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Congressional Corner With Antonio Delgado

Congressman Antonio Delgado
Antonio Delgado, official portrait, 116th Congress
public domain

COVID relief is a top priority for the White House.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Democratic Representative Antonio Delgado of New York’s 19th district wraps up his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock. This interview was recorded February 4.

Alan Chartock: Here we are in the Congressional Corner with Congressman Antonio Delgado, and we are talking about so many things. But one of the most important things, of course, is the amount of relief that the American people are going to see from the Congress of the United States. I was fascinated by some of the things you were saying last time about the need for state and local help. But I can't get in my head, Congressman, I can't get in my head, why the Republicans are taking such a parsimonious view of, you know, helping the American people, what do you make of that, personally?

Rep. Antonio Delgado: I don't, I'm not going to sit here and pretend to know, exactly, some of the thinking on the other side. You know, you could make arguments, whether or not they're in good faith or otherwise, about the scale of spending and whether or not it's appropriate, you know, those arguments can be made. And they would be consistent with at least what fiscally conservative Republicans have articulated in the past, albeit over the last four years, that has all been thrown out the window in practice, to be clear. But what really is confusing is even if you're going to go back and forth and say, well, we don't want to give you x amount of dollars for direct checks, we want to make it a little bit lower, or we don't want to give you x amount of dollars for unemployment, we want to make it a little bit lower, or x amount of dollars for our kids and schools. Okay, fine, we can we can maybe go back and forth on that and try to land somewhere, just because, ultimately, we have to agree. And ideally, you want to come to a bipartisan agreement. But when you come to the table, and you don't offer anything for state and local, well, then that really reveals for me, that you're not really operating in good faith. There's something about the approach here, that, at least from my vantage point, is really missing the mark here. And it's totally divorced from the realities on the ground. And I can't tell you enough here, how many Republican local elected officials I speak to, and I talk to a lot of them in NY-19, not one of them, has said to me, why do you keep talking about state and local funding, we don't need it. We don't need it. No one has said that. They've said the exact opposite. So I don't know what's going on in the communities in other parts of the country that my Republican colleagues represent. But I'm pretty sure it's probably similar to what's happening in mine where you've had a pandemic that has ravaged communities, economically. It has put an intense burden on our local governments to carry the water. And if you are in a rural community, which by the way a lot of our Republican counterparts represent, the burden has even been more intense because so much of the aid that came through in the CARES Act back in March was limited to populations of 500,000 or greater. And most rural communities don't have government entities serving populations that size, NY-19 included. So this is not a partisan issue. This is a help people issue. This is a support the folks on the ground who are doing incredible work to sustain our economies and look out for people issue. That's what this is. And unfortunately, this is where I go blank. I don't know what the block is, the mental block that doesn't allow some of my colleagues here to understand and appreciate that.

So are you confident, Congressman, that people will get the amount of money $1,400 in stimulus checks that they've all been hearing about?

Well, I'm confident that there's been a commitment to have a very meaningful, robust package. The Biden Administration, has made that clear, and has laid out the details. And what happens between now and when that deal ultimately is finalized can go in any number of directions. I know the president has been working very hard to figure out how to create a bipartisan package at the same time on a parallel track. There's been a budget reconciliation process that would enable a bill to go through on a more partisan basis so there's different avenues this can go Alan, different avenues. And I think it's good to have multiple avenues. Because recent history has taught us that just because you want to operate on a bipartisan basis or you are prepared to extend and engage, it's not always returned in kind. Now, that said, there has been a counterproposal, and I know that the administration is looking through that. And my issue with that proposal, fundamentally, I'll just say, as I've said before, is literally the fact that I'm looking at $0 for state and local funding, zero, you know, so that that to me, is unacceptable.

Congressman, you know, I spent about 40 years teaching at New Paltz, and in the area living in Massachusetts, working over there, and there are a lot of very rural communities. And now there is the Rebuild Rural America Act. And what does that mean to your district?

Yes, you know, I appreciate you bringing this bill up. I introduced it recently, along with Senator Gillibrand. She did a companion bill in the Senate. And it's the bill that we know is going to help our rural communities, not just get through COVID, but have a sustainable long-term vision. You know, I traveled across the district from Greene County to Schoharie County over to Otsego County and Delaware County, very rural parts of our district. And I talked to local electeds for infrastructure needs. With broadband needs workforce development program needs, small business incubator needs, you know, they have real issues that they have ideas that they want to solve. I was just talking to some folks in Sullivan County about some of their work around diversifying Ag and doing compost initiatives. Again, that takes assistance in federal dollars. And too often our rural communities are competing with bigger metropolitan areas that have lawyers and lobbyists that can really aggressively pursue these dollars. And it's important that we have a separate pot of money that our rural communities can access directly, not from the state, but from the federal government directly, that allow them to pursue their own initiatives, whether it's building out that last mile of broadband, or whether it's making sure that they have more affordable workforce development housing on the ground. And this is all regionally based, it's community based and it encourages coordination on the ground. And so for me, this $50 billion block grant, that is a revolving block grant, that that would certainly be the kind of source of funding that can enable our rural communities, it will only be limited to our rural communities. So it'd be an exclusive pot of money that our rural communities can tap into. And again, NY 19 is the eighth most rural district in the entire country.

No, is that right?

Yeah, eight out of 435 seats. I’m very proud of that fact and so we have to make sure that we can maintain the rural integrity of our beautiful, beautiful district, and make sure that we're not left behind. This broadband issue is really alarming. And too many folks in New York 19 don't have broadband. Our students don't have it. Small business owners don't have it. Our seniors don't have it for telemedicine, and here we are, in the 21st century and the richest country the world has ever known. And we have folks living without broadband, a basic utility at this point. And so, absolutely to me, bills like the Rebuild Rural America Act are critical as we move forward in the short term and in the long term.

Congressman Antonio Delgado, I can't tell you how it pleases me and the radio station to have you with us. And it's so important that people hear you. So thanks so much for being with us, Antonio.

Thank you for always giving me the time appreciate the opportunity, man.

You'll always have it. Thank you.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.