Written by Cara Chapman in the Press-Republican on April 16, 2020
PLATTSBURGH — When it comes to reopening the economy, North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik supports a regionalized approach.
In a conference call with media Wednesday, she said she hopes Gov. Andrew Cuomo will include upstate chambers of commerce, county officials and public health officials in making that call.
The congresswoman (R-Schuylerville) is additionally advocating for Cuomo to include Vermont in the regional outlook along with New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
“Vermont is very closely aligned with our economy. There are people who go from Vermont to New York on a daily basis, including essential workers.”
And the Canadian economy is also intertwined with the North Country’s, Stefanik said.
“I believe that’s an important role the federal government can play in partnership with the state, making sure that we are addressing northern border issues that come up.”
Stefanik said she has spoken with President Donald Trump’s administration and cabinet-level officials about the need for increased testing, especially rapid testing, as well as antibody testing.
She added that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration needs to fast-track approval of newly-developed tests and that rural parts of New York state should be prioritized alongside population centers.
“The issue in New York state has been there have been needs and requests from county electeds, state electeds, myself for increased testing capabilities and that just has not been the priority given that the epicenter has been downstate.”
At the federal level, it is important for the FDA, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to continuing leading and updating guidance, Stefanik said.
Before a COVID-19 vaccine is available, and people can get to “the new normal,” there will be a balancing act between the economy and public health, the congresswoman continued.
“I think until then, my priority is making sure New York State and specifically my district has access to the testing capability.”
RELIEF FOR FARMERS
Stefanik supports multiple measures to provide economic relief to dairy farmers, including direct payments, reimbursement for dumped milk and modifications to federal programs like WIC, SNAP and school lunches to allow for purchase of whole milk.
She has heard from farmers who have not had to dump milk at all and others who have had to dispose of 70 percent of their supply.
“What is consistent is that this is an unprecedented crisis.”
She praised businesses like Stewart’s Shops for stepping up and purchasing excess milk, and talked about working with nonprofits and food pantries to ensure the milk is getting to those who need it.
Stefanik also wants increased funding for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which she said would run out of funding by the end of this week if Congress does not infuse it with more.
For future legislative relief packages, she will advocate for support for rural hospitals and community health centers.
She and other members of New York’s Congressional Delegation are pushing HHS to update how those dollars are calculated, since the agency currently uses 2019 data points which do not reflect the state’s current reality.
Stefanik anticipates that additional federal funds for higher education institutions, on top of the $26 million awarded to North Country schools she announced Wednesday, would be part of future relief.
She is also working on legislation that would utilize Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds as a tool in reopening the economy, and she plans to support funding allocated based upon counties’ needs rather than those of larger cities.
Stefanik said she has heard from small businesses who are concerned about whether employees earning more on unemployment insurance will want to return to work.
“My priority right now are the working families in this district (who), through no fault of their own, are out of jobs.
When I talk to constituents who are out of work and are essentially forced to go on unemployment, they’re looking forward to getting back to work and having their jobs back.”
Stefanik said this week has seen significant improvements in the disbursement of SBA funds, with small businesses receiving Economic Injury Disaster Loan and PPP funding.
Stefanik said all of her campaign staff have shifted to making wellness and check-in calls to seniors to see what resources they can connect them with.
Additionally, they have also run digital ads using campaign funds to raise awareness about following CDC guidance to protect seniors.
On counties who have chosen to or are refraining from giving out positive case information by municipality, Stefanik said more transparency is better so long as they abide by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
“I think rather than rumors, I think having the most transparent information possible from the department of public health is very important.”
Regarding financial challenges faced by the U.S. Postal Service, Stefanik said there should be Congressional action to make sure it continues and that workers get the support they need.
She added that her district has a high number of seniors who rely on such door-to-door service for prescription drugs.
Stefanik again made the plug for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to “transition to the 21st century” and allow Congress to use technology to legislate remotely.
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