BRINDISI FIGHTS FOR UPSTATE NEW YORKERS AND URGES CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS TO DELIVER SWIFT, BIPARTISAN RELIEF IN NEXT CORONAVIRUS RELIEF BILL

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April 10, 2020
Press Release

As Pandemic Continues to Spread Throughout NYS, Brindisi Calls on Democrats and Republicans to Prioritize Relief for Local Communities and Economies

 

Brindisi: I’ll Keep Fighting to Help Upstate New York Get Through This Crisis and Begin to Rebuild 

 

Congressman Anthony Brindisi today called on Congressional leaders to put partisan politics aside and pass a fourth coronavirus economic relief package. Brindisi urged members of both parties to come together to deliver immediate, meaningful, bipartisan relief to American workers, families, farmers, and small businesses.

 

“After weeks speaking with my constituents, it is clear that more needs to be done to help Upstate New Yorkers begin to recover from this unprecedented crisis,” said Brindisi. “While we work together to build on the legislation we passed in recent weeks, Congress must remember to prioritize the families, workers, farmers, and local businesses who make our economy work.”

 

Throughout negotiations for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Brindisi fought for and delivered results for Upstate New York.

 

Brindisi is calling for a fourth coronavirus relief package that:

  • Expands small business support programs to include small farms, and reopens the Dairy Margin Coverage program
  • Compensates farmers for excess milk that needs to be disposed because of COVID-19 related market challenges, and addresses food insecurity by creating incentives for farmers to donate surplus dairy products to food banks
  • Includes Brindisi’s bipartisan, bicameral Seeding Rural Resilience Act to improve mental health care for farming families, promote awareness of mental illness in rural areas, and help address the urban-rural suicide gap
  • Expands funding for rural hospitals, provides access to additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for rural health care facilities, and includes Brindisi’s bipartisan Access for Rural Communities (ARC) Act to help rural hospitals maintain staff and vital services
  • Builds on funding in the CARES Act for state and local governments to provide relief for small counties, towns and cities with populations of less than 500,000 residents. Provides more support to our NY-22 counties by increasing the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) for the Medicaid program.
  • Expands access to adequate PPE for all essential health care workers, including home health aides and pharmacists
  • Ensures health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight will have access to mental health care services as we address this pandemic and its aftermath
  • Includes new businesses, startups, 501 (c)(6) organizations like Chambers of Commerce in the Small Business Administration’s recently enacted Paycheck Protection Program.
  • Allows for increased funding for broadband access programs across rural communities, ensures Internet Service Providers like Charter/Spectrum cannot terminate service because of a household or business’s inability to pay
  • Expands eligibility for many college students to receive emergency relief payments under the CARES Act and includes additional emergency funding for higher education institutions
  • Provides support for military families affected by COVID-19-related financial instability, expands funding to cover PPE and hazard pay for first responders, and ensures corrections officers have access to the health and safety tools they need

 

Earlier this month, Brindisi called for increased resources to New York State as it became the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak. Brindisi has worked with his Republican colleagues, Reps. Katko and Stefanik, to advocate for bipartisan solutions and deliver relief for Upstate communities. Additionally, Brindisi introduced the Made in America Emergency Preparedness Act to ensure that the United States does not have to depend on countries like China for emergency medical equipment in the future.

 

“I’ll never stop fighting to get our region the help we need,” Brindisi added. “We’ve seen initial relief, but our farmers, workers, small businesses, and county and local governments need more to get us through this tough time. Washington needs to out the politics aside and get to work.”

 

Brindisi’s full letter to Congressional leaders is below:

 

Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy,

 

Thank you for your ongoing work to support the wellbeing of all Americans and our economy in the face of this unprecedented crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. After weeks speaking with my constituents, it has become clear to me that more needs to be done to help New Yorkers and all our communities begin to recover from this unprecedented pandemic. As you work to build on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, I respectfully request consideration of the below items:

 

Support for the American Farmer

 

This global crisis has been particularly challenging for American agriculture, which has faced the loss of restaurant and school markets, the widespread dumping of products, and labor disruptions. This widespread market chaos, outside of the farmer’s control, adds to the daily stress, anxiety, and uncertainty of farming life. There is no doubt that further action on the COVID-19 response needs to focus on the American farmer and rural communities.

 

Dairy in particular is facing a crisis never seen before. Recent Boston Blend price estimates are at $15.50 per hundredweight, a price reduction of $4.00 from earlier $19.50 projection, a reduction of 20% in farmer revenue. This is completely unsustainable for our dairy farmers. We are in danger of losing a critical part of our food supply when we need it most.

 

In light of this challenge for dairy farmers, I am requesting action to:

  • Provide a means of compensating farmers and cooperatives for milk that needs to be disposed on account of COVID-19 related market or logistics challenges. This compensation could be paired with an incentive to donate fluid milk products to food banks to avoid any incentive to dispose milk. We need to ensure USDA has the resources the carry this program out. 
  • Work with USDA to make substantial but targeted purchases of a range of dairy products that cannot be repurposed for retail sales. A swift and large purchase composed primarily of cheese and fluid milk will help to stabilize farmer prices and offset sales lost on account of the many cancellations resulting from the pandemic. With unemployment spiking, food banks – where dairy products are very popular – are facing unprecedented demands for donations, providing an essential opportunity to decrease food insecurity.
  • Eliminate all restrictions on WIC program and School Lunch program that limit dairy purchases.
  • Reopen the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program to extend dairy producer financial safety net support, including a limited production history update targeted to small and mid-size farmers who currently have less than 5 million pounds of production history in DMC.
  • Consider additional direct assistance to dairy farmers in a way that attempts to align supply and demand on a voluntary, temporary basis given the unique disparity that has arisen on account of the many closures.
  • Direct the USDA to update protein crediting standards in school feeding programs to better recognize the value of high-protein dairy products like Greek yogurt, helping dairy farmers move more product.

 

I am also disappointed that the Small Business Administration (SBA) has failed to allow small farms to access immediate COVID-19 relief through the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program under the recently passed CARES Act. I urge you to include statutory language to ensure that agricultural businesses and farmers are eligible to access the EIDL program, and the other small business provisions in the CARES Act. This change has the support of the House Small Business Committee and Agriculture Committee.

 

Finally, I respectfully ask that the text of the Seeding Rural Resilience Act (H.R. 4820/S. 2599) be included in the next stimulus bill. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation will improve mental health care for farming families by implementing suicide prevention training programs at the USDA, promoting awareness of mental illness in rural areas, and creating a national strategy of best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress. This legislation is widely supported by our nation’s farm and mental health groups, and dozens of Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

 

Support for our Nation’s Hospitals and Health Care Facilities

 

Rural hospitals are key anchors in local communities, usually the first or second largest employers in the area, and often the only provider of health care. Across the country however, they are currently experiencing a crisis. 90 rural hospitals have closed since 2010 and many more are vulnerable to closure. Maintaining access to health care for our rural communities is a life or death issue during the pandemic.

 

I believe we need to build on the CARES Act by providing an additional $100 billion for hospitals, community health centers, and health systems, providing desperately needed resources to the frontlines of this crisis, including production and distribution of national rapid testing and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). New York has faced by far the highest number of cases, and as a result needs to be allocated a proportionate amount of this funding. In addition, I am requesting safeguards to ensure that funding goes to rural facilities and direct, emergency aid is provided to addiction and mental health treatment organizations nationwide.

 

Finally, I am asking for the inclusion of H.R. 3672, the bipartisan Access for Rural Communities (ARC) Act. The ARC Act would provide a legislative fix to help Sole Community and Medicare Dependent hospitals in New York maintain core staff and services. This is a critical issue for my region and one that needs immediate attention.

 

Support for State and Local Government 

 

As you know, the CARES Act created the Temporary Fiscal Relief for States and Cities (TFRSC) funding provision. While our states are in need of funding to stabilize their budgets, I was disappointed that the agreement only allowed localities with greater than 500,000 residents to apply for these resources. We need to make sure this much-needed funding is reaching our nation’s small and mid-sized counties, cities and towns which make up my district and many others.

The current provision excludes our small and mid-sized cities and towns with populations under 500,000, which comprise over 99 percent of all cities across our country. These communities are on the front lines of saving lives and shoring up our local economies in New York and across the country during this crisis. Without additional support, they will suffer significant revenue loss at a time when the strain on their services is increasing. Moving forward, I request that we lift the cap and provide billions in additional resources to help state and local governments address lost revenue and supplement eligible personnel and administrative costs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Further, while I am glad to see the 6.2 percentage point increase to the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, I believe we need to further increase the FMAP and ensure that it applies to Medicaid recipients who joined the program under the expansion created by the Affordable Care Act. 

 

Finally, it is important that we eliminate the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) non-federal cost share. Increasing the federal support of FEMA’s Public Assistance program during this pandemic would provide much-needed relief and additional federal assistance for state, local, tribal and territorial governments on the front lines of the pandemic.

 

Support for Health Care Workers

 

Over the past few weeks, I have heard heartbreaking stories of frontline nurses, doctors, and other health care staff who have been saving lives and caring for patients under unbelievably difficult circumstances, but who have lacked the equipment and support they need to do their job. We simply need to do more to get PPE into the hands of these frontline workers.

 

I also believe that we should establish a dedicated mental health program under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to offer mental health resources and care to the health care workers who have worked tirelessly through the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving forward, many of these frontline workers will face post-traumatic stress from this epidemic, and we must be there to support them in their time of need.

 

Finally, I have heard locally that other types of health care workers like pharmacists, who maintain critical service and interact with customers daily, are not able to access the PPE, gloves, masks, and sanitation equipment they need.

 

Support for Small Businesses

 

I appreciate the work that we have delivered on a bipartisan basis, including critical aid for small businesses in the CARES Act. This legislation is critical to preserving the nation’s millions of small businesses which comprise more than 95 percent of the nation’s employing businesses. I ask that we continue to work together to ensure that the new programs created, especially the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), have the resources they need to continue serving small businesses.

 

We need to build on this work by doing more to help new businesses, or startups. Research has shown that new businesses account for a disproportionate share of innovation, economic growth, and job creation.  In 2019 alone, 2.3 million jobs were created across the nation by startups, 98 percent of which have fewer than 100 employees. 

 

Since many startups are financed through equity from larger institutions, or from government assistance, they may not qualify for the existing SBA loans. I ask that we do more to help startups, including directing SBA to issue the necessary waiver to the PPP “affiliation rule” that is needed to protect thousands of startups across the nation and the employees who depend on their survival.

 

Finally, I ask that you expand eligibility of the recently enacted PPP to 501(c)(6) organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, which provide extremely valuable resources and guidance to businesses in New York and across the country.

 

Support for Rural Broadband and Distance Learning

 

For many families in rural America, basic internet access remains out of reach. This sad reality is more apparent than ever during this pandemic, when many workers cannot telecommute, and students cannot participate in distance learning. Families without access to high-speed internet are being left out of economic activities and their children are falling behind in their classes. Congress must take strong action to expand internet access in rural areas, including:

  • Substantially increasing emergency funding for broadband access programs, including the Federal Communication Commission (FCC)’s E-Rate program, USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program, and USDA’s ReConnect program.
  • Codifying the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected pledge for the duration of the health emergency by requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay; waive any late fees; and keep open their W-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them. Congress should also go further and require that ISPs not raise prices on customers for the duration of the pandemic.
  • Creating an emergency program to help mitigate the costs of ISPs installing internet service at homes where it is currently not available. Such a program could be targeted at homes within or adjacent to census blocks where service is provided to some homes, according to data provided to the FCC by ISPs.
  • Establishing dedicated funding to ensure small broadband providers can keep families connected during the pandemic without terminating service or charging late fees. Such a fund would allow small ISPs to accommodate customers on the same level as large corporations.

 

Support for Higher Education and Students

 

The closure of colleges and universities and the movement to distance learning has been disruptive for higher education. Although these moves have been necessary to protect public health, they are leaving a lasting impact on students and their schools. To help mitigate these effects, I am requesting Congress:

  • Include additional emergency relief funding for institutions of higher education, including funding to help schools prepare for students returning in the fall semester. Schools must have the resources required to expand testing capabilities, health centers, and other means to protect students and the local communities.
  • Require the Department of Education to waive financial responsibility tests for private, non-profit colleges which have previously passed these tests. This temporary change must be made so that these schools are not punished due to financial disruptions caused by COVID-19.
  • Allocate a portion of higher education emergency relief funds to agricultural learning programs so these vital programs can maintain their assets, including livestock, during the disruption of classes.

 

Further, the CARES Act unfortunately left out a large population of Americans who need direct assistance, college students. Currently, adults who are over 17 years old but are categorized as a dependent are not eligible for a stimulus rebate, meaning that many college students will not receive it. Because these individuals are claimed as a dependent on their parents' return, they cannot file separately and claim a $1,200 rebate. I believe we must provide this population with adequate financial assistance and allow adults over the age of 18 who are claimed as dependents to file for the stimulus rebate if they meet the other income requirements in the CARES Act.

 

Support for Veterans, Military Families, and First Responders

 

The CARES Act provided nearly $20 billion in funding to protect Veterans and those who work at VA facilities. I believe that Congress must go even further in assisting our nation’s Veterans and ensuring that the care they need is still available during and after the pandemic. I am requesting Congress ensure that any future economic relief payments to Veterans who receive VA compensation and pensions can be made without additional tax filings or other paperwork.

 

We also need to work to increase funding for Aid and Attendance benefits to help cover the costs of safely administering at-home care during the pandemic. We must allocate emergency funding to the Veterans Health Administration so that routine care that is currently put on hold can be administered promptly and safely once the pandemic is under control. Finally, we must clarify that newly expanded paid leave programs apply to the VHA workforce, so those caring for our nation’s Veterans are not forced to take their own sick time, personal vacation days, or unpaid leave if they are unable to work due to a COVID-19 illness for themselves or their family.

 

On March 11, 2020, the Department of Defense (DoD) enacted a “Stop Movement Order” which prevents all DoD servicemembers, civilians and employees, and their families from traveling and potentially worsening the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).  While the Stop Movement order was necessary, this unprecedented action left thousands of military families in extreme financial distress. Their specific circumstances include but are not limited to: families who are renting a home at their current duty station and have contractually purchased or leased a rental unit at their next duty station, families who are currently renting with landlords who refuse to release deposits towards rental property at the new duty location, civilian spouses who terminated their employment prior to the Stop Movement order, and families who will be forced to separate due to their civilian spouses employment at the new duty station.  These circumstances have forced Servicemembers and their families into difficult financial situations where they are paying for two residences and must replace necessities that were already shipped, i.e.- household goods, rental furniture, and clothing. I believe we must provide the Services with the guidance and resources needed to ensure care and support to every military member and family adversely affected by this order.

 

Additionally, we must provide more support for first responders on the frontline of the Coronavirus outbreak. Many cities and states with developing outbreaks such as New York have reported a significant number of first responders contracting COVID-19 or in self-quarantine. As this outbreak develops, many more first responders will undoubtedly contract COVID-19 or be forced to self-quarantine just when they are needed most.  In order to adequately support police, fire, and EMS departments facing PPE and staffing shortages, we must provide additional funding to first responders so they can purchase and be reimbursed for PPE, retain existing employees, and cover overtime and backfill costs. This legislation should include hazard pay to frontline public safety officers, additional flexibility for overtime pay, and a guarantee that first responders forced to self-quarantine receive paid sick leave.

 

Finally, I believe we must support our nation’s corrections officers with PPE, hand sanitizer, and other supplies that will help slow the spread of COVID-19 within the Correctional System. Prisons present a unique challenge in terms of implementing social distancing practices. It is critical that we provide corrections officers at the Bureau of Prisons and state and local facilities with the supplies they need.

 

Thank you for your consideration of these priorities. I look forward to the work together to help our great nation recover.