Our communities are suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic and we desperately need federal government relief that isn’t coming. Contrary to what Congressman John Katko would have us believe, this is not a “both sides issue.” It is John Katko and his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate who are standing in the way.
County and municipal governments are facing enormous budget shortfalls because of the pandemic. Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon has warned that county government will need to make deep cuts and the city of Syracuse, facing a $25 million budget hole, is exploring all options to make up the deficit. This is why the Democrats in the House of Representatives included more than a trillion dollars in state and local government funding in the HEROES Act, which they passed in May. John Katko voted against it.
The HEROES Act has a lot of things we need here in central and western New York. It would extend the federal $600 unemployment benefits through January 2021 and provide another round of $1,200 direct relief payments to individuals. It would deliver almost $1 billion dollars in pandemic relief funding for county and local governments in New York’s 24th district, provide hazard pay for frontline workers, and dispense homeowners’ and renters’ assistance to keep people from losing their homes. The HEROES Act also includes student loan debt forgiveness; funding for coronavirus testing, tracing and treatment; assistance to the U.S. Postal Service; and funding for election security.
Over the next two years, the HEROES Act would provide $360 million for the city of Syracuse and $9 million for the city of Oswego. At the county level, Onondaga is set to receive $260 million, Oswego $66 million, Cayuga $43 million, and Wayne $50 million.
John Katko voted against it all. And then his Republican colleagues in the Senate refused to even consider the bill. So Americans have gone another three months without the relief we need, and our state and local governments are in dire straits. When the Republicans finally decided to discuss it, they proposed a plan that helps corporations and leaves people stranded. The Republican proposal cuts weekly unemployment benefits by $400 and does not include state and local government aid or hazard pay for front line workers. It does, however, include a liability shield for employers against pandemic-related lawsuits, essentially giving them immunity if they mistreat their employees or knowingly put them at risk.
Democrats came to the table to negotiate, offering a compromise in which they would cut $1 trillion from their proposal if Republicans added $1 trillion to theirs. Republicans refused to budge.
To recap: House Democrats passed the relief we need. John Katko voted no. Republicans refused to act for months, then offered a package that neglects our most pressing needs. Democrats offered a fair compromise in good faith. Republicans walked away. Now our lawmakers are in recess and we are still suffering. This is not a “both sides” issue. Democrats are fighting for the people. Republicans aren’t.
So don’t listen to John Katko’s empty words; look at his actions. By blaming “both sides,” he is trying to shield himself from responsibility. And he is responsible. When a billion dollars in aid for our local governments in the 24th district was on the line, John Katko voted no. When extended unemployment benefits for those of us out of work were on the line, John Katko voted no. When hazard pay for frontline workers was on the line, John Katko voted no. Central and western New Yorkers deserve a representative who will vote with our best interests at heart. In this time of crisis, John Katko continues to let us down. It’s time for him to go.
Dana Balter is the Democratic Party nominee in the 24th Congressional District. She lives in Syracuse.