The issue of state guidance on reopening summer camps this year turned into a spat between Governor Andrew Cuomo and upstate New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik on Thursday, and the future of camping programs remains unclear.
On Wednesday, 21st District Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik sent a letter co-signed by several state and local officials in northern New York to Governor Cuomo.
The letter reads in part:
“Guidance must be issued promptly to allow counties, municipalities, camp directors, and small businesses to implement plans in response. Many camps have already hired their staff, ordered food and supplies, and are making plans for the beginning of their season.”
Governor Cuomo was asked about the letter during his daily COVID-19 update on Thursday by a reporter at the state capitol.
“What you can say to Representative Elise Stefanik and all our great Washington representatives, we can provide rental assistance to people who can’t pay rent. We could provide childcare for essential workers, we are now. You know what it takes? Money. Funding. Money. They passed a bill. You know how much they gave New York state to do any of the things they talked about? Zero. Zilch. Nada.”
The Democratic governor has repeatedly called on Congress to include more money in federal relief bills to support state and local governments. The governor’s latest budget update includes $10 billion in cuts, including $8 billion in funds to localities due to continued loss of revenues in a shutdown economy.
Representative Stefanik was quick to respond. It was the first thing she addressed on a previously scheduled conference call with reporters Thursday.
“The governor needs to take his own advice and rather than responding to a basic question about summer camp public health guidance, he chose to attack me by name,” said Stefanik.
Stefanik pointed out that the federal CARES Act included $7.5 billion to New York and said the state’s Congressional delegation is united in providing support for the state.
The question over how states are given federal relief funding has led to a fight between states and in Washington. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walked back an earlier comment about letting states go bankrupt, but seemingly remains reluctant to directly fund state governments.
But back to the question of summer camps.
In his briefing Thursday, Cuomo deferred to his state budget director, Robert Mujica…
“Do you know about summer camps?” asked Cuomo.
“As we phase in and decide on re-opening in certain parts of the state, one of the things we’re looking at is looking at whether or not we’re going to have daycare, what kinds of childcare will be provided, and whether camps will be able to open for the purpose providing childcare, to the extent that we’re putting people back to work in a limited basis. But those are part of the discussions right now,” said Mujica.
With dozens of camps across her Adirondack district, Stefanik said many ramp up preparations and hiring in May.
“This first came up in a call I had with Hamilton County I think a week or so ago and was shared and raised in calls with Essex County, Lewis County, and other across the district.”
With campers often coming from across the state, and over state lines, there are a lot of factors to consider. New York is working with neighboring states, and is pursuing its own regional reopening strategy.
Stefanik said though that even within counties, there are variables to consider.
“In terms of access to health care, access to hospitals, understanding where the workforce comes from.”
At least one camp has already halted its summer season. Camp Dudley in Westport, on Lake Champlain, announced its decision earlier this month, saying in part:
“The health and safety of our campers and the entire community is our paramount concern, and the only way we can guarantee the safety of the young people entrusted to our care is to suspend our summer programs, as we know them.”
Capital District YMCA, which operates Camp Chingachgook on Lake George, and also runs summer day camp programs at its facilities, said it was waiting for a decision from the governor’s office by Friday on whether to reopen schools.
In an email to WAMC, Capital District YMCA Senior Director of Marketing & Membership Erin Breslin wrote in part:
“I can confirm that because all of our Early Learning Centers and some of our branches have remained open during this crisis, to provide pre-school and school-age care for the children of essential workers, we have guidelines in place that we have followed from the start, based on CDC, OCFS, and DOH guidelines, and we will continue to follow those.”
Twin Rivers Council BSA, which offers summer programs for scouts at its camps in Washington and Rensselaer Counties, is also awaiting further state and federal guidance.
Scout Executive Mark Switzer wrote to WAMC Thursday:
“We're preparing to operate camp under different scenarios for the health and safety of our campers and staff, but we are still waiting for definitive directing from the CDC, White House, NY state governor's office, and local department of health permitting agencies. Scouting’s motto is 'Be Prepared', we are anxiously waiting and are ready to provide summer camp opportunities to the safest, most exciting level possible.”