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Economic impact of COVID-19 dominates Cuomo’s 2021 ‘State of the State’

In the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, national division and economic uncertainty, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s annual State of the State address set a hopeful tone for the year ahead.

“This is a moment that is made for New Yorkers,” the governor said, aptly speaking from the War Room at the state capitol building. “This will be a moment to reimagine, reinvent and re-create,” he said, likening the path forward to a postwar reconstruction period.

Monday’s address was the first of four presentations the governor is expected to make this week as he unveils legislative priorities for 2021, largely dictated by the pandemic.

Among a list of seven top priorities, the governor cited defeating COVID-19 and vaccinating between 70% and 90% of New Yorkers as the most important, followed by managing the state’s $15 billion budget deficit, jumpstarting the economy, investing in green energy and addressing social justice. 

COVID-19, Mr. Cuomo said, coupled with other major events in 2020, marked a “low tide” in America and has impacted every aspect of society.

“We are hurt, we are frustrated, we are in mourning, we are anxious,” the governor said.

Here are some proposals the governor’s address highlighted.

COVID-19 AND PUBLIC HEALTH

Monday’s address featured a call for New Yorkers to remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19 so hospital systems don’t become overwhelmed.

“COVID fatigue is not an option,” the governor said. “If we tire before the enemy tires, we lose the war.”

He called for passing the Medical Supplies Act to ensure the state is better positioned for future public health crises and creating a Public Health Corps of 1,000 medical fellows to help coordinate vaccine implementation statewide over the next year.

Mr. Cuomo has also proposed expanding access to telemedicine and child care as a result of the pandemic.

A series of reforms to strengthen disciplinary action for medical misconduct and increase public transparency is also included in the governor’s plan, along with changes to the state’s medical license renewal requirements.

Legislation to give New York nurses priority  access to SUNY and CUNY nursing programs has also been proposed.

As the effort to vaccinate New Yorkers ramps up, Mr. Cuomo said doses must be provided to underserved Black, Latino, Asian and poor communities. 

“We will not allow politics or wealth to dictate the distribution of this life-saving vaccine,” he said.

THE ECONOMIC CRISIS

The prolonged economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus has forced businesses across New York to permanently close and for unemployment numbers to continue to rise.

The outlook is bleak, as the governor proclaimed the state is “suffering.”

An expanded rapid testing program, Mr. Cuomo said, could also help businesses resume their operations safely. 

“We simply cannot stay closed until the vaccine hits critical mass,” he said. “We will have nothing left to open.”

Lamenting federal policies, including one that eliminated deductibility of state and local taxes under President Donald Trump’s administration, Gov. Cuomo called on federal lawmakers to deliver aid to New York.

“With our new President, a new Senate, and the House members, I believe they will do justice,” he said, vowing that New York would “do its part” to raise revenue with new proposals for legalized recreational marijuana and mobile sports betting

He also called for construction and transportation development programs, more affordable housing and economic development to create jobs, as well as expanding access to broadband networks.

“COVID is the existing threat, but climate change is the existential threat,” he said, pushing for more renewable energy projects.

The governor did not talk specifically about whether cuts to spending and local aid or raising taxes will be used to close the shortfall, but his formal budget address is expected next week.

ELECTION REFORM

The governor wants to speed up the vote-counting process and expand access to early and absentee voting.

“We saw elections determined weeks after Election Day. This fuels distrust in our system,” he said Monday, proposing that county boards of elections be required to begin processing absentee ballots as they are received, count and report them on Election Day.

His package of election reform proposals would ease the parameters to obtain absentee ballots and extend the period to request a mail-in ballot from 30 to 45 days before an election.

It would also expand early voting hours from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends as well as three weekdays during the 10-day early voting period established in 2019.

Officials said that more than 2.5 million voters in New York cast early ballots in the 2020 general election.

RENT, UTILITY RELIEF

Legislation is proposed to prohibit utilities from disconnecting their services during a state of emergency. This measure would impact electric, gas, water, telecommunications, cable and internet providers, and utilities that fail to comply would be subject to penalties.

The governor announced that he will codify an executive order to impose a statewide moratorium on commercial evictions until May 1. Mr. Cuomo has already extended a moratorium on residential evictions until May 1 for tenants enduring COVID-related hardship.