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Rep. Maloney Discusses COVID-19 Response, Economic Impact

Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney
WAMC/Allison Dunne
Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney

New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from the 18th district, spoke with WAMC's Ian Pickus Wednesday afternoon about the coronavirus pandemic and how the federal government is responding. 

Joining us now is New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from the 18th District. Congressman, as we speak here on Wednesday afternoon, what's the latest that people should know about the federal response here to COVID-19?

Well, there's two large areas of response. The first and most important is combating the spread of the virus and protecting people. There are a lot of efforts underway, the house has passed the $8 billion package that will address issues of protective equipment for first responders, things like making sure testing is more widespread and free of charge, making sure that the path to a vaccine is short and all the things that are necessary to fund our response to the crisis. We are also working on a massive economic stimulus package to address the economic impact with a focus on speeding relief to individuals and small businesses that need it right now. And that will happen over the next few days.

What's your message to those small businesses where maybe they've had to lay staff off? I mean, we know restaurants, bars, and pretty much anything where people gather is now closed. They may be hearing that a bill is coming down the pike, but have their own bills to pay in the meantime.

Right? Well, my message is, hang on. Help is on the way. There will absolutely be relief coming. It will take a number of forms, I think you will see quick direct cash payments to individuals which will help everybody and focused on people who are working families and middle income people. You will see support for small businesses in the form of SBA loans and people should pursue those forms of relief right now in the most heavily affected areas. They can start that process right now. I think you'll see support for things like expanded unemployment benefits for folks who've been laid off or lost a job. We've seen a big increase in claims and we will be supporting those and making sure the benefits are as generous as needed. My message is if people can keep their employees to the maximum extent possible, we are hoping to avoid layoffs. And the federal government will be responding with a massive economic support package that is going to be directed at helping people who need it most.

An idea has gotten some traction, which is to send Americans a $1,000 check, effectively cut them a check right now to stimulate the economy. Is that a good idea?

It is a good idea and I think you'll see it happen. And I want to make sure it's focused on the people who need it most. But it is an efficient and, and really meaningful way to help people who are struggling, but there are other things we can do, we can suspend the tax payments people would otherwise need to make. For months we're doing that. We can guarantee that no one has their utility shut off. We're doing that. We can make sure that there are no evictions or foreclosures during this period of crisis. We're doing that. There are a variety of ways we can give some confidence to moms and dads and people who are at home with the kids that are going to be able to pay their bills keep a roof over their head, feed their family. And that that is where the focus is.

As usual, there's some dissonance between the president and the people who work for him closely on the issue of the economy, but his top economic official says that recession is looking pretty likely right now, given this crisis. What do you think the long-term outlook is now?

I think this is an unprecedented short term crisis. And it matters a lot what we do right now, I think what is different and in some ways, more hopeful, is that the nature of a pandemic is that it comes on with extraordinary speed. And we are feeling the effects of that now in our public health system and also economically, but it also it also can have a duration that is shorter than some of the crises we've seen in the past. So for example, in the Great Recession, we had structural problems with our housing industry, with our financial services industry. And those took years to work themselves through and it took down the economy with it. You know, with 9/11, we’re obviously facing an unprecedented situation with an attack on the United States, a war that followed, really 20 years of war that has followed, and to change the way we live that that has never gone back to the way it was before. These crises are different than what we're experiencing right now. This is unprecedented in terms of its scale, and it's the comprehensive way it's affecting all families. And that's a direct hit on our economy. But we have every reason to believe that if we can bridge this gap, help families get through this period of crisis, that the economic recovery can be much sooner and much stronger than in previous economic crises. And that's because when worst of the pandemic is behind us, and we know what we're dealing with, and we've got effective vaccines in the pipeline, and we've developed a lot of immunity in the population, we are going to be able to resume our lives pretty much as before. We ought to be more prepared for the next time this happens. There's a lot of lessons to learn. And there's an enormous, enormous challenge right now in protecting the most vulnerable people and keeping human suffering and loss of life to a minimum. But in terms of the economy, my focus at the federal level is having a massive stimulus package that will bridge this gap until the economy can recover. But I don't expect that will be years and years. I think it could be a matter of months to a year if we if we make the right decisions now. And of course we have to focus on families who need it most thoughtfully to learn some of the mistakes of the past to make sure that that this this economic help isn't lining people's pockets. You don't need help.

To that end: I mean, a lot of your colleagues are saying let's be very careful here about the industries that are bailed out as part of this. Specifically the airline industry, other industries that the president says he's speaking with. Are there any people on your list who you think, you know, should be left off of this particular stimulus?

Yeah, I don't have a lot of patience for companies that are not U.S. companies that don't pay U.S. taxes beyond helping their employees that there are industries that will be affected by this that have chosen to benefit by domiciling overseas or by hiring foreign workers. Our focus needs to be on American workers and on American companies that have been playing by the rules. And even when we do, we need to make sure that the help goes to working people, not to executives, not to stock buybacks not to bonuses, not to the kind of game playing we saw in certain industries, where despite having been bailed out, they subsequently used the protection of bankruptcy to undermine people pensions, or to take away their equity interest, their stock options. We have learned some lessons from the past and a bunch of us are going to be laser focused on making sure that that no one's gonna be taking advantage of an economic package with people's tax dollars that is meant to bridge this gap. Bear in mind, by the way that we can, we can structure this relief in ways that the taxpayers will make money off of in the end. There are good examples of that too. I mean, nobody really knows this. But if you look at some of the bailouts from 10 years ago, you can take stock equity in private companies that you know, are going to recover, you can do so at very low prices. And when those companies recover, you can you can sell that equity position at a profit and make money for the taxpayer. So if we do this, right, we can save these industries, support the workers, most importantly, get through the crisis, and make money for the taxpayers on the back end. That's the smart way to do it.

Let me ask you about the state response and your role in that. Governor Cuomo has been sort of desperately looking for more hospital beds, more facilities where beds can be established, more ventilator equipment, things along those lines. Does New York's 18th district have anything to offer toward that end?

Well, I spoke to the governor yesterday about just this. We, we have been discussing and I want to first of all, I want to thank the governor. He's been extraordinary. I think anybody who's watching must realize that he has been truly exceptional in his response. He's been proactive and aggressive. And yes, I mean, we have local facilities and capacity and things like Stewart Airport and things like local facilities that could be used for search hospital capacity. We're outside the eye of the storm and therefore could be an area where people are relocated if they need a hospitalization when there isn't enough capacity elsewhere. We are here to help. We are we are obviously worried about, you know, our neighbors locally, we are, we're doing pretty well in terms of the number of confirmed cases. We're just seeing the testing really ramp up now and we're seeing the cases pick up along with that. But so far we have avoided the type of crisis they've seen in Westchester and, and south of us. And so we stand ready to help but my focus has been listening to the community health centers and hospitals who are telling me that they do not have enough of the masks and protective gear and ventilators. We're going to need if we really can't hit and that's why it is so important that people all do their part. We can all do our part. Stay at home. Don't go out if you don't need to, minimize your contact with other people. If a member of your family is sick, the whole family's got to stay home so we don't go spread it. That's why having some groceries in the house to last a week or two is important. You know people could be checking in on their neighbors, people who are vulnerable or shut in, you can do that by phone or email remotely is the best way to do it. But you know, we all got to look out for one another and we have a role to play because if each of us does the right things in terms of hand washing and social distancing, we will we will stop this virus in its tracks, and that will add an enormous benefit for all of us.

What are you hearing from constituents? I mean, people's everyday lives have been really upended here. You've got, you know, college students coming back to live at home for the foreseeable future, classes are going online. People who have been sent home from their jobs now. What's day to day life like for the average constituent in your district?

Well look at obviously we're all in this together and we're learning as we go. You know, we're, you know, my family is home. My family includes kids and college kids out of college and one in college. Everybody's had their life upended. We are cooking and sharing time as a family. We try to get out of the house and exercise to keep our sanity. We're getting a lot of projects done around the house, I can tell you that. And from what I can tell my neighbors and constituents are pretty much doing the same thing. We're the lucky ones, right? We're the ones who are not directly affected yet by this virus, nobody in my household is ill, thank god. And for those that are we want to make sure they get the support they need. And at is why the best thing the rest of us can do is stop spreading this virus so that there's enough capacity in the healthcare system to support those who have it. But I'll tell you, I do think people should realize that while this change is dramatic and sudden and sweeping, it will not go on forever. And while we're looking at certainly a period of many weeks, we are not looking at months and months and months. I do think that if we if we do the right thing right now, we can we can save ourselves from the worst of this epidemic, particularly in the Hudson Valley.

Last thing, Congressman. I have members of Congress in my headphones just about every day from around the Northeast, and they're all saying we got a really late start here in terms of this response. You had the White House sort of dismissing it as a hoax at the beginning. Are you now confident in the federal government's response and the task force that's being led by Vice President Mike Pence, to deal with this going forward?

Well, look, there were unforgivable delays at the beginning, particularly in the diagnostics, the testing and the other steps you need to take to head off the worst spread of the virus, but my focus right now is making sure the people I represent, get everything they need in time to do some good. The federal response is improving. I think at some of the agencies that are good people are working the problem as best they know how people like Tony Fauci, I think, have enormous credibility. And I'm glad to see him front and center. What I want to do is work in a bipartisan fashion to get people the economic help they need, alongside with supporting our first responders or healthcare workers in our hospitals and community health centers, so that we can treat the people who are sick. I am not here to carry anybody's water. I want to see results from these federal agencies. There are the Congress has put $8 billion in the pipeline to fight the virus and to provide help to our health care workers. The administration has to get that money out the door that isn't that is an execution challenge. That is that is what an effective manager and an executive does. And that's what they've got to do because we've only got one White House, we've only got one president, and he needs to be successful.

That's Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney of New York's 18th district. He's a Democrat. Congressman, thank you so much for taking some timed during this wild period, and we'll check in with you soon.

Thank you, everybody stay safe.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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