New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney fielded questions related to COVID-19 during an AARP telephone town hall Thursday, a day before a House vote on the next coronavirus relief package.
AARP Associate State Director for the Hudson Valley Kat Fisher kicked off the call asking the 18th District Democrat if the next coronavirus bill, dubbed the Heroes Act, contains assistance for nursing home staff, patients and families. Maloney says the package does include resources and called the nursing home COVID-19 situation horrific.
“Listen, we need to make sure every resident of every nursing home in New York is tested. We need to make sure every staff member is tested. We need to make sure there’s more personal protective equipment, the PPE you hear about. We need to make sure that there’s better reporting on the number of cases, and that needs to happen. It’s pretty good in New York but it needs to happen nationally,” says Maloney. “We should absolutely do a better job of responding rapidly when there are cases, and there’s an initiative that we’re passing out of the House tomorrow for money for strike teams to investigate outbreaks at nursing homes. We know that’s very important. There’s much more we need to do. We’ve lost too many vulnerable people in our nursing homes.”
Also on Thursday, North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik joined with fellow Republican New York representatives in sending a letter urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to investigate New York’s adherence to safety and health guidance for nursing homes and long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meantime, AARP’s Fisher also wanted to know whether Congress would address food insecurity in the next package by supporting SNAP increases and expand access to online grocery shopping using SNAP benefits.
“We are going to vote to increase SNAP benefits by 15 percent, so that’ll help. This is in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars we’re going to be adding to food banks and to other initiatives that help people with nutrition assistance,” Maloney says. “Now it’s absolutely important that we also do a better job of redirecting the agricultural produce and livestock and milk and all the goods that are currently being destroyed because they’re perishable. We need to have a better system for redirecting those goods into the distribution system for food pantries and food banks, but also to make them available on the commercial market where there may be shortages. New York has a good program to get dairy from the farmers to the food banks. That’s the kind of thing we need to do.”
Cathy from Walden in Orange County is self-employed.
“And when the pandemic first hit, I applied for unemployment on March 13 or 15. I have yet to hear a single thing and seen a single penny. It took me 1,031 calls to finally get somebody to answer the phone, so but I answered their questions, whatever they needed from me, and I’ve yet to see a single penny and it’s seven weeks in now and what am I supposed to do?” asks Cathy.
“Well, I’m so glad you got through because I’m going to get this fixed for you. I’ve spoken to the governor personally about this. Now, I guess, in fairness, we’ve had 35 million Americans or so apply for unemployment, so it is an unprecedented situation in just the last few months, but you should not have been waiting this long,” Maloney says. “And what the governor has promised me is that I can send directly a list of names of people who are waiting too long, like you, and we’ll get it cleared up right away.”
Maloney gave out his district office number repeatedly during the call to offer help not only to Cathy but to others concerning a number of coronavirus aid issues, including assistance finding the $1,200 stimulus checks that some have not received. Sherry lives in Poughkeepsie.
“I work for a public school. I’m a teaching assistant, and we do get paid for our 10-month position, but if you, I’ve done, for the last 20 years, summer school. They say we’re not going to have summer school, they don’t believe, would we be able to collect unemployment for that?” Sherry asks.
“Yeah, I’ve got to look at that because you’re, I guess you’d be treated like a seasonal employee or like a… I think the answer’s going to be yes because we’ve expanded the number of people covered by traditional unemployment insurance, but I’m happy to look into it directly with you if you want to call my office,” Maloney says.
Maloney says the House package includes $100 billion in funding to help schools. He says this would be in addition to aid to state and local governments that are facing revenue shortfalls.
“There will be hundreds of millions of dollars that will go directly to Orange County, Putnam County, Dutchess County and Westchester County, the part of the world I represent,” Maloney says. “There will be billions in addition to that that go to the state of New York. More than $30 billion will go to the state over the next two years.”
Other residents who are deemed nonessential workers are concerned about returning to work in person, and wondered what safeguards businesses are supposed to have in place, what demands they can impose and what rights employees have. With New York reopening by region, and different businesses on different tiers of reopening, Maloney steered clear of blanket statements, saying that if someone feels exploited or unsafe, to call his office. The nonpartisan AARP recently hosted telephone town halls with Stefanik and, separately, with Democratic 19th District Congressman Antonio Delgado.