business town hall. They took questions as several small business owners wondered if they’ll ever be able to recover from the pandemic.
Lieutenant Governor Hochul joined the town hall remotely via Zoom, saying she feels a connection to Ulster County, acknowledging that small businesses are under siege. Fellow Democrat Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan read a question that said, in part:
“From a business owner named Hazel in Saugerties, she owns the Dancing Tulip Floral Boutique. Once the PPP money, which is federal dollars, comes through to my business, how does that affect my employees who have already started to receive unemployment checks,” Hazel asks via Ryan. “How do we avoid ‘double-dipping’ and how will that process work?”
Hochul says she gets that question a lot, and advised Hazel to decide whether it makes sense to have an employee stay on unemployment insurance or include the employee under the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
“That is a very complicated question to figure out how the state and federal programs are going to merge together and not be in conflict. And I respect people like Hazel who just want to do the right thing. So there are resources out there to get you the right answer. You just have to navigate it,” says Hochul. “We also are assembling a team of volunteers across the state — accountants, attorneys, other individuals — who are going to help people get through this as well. And I think that’s called our Volunteer Mentor, our COVID-19 Volunteer Mentor Task Force. Go to esd.ny.gov, and you can sign up to get just free legal advice or free accountant advice on the best way to navigate that all. So we just started getting that up and running. I think that’s going to be a good asset to people like Hazel and others who have these more detailed questions.”
Hochul cited reports that, on the federal level, the Paycheck Protection Program approved in the last coronavirus stimulus package, has exhausted its $349 billion dollars.
“I helped, I got my start in life by helping start small businesses right out of law school, a small flower shop on Main Street. It’s just like Kingston, just like New Paltz. That’s why I feel this close affinity, and feeling that your life’s dream is going down the drain is, it’s excruciating for the people on this call. And that’s why we are very sensitive to that,” Hochul says. “And the last thing we ever wanted to do have to institute these restrictions. It is very unnatural for us in government to have had to do this.”
Hurley Town Supervisor John Perry, who owns Signature Fitness in Kingston, wanted to know if a business like his could provide a plan of action for reopening.
“So I don’t have the answer to you right now to say how we’re going to unleash the economy and start bringing it back, but it certainly will be very incremental based on the type of business, how essential it is and also the risk of infection that’s created by doing that,” says Hochul.
Ryan read a question from David at The Bakery in New Paltz, who, with his business closed and entire staff laid off, says rent is his number-one problem. He worries that it is paying rent during this crisis that will shutter his business for good. Mid-Hudson Regional Director for Empire State Development Meghan Taylor took the opportunity to offer a general clarification.
“The PAUSE on evictions were really, or really, or state PAUSE on evictions, this does not mean that the governor has said, do no pay your rent. What it has articulated, or what he has articulated within these executive orders and within these, within this legislation is that you cannot be evicted for nonpayment of your rent or missing (?) payments for a three-month period,” Taylor says. “So there has been a large number of questions that we have received saying that, I don’t have to pay my rent. That is not true. You are going to end up having to paying your rent at some point.”
Hochul, who summarized Governor Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 actions of late, talked about his executive order requiring all people in New York to wear masks or face coverings in public starting Friday at 8 p.m.
“Basically, anyone who leaves their home has to now wear a mask,” Hochul says. “Don’t get worried if you can’t find the N95 or the state-of-the-art ones that you see the healthcare workers using or the other traditional masks. You can make your own. You can use a winter scarf that you would have had over your nose and mouth during the last snow that came your way.”
Cuomo also issued an executive order directing employers to provide essential workers with masks free of charge to wear when interacting with the public. Meantime, Ryan said, as of Thursday afternoon, there were 845 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ulster County and 15 deaths.