Below are the Top 5 items from January 2021
1. COVID RATES BEGIN TO STABILIZE, VACCINE ROLLOUT FRUSTRATES MANY:
In NY, cases of COVID-19 are beginning to stabilize after the holidays. The statewide positivity rate is now at 5.5%, down from 6.2% a week ago; in the Southern Tier, we’ve dropped from 3.5% to 2.6% in just seven days. These are promising signs, but overall our active cases and hospitalizations locally remain higher than at any other point during the pandemic.
The vaccine has provided hope that we see light at the end of the tunnel. However, the poor rollout has universally resulted in confusion and frustration. The limited supply from the federal government, paired with the number of people currently eligible, has created a “vaccine hunger games” of sorts, as individuals vie for the few appointments that are available. More than seven million New Yorkers meet eligibility criteria, yet we’re only getting somewhere between 250,000 – 300,000 doses each week. Click here for the NYS vaccine eligibility and sign up portal or you can try Broome County’s vaccine registration page.
Meanwhile, many eagerly wait to become eligible so they can start the process of signing up. I’ve intervened on behalf of immunocompromised individuals, those with developmental disabilities who participate in community-based settings, and all agricultural and food workers. Hopefully, they will be prioritized soon.
2. GOVERNOR DELIVERS STATE OF THE STATE & BUDGET ADDRESSES:
The Governor’s annual State of the State and Budget Addresses were delivered virtually this year. While COVID recovery was central to his presentations, a renewed focus on expanding broadband access and affordability was welcome news. Increased investment for the successful Nourish NY program, which connects farmers with food banks throughout the state, is also very positive. Infrastructure and clean energy are always priorities for me, so I was glad to hear them in the Governor’s remarks as well. Regardless of his large proposals, the real needs of area residents and businesses must be prioritized over all else. For a complete list of the Governor’s proposals, click here.
3. LEGISLATIVE SESSION BEGINS:
While we began having virtual sessions last spring, this is the first time in history that a new Legislature began with members Zooming in from homes or offices. Despite the different look of this year’s session, we are as busy – if not busier – as ever. Over the next two months, balancing the budget will be our biggest challenge. We are anxiously waiting to see how much aid the federal government will deliver to states. The Governor laid out two scenarios, one which relies on about $6 billion from Washington and another that factors in $15 billion. While we are hopeful for the higher amount, we certainly can’t count on it and must balance the budget in any event.
In addition to resources for COVID recovery, I will be advocating for school funding, help for small businesses (including landlords), non-profits, infrastructure, farms, and the environment. We also have to protect the many important safety net programs that help the most vulnerable in our communities.
4. SUPPORTING BUSINESSES AND ECONOMIC RECOVERY:
While our economy nearly came to a grinding halt almost overnight when the pandemic began, its recovery will take months, and possibly years. The Speaker recently named me to the Assembly’s Economic Recovery Working group. I will be serving with eight other Committee Chairs to find ways we can address the ongoing challenges faced by our business community. The Assembly also recently passed a package of bills I cosponsored that offer protections to small businesses. Eviction and foreclosure protections, along with lower rates for unemployment insurance should help address some of their immediate concerns.
Our bars and restaurants have also been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, and work is ongoing to provide them with needed relief. Empire State Development established a $3 million recovery fund, awarding grants to restaurants throughout New York. Additionally, I am cosponsoring legislation that would cap fees from third-party delivery services like Grubhub and DoorDash. With many restaurants already stretched thin, keeping these costs down will go a long way. I’m also working directly with our local Chamber of Commerce to find other ways we can support these businesses in Broome.
5. SCHOOL SPORTS SET TO RESUME, BUT LET’S NOT FORGET MUSIC:
The return of in-person learning has been an important step in providing the best education for our students. Virtual classrooms were a necessary option during the most uncertain times of the pandemic; however, they are not as effective and have had negative impacts on students’ social and emotional development. With classrooms reopening, it was past time that another important component of our schools was allowed to resume: interscholastic athletics. On January 22nd, the Governor announced that school sports could resume starting February 1st with the approval of local health departments. Broome County is moving forward with sports locally, issuing its guidance on January 28th. School districts will be required to submit their plans to keep students safe to the County. Masks will also be required and spectators will not be allowed at this time. I am hopeful that as COVID rates continue to stabilize and decline, sports and recreational activities will be able to expand.
I would also like to acknowledge the advocacy of Richard Ives of Owego whose eloquent guest viewpoint appeared in Sunday’s Press. In it he discusses the often under-appreciated extracurricular activities like band, chorus, and school plays. “To bring back sports without bringing back the activities for all students is just wrong. They all deserve their chance to participate, show off and shine.” As a former participant in school band and plays, I value his concern for what these students are also going through during the pandemic.