I want to start this week’s column with a heartfelt THANK YOU to all who have reached out to me and my wife Cindy over the past few weeks as we both battled the Novel Coronavirus. Your well wishes and prayers meant a great deal and gave us both strength during our fight against this sinister virus.
As the pandemic continues there are so many on the front lines that are deserving of our respect, admiration, and thanks. Nurses, doctors, first responders, police, corrections officers, grocery store and pharmacy workers, truck drivers, and many others are risking their health and spending countless hours away from their families to help our state and nation endure through these difficult times.
I understand many are struggling with health and economic issues. There are no easy solutions moving forward and additional aid will have to come from the state and federal levels to help with our recovery. Already, I have joined with my Senate Republican colleagues to push for a couple of key actions.
First, a letter was sent to the United States Department of Agriculture calling for assistance for our farmers. Agriculture is New York’s top industry and vital to our health and way of life. Unfortunately, in the best of times, farming can be a struggle and the Coronavirus is taking a devastating toll on many farms.
The letter reads in part:
New York dairy farmers need urgent assistance. To be clear, they are not looking for a handout, and they are not in this grim position because of their own failure. Government action to respond to COVID-l9 — while necessary — has artificially eliminated the natural demand for dairy products, so it is the duty of government to rectify the situation and help dairy farmers remain financially viable in this difficult time. For this reason, we look to USDA for help.
The recently passed CARES Act appropriates $9.5 billion to USDA, and we urge you to use that funding for direct financial assistance to farms who have faced harm because of COVID-l9. Additionally, we urge the Department to make purchases of dairy products like fluid milk, butter, cheeses, and dry milk powders. Direct commodity support and export assistance would also help farms manage their decreased domestic demand.
At a time when so many Americans are out of work, more individuals are turning to food pantries for their next meal. However, many food pantries lack cold storage space to keep milk products fresh. This is an excellent opportunity to create a voucher program for people in need through the Milk Donation Program, as authorized under the 2018 Farm Bill, to facilitate the distribution of donated milk through grocery stores and other venues. Doing so would help poor Americans keep food on the table, and also add demand for dairy farmers.
Late last week, the USDA announced $16 billion in direct support for farmers in need. Another $3 billion will be used to purchase meat, dairy products, fruit and vegetables with excess food going to food banks. This is a big win.
Additionally, I am calling on the governor to release scheduled raises for essential state workers. The state is delaying the two percent raises for 80,000 individuals who are on the front lines, and in some cases, performing very dangerous jobs.
The letter reads in part:
Recognizing this service in these unprecedented times, then, I appreciate this opportunity to urge you to immediately provide an exemption for essential workers unable to work from home, and unable to take adequate social distancing precautions on the job, from your freeze of their scheduled two-percent salary increase. These include corrections officers, law enforcement officers, nurses and other public hospital staff, and direct caregivers in nursing and group homes, and mental health care facilities.
These are just a couple of elements. I will be highlighting many others as we continue to respond to this health crisis. For health information and updates on state polices, visit https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/home.