The possibility of layoffs in city and state government to cope with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic took a turn for the worse when the U.S. Senate approved a stimulus bill—subsequently passed by the House of Representatives and then signed into law by President Trump—that Governor Cuomo said badly shortchanged the state.
Even before that measure was fleshed out, Mayor de Blasio March 24 ordered his agency heads to come up with a combined $1.3 billion in budget cuts. When he was asked about the possibility that some municipal workers could lose their jobs, he said he did not believe his commissioners had "to think in terms of that. But we have a very, very tough road up ahead."
Road Gets Rockier
The following day, Governor Cuomo was sharply critical of the $2-trillion stimulus bill on which a tentative agreement had been reached in the Republican-led Senate, saying it allocated just $3.8 billion for New York State even though it has suffered the greatest impact from the coronavirus of any state both economically and in the number of cases and fatalities. If enacted, he told reporters at a briefing in Albany, the measure "would really be terrible" for the state.
By the following morning, New York's share of the stimulus had grown to $5 billion, but Mr. Cuomo said that was still well short of compensating for "a tremendous loss of revenue" from the effects of the virus that he estimated totaled $10-$15 billion. And, he noted, the Federal money was earmarked strictly for spending to deal with the virus and could not be used to abate the economic losses.
"I find it irresponsible, I find it reckless," he said during his late-morning briefing. "This is the time for governmental leaders to stop making excuses and just do your jobs," adding that he believed Senators had failed to "do the right thing."
State Budget Director Robert Mujica said, "We'll adjust spending according to how the revenues come in."
The shortfall of relief compounded the task the Governor and state legislators were facing in reaching an agreement on a budget for the fiscal year that will begin April 1. He said it was likely that whatever spending plan was agreed to would have to be adjusted regularly, perhaps on a quarterly basis, depending on how long it took to stem the rise in COVID-19 cases, which by March 30 had reached 60,000 statewide, with 1,000 deaths, and included nearly 34,000 cases and 800 deaths in the city.
MLC Head: City Mistreated
One of those victims, Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association President Harry Nespoli, after saying his condition was improving echoed the Governor's dismay with how the state was being treated, adding, "It's not right what they're doing to New York City."
In his role as head of the umbrella group for all city unions, the Municipal Labor Committee, he said he had chatted with several labor leaders after the Mayor did not rule out the possibility of layoffs but that they were "not really" concerned—at least prior to Mr. Cuomo's remarks a few hours before the phone interview.
He questioned the practicality of layoffs in the Sanitation Department, where there have been 96 positive cases, saying that despite the risks of infection that go with collection work, "The men and women are doing a hell of a job out there."
Despite the troubling fiscal situation and the continuing search for enough ventilators to meet a worst-case need of 40,000 at a time when the state has just 12,000 on hand, the Governor said the number of retired health professionals who volunteered their services, as well as 8,600 mental-health professionals from other states who offered to assist 6,100 here in providing free counseling to New Yorkers was a source of "such strength and inspiration."
As he has regularly done during his daily briefings, he lauded the people who have continued reporting to their jobs daily because they can't be performed from home, from cops, firefighters, nurses and transit workers to grocers and pharmacists who have remained open to provide needed food and medication at some risk to their own health.
'Look What They Do'
"When I feel tired, I think of the first-responders who are every day showing up," the Governor said. "Yes, we're tired, but look at what others among us have to do."
He was asked about overcrowding at city hospitals, with one reporter noting that Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, which earlier in the week suffered 13 patient deaths in a 24-hour period, was laboring at 125-percent patient capacity.
Asked whether he was considering transferring some patients at municipal hospitals to underutilized facilities upstate, he said he was "not eager" to do that, in part because it would force their families to travel long distances to see them. He said the first step would be to see whether those patients could be shifted to beds elsewhere in the NYC Health+Hospitals network, and alternatively to newly constructed facilities within the city and vicinity.
Just before he began taking questions, Mr. Cuomo said, "We're going to get through this. The only question is when we get through this and how we get through this."
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.