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Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Katko Answer COVID-19 Questions During Virtual Town Hall


Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressmember John Katko took part in a bi-partisan online town hall Thursday where they took constituent questions about COVID-19.  It was organized by the Institute for Democratic Engagement and Accountability at The Ohio State University.  

One question was about federal relief for state and local governments hit hard by the lack of revenue.  Katko says Syracuse and Onondaga County will be crushed without federal help.

"When you shut down a mall, for example, in Syracuse that generates $50 million a year in sales tax revenue alone, which is critical to the local government economy, you're going to have problems.  Obviously, no one's spending like they were.  Things are shut down.  We can't afford to put EMTs, first liners, and the health care sector on the sidelines because of budgetary issues," he said.

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

"In the last COVID 3.5 bill, I authored a provision that would have helped Syracuse and your region," Gillibrand said, and Katko acknowledged. 

"It would have been billions of dollars for rural communities and smaller cities, which [Mitch] McConnell refused to include in the bill.  It would have helped Syracuse  all of Upstate New York,  and every rural part of the country."

Both Gillibrand and Katko rebuked Senate Leader McConnell for suggesting that states should pursue bankruptcy instead of looking for a federal bailout.  Both lawmakers said they would work toward state and local government relief in the next funding bill.

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Rep. John Katko.

There were many questions about unemployment benefits.  Katko says the extra $600 is a windfall for those who make lower wages, and he says that’s presenting an issue for some businesses.

"Seasonal employers are having a hard time to come back to work because they're making more money on unemployment. I understand that.  One way to fix that is to figure out a way to incentivize them to come back to work where they don't lose that benefit."

But Gillibrand says that points to a larger issue. 

"The one time payment for the first month added to the unemployment insurance gets closer to a living wage.  What we know is we need structural reform. We cannot go back to a country where people are still working full-time and living below the poverty line."

She renewed her call for a $15 federal hourly minimum wage, and free access to training for the underemployed to get higher paying jobs. 

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at