By GREGORY ZELLER //
It was a busy Mother’s Day for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who on Sunday reversed a key (some say costly) pandemic position, issued a dire warning about children’s health and lambasted federal recovery policies.
The governor also made a bold proposal to Washington regulators poised to issue new recovery legislation this week: the “Americans First Law,” which prevents companies that don’t return to pre-pandemic employment levels from receiving post-pandemic stimulus packages.
The idea, according to Cuomo, is it stave off a coming employment crisis, wherein corporations, including some applying for and receiving federal recovery aid, permanently adopt some of their leaner pandemic protocols – and hang furloughed workers out to dry.
But even with Washington expected to crank out new stimulus-focused legislation this week, the Americans First proposal was less pressing than Cuomo’s other Sunday bullet points. Right at the top: word that the New York State Department of Health would be officially notifying other state health departments about “emerging cases” of a “COVID-related illness in children.”
The state is currently investigating 85 reported cases of Pediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, involving predominantly school-aged children who are “experiencing symptoms similar to an atypical Kawasaki disease or a toxic shock-like syndrome possibly due to COVID-19,” according to the governor’s office.
The illness has already taken lives in New York (the count was up to five early Monday, including a Suffolk County teenager) and the NYS Department of Health is officially sounding the alarm.
“The State Department of Health is alerting all 49 states across the country about this evolving situation as New York continues to investigate the illness and get the facts quickly so we can help prevent any more children from getting sick,” Cuomo said Sunday.
The governor also announced an executive order mandating that all statewide nursing home staffers undergo twice-weekly COVID-19 testing – and preventing hospitals for releasing COVID-19-positive patients to nursing homes.
That’s an about-face for Albany: Initial pandemic policies required New York nursing homes to accept COVID-19-positive patients, a “congregant living” plan that bunched up vulnerable populations and freed up much-needed hospital beds.
In March, the strategy was being applauded in national corners. Now it’s being blamed for a spike in statewide nursing home deaths, and Cuomo – who has taken the political brunt of the life-and-death decision – has changed course.
The governor didn’t go so far as to admit a mistake, though he did note Sunday that “this virus uses nursing homes, they are ground zero.”
“So, we’re just not going to send a person who is positive to a nursing home after a hospital visit,” Cuomo said. “Period.”
He also lamented the federal government’s execution of the historic $2 trillion stimulus package the U.S. Congress approved in March, particularly the Trump Administration’s approach to calculating state-by-state aid packages – an important point, Cuomo noted, with Congress’ fourth coronavirus aid package, this focused primarily on state aid, expected to take shape this week.
In particular, Cuomo found fault in President Donald Trump’s suggestion that federal aid be divvied up along political lines.
In a May 4 interview in The New York Post, Trump criticized states with Democratic governors (including New York and California) while praising GOP-run states (“Florida is doing phenomenal, Texas is doing phenomenal, the Midwest is, you know, fantastic”) and adding, “I don’t think the Republicans want to be in a position where they bail out states that are, that have been mismanaged over a long period of time.”
Cuomo derided such political threats as especially dangerous at a time when a global pandemic is causing turmoil everywhere.
Albany, for instance, is suffering “massive losses” due to severe MTA ridership drop-off, a crushing decline in Port Authority of New York and New Jersey vehicular tolls and other pandemic-related shortfalls – reduced federal aid, the governor noted, would only compound those problems.
“If they force me to cut funding, I have to reduce the funding to schools, to local governments and to hospitals,” he said. “Why would you ever want to reduce funding to these essential agencies at this time?
“Why would you make me allocate pain among schools, hospitals and local governments?” he added. “It makes no sense at all.”
Cuomo also faulted the distribution of previous rounds of federal coronavirus stimulus funding, noting that monies already dispersed to states was “supposed … to compensate for what happened during the COVID virus,” but instead amounted to just so much politicking.
Case in point: New York has so far received an average of $23,000 in federal funding per confirmed COVID-19 case, according to the governor, while Kentucky has received $337,000.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s Center for Budget and Policy Priorities backs up Cuomo’s claims, showing significantly higher federal recovery funding for rural states like Alaska, Wyoming and Montana – all Trump states in the 2016 election, all with smaller populations and fewer reported cases – than epicenter-states like California and New York.
Cuomo put a fine point on it.
“They bailed out corporate America, that’s what they did,” the governor said. “This legislation, this week, going forward, let them fund working Americans, because that’s the need.”
To that end, Cuomo suggested the new round of federal legislation include the “Americans First Law” which states that a corporation cannot be eligible to receive government funding if it doesn’t rehire the same number of employees it had on the rolls before COVID-19 struck.
Without such a law, according to the governor, too many American corporations can be expected to take advantage of the situation – and the U.S. government will essentially be rewarding companies for slashing employment rolls, while supersizing its own unemployment-insurance obligations.
“There should be no subsidy for any corporation that lays off employees, period,” Cuomo noted. “You will see corporations using this pandemic to lay off workers – ‘We’re going to get lean during this period, we’re going to right-size during this period.’
“They’re not going to rehire the same number of employees – they’re going to boost their corporate profits by reducing the number of employees,” he added. “Here’s my suggestion to my colleagues in Washington … all the billions that they just gave out, if you don’t rehire the same number of employees you had pre-pandemic, you have to return those funds.
“We’re not going to subsidize you to lay off workers.”