Stefanik: North Country can reopen sooner than downstate

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, was appointed by President Donald Trump on Thursday to serve on the bipartisan Task Force to Reopen the Economy.

The task force includes 32 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives and 65 of the 100 senators. From New York, Reps. John Katko, R-Camillus, Tom Suozzi, D-Glen Cove, and Lee Zeldin, R-Shirley, join Stefanik on the task force. Neither of New York’s senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, is on it.

With two upstate members and two downstate on the task force, Stefanik said it “strikes the right balance.”

In a press call on Friday she was asked how to avoid reopening things too early and causing a second swell in COVID-19 cases. She said the reopening of the economy, and of society, needs to be done regionally, to balance public health and economic needs. She said different parts of country, even of the state, have very different circumstances.

“We need to look closely at the data to make that determination,” Stefanik said.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (Official congressional photo)

She said the North Country has not seen the same high numbers of positive cases as in downstate. That may have to do with the limited number of testing, though. Still, she said she believes her district is “further along” in terms of reopening than downstate.

“I do think that our businesses … they are able to take precautionary measures to prioritize public health needs — for example, businesses that do not need to congregate in groups or businesses that you only have two people and they can be in separate rooms,” Stefanik said. “I think that that needs to be taken into consideration.”

Asked if New York will take longer to open than other states, as it has been the epicenter of the virus in the country, Stefanik said she does not have enough information to say yet. Other states have not hit their highest numbers of infection yet.

She said she does not want a not “one-size-fits-all” approach and said she thinks the three-phase guidelines released by the Trump administration Thursday are a good measurement of what each area should do.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, she said she hopes New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will include upstate chambers of commerce, county officials and public health officials in making the call to reopen the economy. She also is 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,” Stefanik said. “There are people who go from Vermont to New York on a daily basis, including essential workers.”

Stefanik said she has spoken with cabinet-level officials in the Trump administration about the need for increased testing, especially rapid testing as well as antibody testing.

Stefanik also wants increased funding for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which she said would run out of funding by the end of this week if Congress does not infuse it with more.

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 business owners 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,” Stefanik said. “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 is no stranger to Trump appointments, having been named to his reelection campaign committee in January, and she served on his impeachment defense team over the alleged ‘quid pro quo’ with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. She most recently stumped for Trump ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

“Prioritizing the needs of Upstate New York and rural communities as a whole will be critical to protecting public health and restarting the American economy, getting people back to work and easing the burden on so many families across my district and the entire country,” Stefanik wrote about her appointment in a press release. “I’m looking forward to working with my bipartisan colleagues and the Trump administration as we beat COVID-19, protect the public’s health, and rebuild our economy.”

She said her long-term goal is to improve rural broadband internet access, which is presenting problems for constituents working or going to school from home during the pandemic.


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