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At virtual town hall, Katko, Gillibrand agree states, cities need more federal funding

WRVO Public Media File Photo
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) with Upstate University Hospital CEO Dr. Robert Corona.

Federal funding to help state and local governments with budget shortfalls due to the coronavirus, was the first topic discussed at a virtual town hall meeting with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and central New York Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) on Thursday. The latest federal spending package includes funding for small businesses, hospitals and COVID-19 testing. Democrats tried to add $150 billion to go to states and cities. But Gillibrand said it was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump.

“I’ve talked to our mayors all across New York, and a lot of them are now deciding whether they’re going to lay off police officers and firefighters, because they can’t balance their budgets,” Gillibrand said. “They have no revenue coming in because the economy shut down. Even Gov. Cuomo said he’s going to have to cut education. There are no other choices if there’s no revenues coming in.”

Gillibrand said she’ll advocate for the funding in the next aid bill. In response to McConnell saying states with budget shortfalls should consider bankruptcy, Gillibrand called it absurd and said no one should offer that as a solution. Katko agreed.

“I don’t think that’s the answer to anything,” Katko said. “I’m not sure we have money for every single thing. But we got to try to find a happy medium and try and get some help to the state and local governments in a proportional manner.” 

Katko said there is no question that federal funds need to get to the states. He said he knows Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse are getting crushed.

Another question people at the town hall had was when a coronavirus vaccine will be created. Gillibrand said health care companies and hospitals have already developed vaccines and treatments. But testing those could take up to 18 months.

“We do have solutions,” Gillibrand said. “We actually know what we’re doing. But it takes a long time to know how to use it. I’m optimistic.”

Gillibrand said in the meantime, the country needs more coronavirus testing of individuals. Katko, again, agreed and he said he’s glad that Congress included funding for testing in its latest spending package.

“Testing is absolutely critical for kids going back to school, for people going back to work,” Katko said. “I think that $25 billion is really going to help.”

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.