Governor Cuomo last week called on the Federal Government to issue “hazard pay” to hospital workers, police officers, firefighters and others, arguing that they have been the nation’s lifeblood during the coronavirus pandemic.
He said that while a large portion of the employed population has been able to work from home, those “front-line workers,” many of them black and Latino, have been risking their health to provide necessary services, protection and products, and should be justly compensated.
‘Right This Wrong’
“They are the ones carrying us through this crisis. And this crisis is not over,” Mr. Cuomo said April 20, a day before meeting with President Trump in Washington, D.C. ”And if you look at who they are, and the equity and fairness of what has happened, I think any reasonable person would say we should right this wrong.”
An equitable hazard-pay bonus would be 50 percent, he said. He did not detail who should be entitled to the increase or say whether he envisioned the increase as a one-time payment based on a year’s wage, weekly bumps or according to another formula.
Although he alluded to “health disparities” that affect mostly minority populations and thus make them more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, the Governor said he was convinced that “studies” would show they were most susceptible to infection because “they were out there dealing with the coronavirus.”
“Pay them what they deserve,” he added.
He said that while large portions of the economy “closed down,” they did so mostly for those people who had “the luxury” of working from home.
“All of those essential workers who had to get up every morning to put food on the shelves, and go to the hospitals to provide health care under extraordinary circumstances, and the police officer who had to go to keep you safe and the firefighter who still had to go out and fight the fire—those people worked," he said. "And they went out there and they exposed themselves to the virus.
Boost the Economy
The Governor’s appeal was not entirely public-spirited: Considerably raising the pay of millions in New York State, as well as that of tens of millions of people nationwide, would likely trigger widespread consumer spending and help kick-start an economy that stalled weeks ago—and in turn provide much-needed tax revenue to state coffers.
It was perhaps no coincidence that Mr. Cuomo prefaced his hazard-pay proposal by noting that the state’s fiscal outlook was precarious, noting that the recently completed budget could be short as much as $15 billion.
The Governor, who discussed Federal aid to states and virus testing with Mr. Trump on April 21, pointed out that a nearly $500-billion business-relief package passed by the Senate and likely to pass the House again lacks funding for state and local governments. He said that given the state budget’s shortfall, school districts, local governments and hospitals stood to face 20-percent across-the-board cuts if more Federal aid was not forthcoming.
Although he endorsed the Federal Government's rescue package for businesses, including airlines, buffeted by the steep economic downturn, he did so to contextualize what he painted as a relief package for the front-line workers.
“Fund all those businesses,” he said. “But at the same time don't forget teachers, and police officers, and firefighters, and transit workers and health workers and nursing-home staff. Because those are the people I fund with the state budget, and you shouldn’t make us choose between small businesses and large businesses and people on the front lines doing the work day in and day out.”
Wait 'til Next One?
Mr. Cuomo and his Maryland counterpart, Republican Larry Hogan, in their capacities as Vice Chairman and Chairman, respectively, of The National Governors Association, earlier this month asked Mr. Trump to help negotiate Senate passage of a $500 billion aid package to states. Following his meeting with the President, Mr. Cuomo said Mr. Trump told him "that he would work very hard to get funding for the states in the next piece of legislation that passes."
The Governor’s hazard-pay proposal echoes a couple making Capitol Hill’s policy rounds, including one by a group of Senate Democrats that would increase pay to “essential front-line workers” to ensure their retention, as well as secure funding to attract workers as the nation continues to battle the pandemic.
The so-called “Heroes Fund,” floated by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other Democrats, would secure upward of a $25,000 premium-pay boost for a category of essential workers. It also would include a $15,000 incentive to attract health- and home-care workers and first-responders. It also would increase pay to both retain and recruit doctors, nurses, law-enforcement personnel, transit workers, truck drivers and others.
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