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State to get COVID-19 aid package with up to $100B

State to get COVID-19 aid package with up to $100B

Governor says state budget shortfall not met; senators say it isn't meant to
State to get COVID-19 aid package with up to $100B
State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, left, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are shown Wednesday during Cuomo’s daily briefing.
Photographer: Governor's Office

ALBANY — New York will gain tens of billions of dollars from the COVID-19 relief package negotiated in Congress, the state’s senators said.

As details and last minute snags were still being negotiated Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand told reporters in a conference call that the bill contains $40 billion in aid specifically allocated to New York and its provisions will result in up to $60 billion more coming to the state.

This includes enhanced benefits for unemployed people, a direct $1,200 payment to any taxpayer earning less than $75,000 a year, low- or no-interest loans to struggling small businesses and nonprofits (that will convert to grants if they retain employees), billions for hospitals, aid to mass transit systems including CDTA, education aid, billions in direct payments to New York City and the state’s largest counties, per-capita aid to smaller counties, and help for farmers who can’t bring in their foreign workers on visa.

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The measure fights both the medical and economic impact of COVID-19, Schumer said.

“Our hospitals will get large amounts of money to buy the equipment they need,” he said.

Gillibrand said it was hard-fought compromise bill. Schumer, minority leader of the U.S. Senate, fought to get direct aid to states inserted into the measure, she said, and in turn had to give up one of her priorities, a national paid leave provision.

The aid to states is a sore spot for Gov. Cuomo.

Earlier Wednesday, during the daily briefing that has become an almost national stage during the COVID-19 crisis, Cuomo noted that New York is facing a budget gap of up to $15 billion and would get $3.1 billion in direct payments under the Senate compromise bill.

“If we don’t get more funding from the feds, I don’t know how we write the budget,” Cuomo said.

As Schumer and Gillibrand’s conference call was underway, Cuomo’s office fired off an email blast to the media pointing out the gross inequity of the Senate bill’s treatment of New York, which has about 10 times more cases than the next highest state, New Jersey.

It noted the Senate plans to give New York — where there are 31,000 confirmed cases — a sum equal to 1.9 percent of its total state budget and give Wyoming — where there are 40 confirmed cases — aid equal to 17.1 percent of that state’s budget.

“No one should think this is going to complete the New York state budget for the year,” Gillibrand said.

The state was already facing a significant budget deficit as leaders began crafting the budget three months ago, and is now looking at a significant increase in expenses and a major decrease in revenue over on top of that baseline.

Schumer said that when all the provisions of the compromise measure are tallied, New York state — not the state’s treasury but its people, businesses, municipalities and institutions — will come out far ahead of other states.

The stock markets surged Tuesday on hopes of the aid bill being passed and were up significantly again through midday Wednesday, but gave back much of their gains later as uncertainty over the COVID-19 relief bill began to grow.

CUOMO’S CONSTERNATION

Along with criticizing the aid package, Cuomo used Wednesday’s briefing to return to some topics which have vexed and stymied state officials as they try to slow the spread of the disease and prepare for its wider spread: Social distancing and ventilators for hospital intensive care units.

Particularly in densely packed New York City, he said, people aren’t staying far enough apart to prevent transmission of the disease. He signed off on that city’s plan to close certain streets to get people off the sidewalks, have people not play contact sports and instruct kids to keep apart on playgrounds.

If that doesn’t work, Cuomo said, he’ll ban basketball and shut down playgrounds.

Ventilators are the expensive mechanical devices that keep people breathing and alive when they are critically ill with a respiratory disease such as COVID-19. Like N95 respirator masks, ventilators have taken on a life of their own as a sort of holy grail of the emergency response community during this crisis, with widely varying numbers of what’s available, what’s needed and how far apart the two figures are.

New York entered the crisis with about 4,000 ventilators in the state’s hospitals, Cuomo said, and he dispatched teams to buy all that were available — about 7,000 more. So it has 11,000 now. And the federal government has committed to sending 4,000 more.

But Cuomo wants 30,000 ventilators on hand. As recently as Tuesday, he demanded the government free up a stockpile he quantified at 20,000 units so New York could be ready for a surge in patients.

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Vice President Pence has said there’s a stockpile of “more than 10,000.” President Trump has said the stockpile has “massive numbers” of ventilators. The Los Angeles Times last week, writing about the Strategic National Stockpile, didn’t offer even a ballpark number. The Center For Public Integrity on Tuesday placed the stockpile at exactly 16,600.

In his briefing Wednesday, Cuomo said the federal government didn’t have a stockpile.

The issue hasn’t come to a head yet in New York, or anywhere in America, where the virus was reported later than other countries. Of the 30,811 confirmed cases in New York state through Wednesday morning, 3,895 have had to be hospitalized but only 888 of them in intensive care units, potentially with ventilators. Many of the hospitalized patients have gone home, and none of the state’s emergency reserve of ventilators has had to be used.

In fact, Cuomo said, the hospitalization curve is slowing down.

“This is a very good sign and a positive sign,” he said, though adding that hospitalizations are expected to peak in about 21 days.

In the Capital Region, Albany County had 152 confirmed cases as of Wednesday afternoon, and had been surpassed by Dutchess County (153 cases) as highest upstate. Fulton County had one confirmed case, Montgomery County four, Rensselaer County 31, Saratoga County 64, Schenectady County 55 and Schoharie County two.

National figures are lagged by a day. As of Tuesday afternoon, the United States had 54,453 confirmed cases and 737 deaths.

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