The legislature returned to Albany last week for the first time since late March. Unfortunately, I would characterize the overall results as a missed opportunity. While action was taken on several COVID-19 related bills, the items that I hear about the most – restoring legislative oversight, support for nursing homes, and assistance for small businesses – were roundly ignored. And it didn’t have to be that way.
I joined with Senate Republicans to put forth three amendments to address these key items. All three of the amendments were voted down along party lines – Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
The amendments if enacted would have accomplished the following:
• Immediately end the governor’s one-man rule of New York state after nearly 90 days of control. The proposal would have put New York disaster emergency control policy in line with other states, which limit an executive’s powers to 30 days and would have required the governor to receive legislative approval for continuation of such powers. The amendment would have also mandated that the governor transmit weekly reports to the legislature during an emergency declaration and created communication between the governor and the parties affected by a suspension of laws during a state disaster emergency.
• Direct $100 million in unused Federal CARES Act funding to nursing homes and assisted living facilities to help purchase testing supplies and PPE.
• Help small businesses across the state that have been devastated by the COVID-19 shutdown by ensuring that these businesses will not see their unemployment insurance costs skyrocket in the days ahead as a result of layoffs caused through no fault of their own. Many of these crucial employers have been struggling to survive, and this will help them get through the challenging times that lie ahead.
These three measures would have provided direct help for nursing homes and small businesses while bringing back true legislative checks and balances that are needed in Albany.
We also missed the opportunity to help those who continue to struggle to access unemployment benefits. After three months, constituents are still contacting me desperate for help in claiming unemployment benefits they are rightfully owed. There have been some slight improvements to the system and additional employees added to help clear the backlog, but it is not enough. The governor and the Department of Labor commissioner must answer to the systematic failure that has left thousands of individuals in distress.
I have called for a multi-step plan to assist those filing for unemployment. I also believe the time is now for a state legislative joint committee to review and investigate the Department of Labor’s failed handling of unemployment benefits throughout the pandemic.
As cases of COVID-19 continue to decline and the state takes steps to reopen, it is also important that timely information is available to assist local municipal officials, business owners, and employees. The unacceptable communication breakdown that occurred last week cannot be repeated. Everyone throughout our region was left guessing as to when Phase Two would begin, the businesses included, and the guidelines to follow. There is still time between now and Phase Three (and Phase Four) and the governor’s office must prepare the guidelines with plenty of advance time.
Along those same lines, I would encourage everyone to look at the guidelines that are now available and stay informed regarding reopening procedures. The website, forward.ny.gov, has detailed information for Phase One and Phase Two businesses along with a listing of essential businesses and statewide guidelines. This website will also be the place to look for Phase Three and Phase Four guidance when available.
Moving forward, I am continuing to call for additional legislative days. There are items that need to be addressed and the senate and assembly must be part of the process as we work to meet real needs and help our state recover.