Freshman New York Congressman Antonio Delgado visited workers and others impacted by the record-long partial federal government shutdown this weekend. The 19th District Democrat also wrote a letter to the agriculture secretary about impacts to SNAP benefits.
Congressman Delgado met with members of the U.S. Coast Guard in Saugerties Friday. He spoke with WAMC following his meeting with the Aids to Navigation team near the Saugerties lighthouse.
“And, in this case, we’re talking about a military department, the first in history that has not been paid. They’re being asked to work and they’re not getting paid. And that’s a problem and we’ve got to fix that,” says Delgado. “So I want to just make sure, tour the facilities, understand the dynamics here on the ground, and let them know that I’m here to help any way that I can.”
“How can you?” asks Dunne.”
“Well, one, shed light, talk about the issues, take their stories back with me, then come speak with you and then maybe we talk about it, write more about it, we put more and more pressure on the system to act appropriately. That’s number one,” says Delgado. “Number two, to keep passing legislation that we believe is truly bipartisan and common ground that can allow the funding to happen and, therefore, enable them to get the checks that they’ve earned.”
During the meeting, Delgado stepped aboard the Cutter that helps break ice on the Hudson River.
“I was talking to a young man who’s in college on the Tuition Assistance Program and he brought up the fact that it’s not just the fact that he’s not getting the paychecks, he’s also catching it from that end of the spectrum because he’s not getting the assistance for funding, for tuition,” Delgado says. “So there’s multiple levels to this that aren’t excusable.”
Coast Guard members referred interview requests to a spokeswoman, who declined to comment about the shutdown or meeting with Delgado. Delgado used the Coast Guard team as an example of why he is not accepting paychecks during the shutdown.
“I talked about this with my wife. And as I sat here with these gentlemen and heard them talk about their stories and the dynamics, the concern. They’re already struggling with their basic housing funding. Before the shutdown, they were already kind of feeling the little bit of a pinch of their basic housing allowance, and you throw on top of that no paycheck,” says Delgado. “So you hear these kind of stories, and I can’t, in good conscience, accept my pay while government inaction is the reason why they’re not getting theirs.”
Delgado met with farmers earlier in the day about how the shutdown impacts them, especially from an economic development perspective.
“We talk about the food promotion programs, the value-added programs out of the USDA. Those are all grant reimbursement programs. All of that is now being backlogged. You talk about the labor issue with H-2A programs and getting, making sure that we have labor here to do the work. Now is right around the time, February and March where you want to get the applications in, so that’s going to create issues for farmers,” Delgado says. “Then there’s the Economic Development Agency, which provides grant programming for the farmers here locally. So all these programs are being impacted.
Delgado says he is weighing how best to help, whether that means drafting legislation or writing letters to governmental department heads, or both. He’s already written to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, calling for an extension of Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT, certifications during the remainder of the shutdown. SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, benefits will continue through the end of February, though many grocery stores and other vendors are unable to process benefits through the EBT card program because their licenses have expired and cannot be renewed due to the shutdown.
Meantime, Delgado recently received word he will serve on two committees he pushed hard to secure — the Agriculture Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“Very pleased about the outcome. Agriculture and Transportation/Infrastructure, as I talked a lot about, those are the kind of committees that allow me to meet the needs of the constituents here. We are a rural district. We have a lot of farmers, and it’s important to figure out how to leverage my role on those committees to help farmers, to help small business growth, economic growth through investment in infrastructure," Delgado says. "These, to me, are the bread-and-butter issues that go to the heart of success here in the region."
Delgado says his number one priority as a new member of Congress is to end the government shutdown.
Delgado, who at the beginning of January said he would hold town halls in each of the district’s 11 counties by the end of the year, is holding his first one this afternoon at 2 at the Poestenkill Fire Department in Rensselaer County. He says the shutdown has created an urgency to host a town hall sooner rather than later.