WASHINGTON – A coronavirus relief bill with more than $6 billion in additional Medicaid funding to New York State, including $50 million for Erie and Niagara counties, became law Wednesday.
The measure, approved by the Senate by an unusual 90-8 bipartisan margin, was then quickly signed into law by President Trump.
The bill ensures free coronavirus testing, expands unemployment benefits and food stamps, and establishes mandatory sick leave for employers with between 50 and 500 employees.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, pushed for the big funding increase in Medicaid, fearing that his home state will be overrun with additional costs due to its large number of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
“New York is the national epicenter in the coronavirus fight and this bill will ensure New York and its counties have the tools, the dollars and the federal resources to go at the virus with full force," Schumer said.
Schumer ensured that counties and New York City would get a share of the additional funding for Medicaid, given that they share costs for the lower-income health program with the state.
"This legislation will provide desperately needed resources for local governments to combat COVID-19," the New York State Association of Counties said on Twitter.
The bill increases the federal government's cost share of the New York Medicaid program from 50% to 56.2%. Schumer pressed for that sort of federal funding increase after other cataclysmic events such as the 9/11 terror attacks and the 2008 financial crisis.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had lashed out at the House version of the coronavirus bill, saying it would tie New York's hands as it tries to adjust its Medicaid program to account for a large deficit that was projected even before the coronavirus crisis.
Cuomo blamed Schumer and Rep. Nita Lowey, the Westchester County Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, for the Medicaid provision.
Spokespeople for Cuomo did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Wednesday, but a Schumer spokesman said the bill had been modified slightly to satisfy the governor – while still making sure counties would get more funding.
The bill won widespread bipartisan support in part because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, urged his GOP colleagues to pass it.
“This is a time for urgent bipartisan action, and in this case, I do not believe we should let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers,” McConnell said.
“This passed in the Senate with bipartisan effort because we recognize the challenges that states, especially New York, are facing in the coronavirus battle,” he said.