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Cuomo lashes out at $2 trillion federal coronavirus legislation

WASHINGTON – The largest economic rescue package in American history would likely put money in your bank account – but to hear New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo tell it, Congress won't come close to giving the state the cash it needs to cope with the coronavirus crisis.

Cuomo harshly criticized the $2 trillion economic rescue plan that the Senate passed late Wednesday, calling it "terrible for the State of New York." But in the House -- which still must pass the measure -- there appeared little interest in opening it up to give New York more money.

The plan would send $1,200 checks to most individual taxpayers and $2,400 to most couples, perhaps as soon as early April. The payments, aimed at covering additional expenses and stimulating an economy reeling from shutdowns, would start to phase out for individuals making more than $75,000 and couples making more than $150,000.

The most controversial provision of the bill would bolster unemployment benefits so that many Americans who lose their jobs would maintain their salaries for four months. The measure also includes money for larger municipalities, unprecedented aid for hospitals and a small-business rescue plan, as well as a $500 billion corporate bailout fund.

And while the measure would bring $3.8 billion in direct aid to New York, Cuomo said that pales in comparison to the state's needs. The state, which was home to more than half of the nation's 59,502 cases of Covid-19 as of Wednesday afternoon, expects to lose upward of $15 billion in revenue thanks to the crisis.

"How do you plug a $15 billion hole with $3.8 billion? You don't," Cuomo said.

Cuomo's comments pitted him against Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who pushed for aid to the states to be included in the bill.

Schumer stressed that the bill is a comprehensive package, and that the aid that would go directly to the state is just one part of it.

"It's a large amount of money," Schumer said. "In the allocated dollars, it's $40 billion, but there are tens of billions more. We will probably get over $100 billion once the money for the hospitals and small businesses and other types of things are there."

But even as Schumer and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, also a New York Democrat, lauded the bill on a conference call with reporters, the Cuomo administration attacked it again, this time in a statement from Dani Lever, Cuomo's communications director.

"As a percent of our total state budget – 1.9% – it is the second lowest amount in the nation," Lever said. "Literally 48 states get a higher percentage in funding than New York State."

But Gillibrand stressed that the bill was not meant to fill the state's budget gap.

"This is not intended to meet all the state's needs today," Gillibrand said of the aid package. "It's meant to meet the state's needs that are most urgent. And we will continue to have more and more funding bills over the next months to come."

Gillibrand also noted that the original version of the bill, introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, included no money for the states.

"Senator Schumer did an extraordinary job over the last few days, because what we were delivered by Mitch McConnell would have been horrible for New York," she said.

Cuomo said he had spoken with the state's congressional delegation and asked the House members to boost funding for New York when the House considers the legislation later this week.

But he appeared to gain little traction with either Democrats or Republicans.

Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, said he had spoken with local hospital leaders, who felt that the bill's $150 billion "Marshall Plan" for hospitals would help stabilize their finances, which are expected to be rocked by the influx of Covid-19 patients.

"I suspect there will be good support" for the measure in the Democrat-controlled House, simply because lawmakers of both parties know the economy needs a big injection of cash to remain afloat amid the coronavirus shutdowns, Higgins said.

"It's fundamentally our responsibility to get this money out as quickly as possible, and I think the bill accomplishes that objective," Higgins said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican, noted that the bill removes restrictions included in an earlier bill that appeared to hamstring New York from changing its Medicaid program amid its budget crisis. That means New York will have easier access to $6.7 billion in Medicaid funding included in that earlier coronavirus legislation.

Reed also touted a provision of the bill that he and other members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus pushed for: one that provides aid to large municipalities.

That provision would provide $159 million in aid to Erie County, which prompted Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz to say: "If that's what we're eligible for in the long run, it really is going to help us get through this as a municipality."

But Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown wasn't nearly as impressed by the federal plan.

"This relief bill creates an additional burden on the City of Buffalo because municipalities with a population of less than 500,000 are not eligible for direct aid,” he noted.

Reed said that the bill also includes a $375 billion loan and grant program for small businesses. He said many businesses in his district need that kind of help, which is one more reason he supports the bill.

"I'm very comfortable in supporting this, and it's important we act and get it done, and I think most members are of that position," Reed said.

In addition, the bill includes:

• Expanded food stamp benefits

• An increase in Community Development Block Grant funds, which go direct to municipalities

• Funding for child care

• Aid to airports

• Additional funding for the National Guard

"These critical dollars will inject proverbial medicine into our state, city and localities throughout upstate New York, to deliver much-needed resources, right now, that can help combat the coronavirus," Schumer said. "Like all compromise legislation, this bill is far from perfect — but it now does much more for this state, its people and its future than what we began with.

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