New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney met virtually with a few local city police and fire chiefs in the 18th District Monday. They talked about how funding from the American Rescue Plan will help their departments. The chiefs also raised issues about access to PPE, or personal protective equipment, and other concerns.
Democratic Congressman Maloney says New York and local governments will receive more than $23 billion from the American Rescue Plan, including hundreds of millions of dollars for his 18th District. He says this funding will help supplement revenue loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and keep frontline workers — like police officers and firefighters — in their jobs.
“The American Rescue Plan for firefighters has $100 million in new assistance grants and $200 million for staffing adequate fire resources,” says Maloney. “So there’s real money renewing these grant programs.”
Poughkeepsie Fire Chief Mark Johnson:
“The biggest problem that we had and we continue to have, and maybe this funding could be possible for some of those things, is access to good PPE. The good N95s, made by 3M, are, if you can find them, are extremely expensive. We finally got a shipment almost nine months after we tried to get them in last month,” Johnson says. “Gloves have almost quadrupled and, in some cases, five times their original cost.”
He says access to PPE is more of a problem than cost. Maloney says direct funding to counties in the American Rescue Plan, along with funding in other pipelines in the plan, should help.
“Let us know if you’re having trouble with that because we can still probably access some supplies if it’s just a question of, most places are stockpiling now,” Maloney says. “We’ve been able to get ahead of it, but that’s alarming.”
Middletown Assistant Fire Chief Bob Brady also says access to PPE is a big concern. He says Orange County delivered a lot of PPE at the beginning of the pandemic, and local businesses donated PPE. But he has another issue on his mind.
“We had five retirees last year plus the pandemic,” Brady says. “It was real tough staffing our apparatus through last, of 2020, and so far through 2021.”
“Alright, well I want to follow up on this PPE question,” says Maloney. “I mean, for one thing, the, Orange County’s getting $57 million out of this thing and of course Middletown will get direct assistance as well, but let’s make sure you guys get the PPE you need.”
Maloney says he knows the county was stretched, but PPE supplies should be more accessible today.
“So unless we’re having the kind of supply problems we had originally, there should be money for that,” says Maloney.
In Westchester County, Bedford Police Chief Melvin Padilla says his department was not short of PPE as such equipment was locally stockpiled from a measles outbreak in 2019. However, unlike in Middletown and Poughkeepsie, where fire and police departments were hit with COVID in their ranks at the height of the pandemic, Padilla says it’s different in Bedford.
“We’re actually, oddly enough, experiencing recently some of, some increase in infected officers and employees rather than through the hardest hit. We did pretty well,” Padilla says. “It wasn’t until the last 90 days or so that we had four or five different positive results.”
“Really?” asks Maloney.
“But we’ve been able to make it, the impact overall on the agency, so I’d say that’s just as numbers, not necessarily a staff…” says Padilla.
“And are your guys vaccinated, and you’re still seeing that?” Maloney asks.”
“Yeah, probably high 50 percent, low 60 percent vaccinations,” Padilla says. “Now, now I’m thinking we’re getting to that point, meaning what I’m referring to has been 90 days ago or 120 days ago.”
“Got it,” says Maloney.
There has been an uptick in COVID cases in New York in recent days. Padilla tells Maloney access to vaccines isn’t the problem.
“There is a little bit of an apprehensive feeling about getting it. So those who haven’t received it, it hasn’t been because it wasn’t available, it is because whatever personal concerns they have about actually receiving it,” Padilla says. “So that’s a bit of an obstacle.”
“You’re not alone,” Maloney says. “If it makes you feel better, there’s 435 members of Congress and 100 of them haven’t been vaccinated yet, and they’ve had the vaccine since January.”
Beacon Fire Chief Gary Van Voorhis says Dutchess County helped with supplying PPE earlier in the pandemic. He says his department also relies on grants for assistance, like the SAFER, or Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, grant Beacon received a year ago.
“Our biggest thing that we we’re very thankful for is the SAFER grant that we received,” says Van Voorhis.
It’s a type of grant, as Maloney mentioned, the American Rescue Plan will help fund and which his office has helped secure for other cities in his district. Beacon, like Middletown, is a combination department, with both career and volunteer firefighters. Meantime, City of Poughkeepsie Police Chief Tom Pape says grant programs like Justice Assistance Grants are vital for his department.
“The JAG grants, they’re huge for use,” says Pape. “They’re the, they’re really the lifeblood.”
He gives an example of how JAG funding has helped.
“Through Jag, we got a, we received a coronavirus emergency supplemental funding in the amount of $58,000, and that allowed us to purchase additional PPE, additional hand sanitizer,” Pape says. “We were able to do some physical movement within the confines of the PD, just to get some separation amongst people.”
Maloney says the American Rescue Plan provides $100 million to state and local emergency management agencies to help communities address COVID-19 and facilitate vaccine rollout.