Genesee County’s representatives in Albany are unified in their thinking that New York State needs to release the $2 billion in federal rent relief money it has been holding on to and that local school districts – not the governor – should have the authority to develop their own reopening plans, especially when it comes to mask wearing.
The Batavian reached out to Sen. Edward Rath (photo at right) and Assemblyman Steven Hawley (photo at left) today, seeking the Republicans' opinions on the eviction moratorium issue, mask mandates for schools, extending emergency powers to the executive branch and working with Gov. Kathy Hochul, a lifelong Western New Yorker.
ON RENT RELIEF, EVICTION MORATORIUM
“We’re talking about a lot of money across New York State to the tune of $2.7 billion, and it’s my understanding that only about 10 percent of that money has been allocated for rent relief for tenants as well as reimbursement back to the landlords,” Rath said. “That is absolutely shameful.”
He said the state “needs to get its act together” to get these funds to tenants and landlords. Currently, the process to release this money has been slow and cumbersome.
“I will do everything in my power to make sure that we have a system and a process in place to rapidly dispatch this money,” he added. “And, I know that this is a priority of Governor Hochul; I’ve heard her say it on a couple of occasions.”
The senator said that he would be willing to go back to Albany for a special session on this topic, and also to participate in “a sensible discussion” about ending the eviction moratorium.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the state’s moratorium, which is scheduled to end on Tuesday, but Rath said that Hochul and some state legislators are talking about ways to extend it once more.
He said he is “absolutely” against another extension.
“We need to start getting back to normal. All of the housing courts have been shuttered for well over a year, so there’s no opportunity for a building owner or a landlord to get any relief through the housing courts,” he said. “We have had this extended evictions moratorium for a very, very long time, and we need to bring some normalcy back to our housing and to the landlords, who have been paying their bills or struggling to pay their bills without any relief.”
Hawley blamed New York’s obsolete technology and unfair financial practices in his assessment of the rent situation.
“Well, just like everything else, money – when it involves the government, it tends to be not like the real world, necessarily,” he said. “It takes forever. We have an antiquated system in New York State for pretty much dispersing any money.”
The assemblyman said municipalities and counties have been waiting for money from the state for months on end.
Time to Stop ‘Floating’ the Money
“It’s called the ‘float’ … where an entity keeps someone else’s money and utilizes it for something else,” he offered. “So, good luck to the governor in terms of getting the money out to where it should be. Frankly, I have great deal of concern for those folks – landlords across the state who haven’t had any rent coming in.”
Hawley brought up another point of contention: The inability of employers to fill open positions.
“There are folks who could be going back to work,” he said. “We have signs up and down Main Streets all across State of New York; I’m taking pictures of them, in fact, showing ‘Help Wanted,’ ‘Apply Within,’ ‘Apply Online.’ ‘Apply by calling a number.’
“What happens, unfortunately, is that people are receiving money from the government in many cases – whether it’s for unemployment or other reasons, and they’re not willing to go to work. This, basically, allows folks … to receive something for nothing.”
He noted that landlords are in difficult straits.
“It has been well over a year since many of them have had any cashflow coming in themselves -- whether they’re a retired person who decided to buy a property and lease it out or someone … who has a business and depends on that for their living, and they’re working,” he said. “We need to get people back to work. There are plenty of jobs out there and we have got to stop sending money for people not to work.”
He agreed with Rath that the state has to simplify the process so tenants will be able to complete the paperwork to access the federal funds, but he stopped short of saying that it’s the property owners’ responsibility.
“There are landlords that could assist with that, but we’ve also got Social Services in each county, Office for the Aging, Cooperative Extension, churches that might be able to help folks fill those out,” he said.
ON MASK MANDATES IN SCHOOLS
Gov. Hochul, entering her second week in office, has made it clear that she wants a universal mask mandate where everyone must wear masks inside school buildings.
This is what she said on Thursday:
“So, we’re going to have a mask mandate. Get used to it, my friends! I’m going to make sure that that environment for school is safe for our children, teachers, and administrators, so that’s why we’re going to have that across the state of New York.”
In the eyes of Rath and Hawley, that is not the best way to proceed. Both said they are not in favor of a “one size fits all” approach.
“I firmly believe that the local authorities and local school districts know what’s best and know what’s right for their school districts,” Rath said. “Albany certainly doesn’t know what is right for upstate and New York City does not know what’s right for upstate in regards to masks, vaccination and social distancing.
“Let’s empower our local school districts to come up with a strategy which is correct and appropriate for them. A rural and an agricultural school district is very different from an urban school district.”
Hawley said that he has been talking to superintendents in the area, and noted that some districts have already released their guidelines – many of them recommending, but not requiring, masks in the classrooms.
“Just three weeks ago, when the former governor was still in office, his commissioners and health department came up with a rule that said that locals should decide, that local county health departments and school districts and school boards should come up with their own plans because they know their area, their people and their percentage of positivity the best,” he said.
“Just look at the number of folks who live in New York City and the boroughs. Each of those boroughs have their uniqueness and their own response to the pandemic. Right now, oddly enough, NYC has the lowest positivity rate in the state.”
Hawley said counties should be able to decide for themselves, and that school districts reacted to what came out of Albany and we’re preparing accordingly.
“And then all of a sudden we have the new governor coming out with masks for all,” he said. “One size just does not fit all.”
ON EMERGENCY POWERS FOR GOVERNOR
Rath said he has “serious concerns” as far as reinstituting the governor’s emergency powers.
“What we saw in New York State was a unilateral approach from Governor Cuomo when he had the emergency powers, and I thought that it was inappropriate,” he said. “The state Senate and the state legislature, overall, is a co-equal branch of state government. No governor should have extended, unilateral emergency powers for decision-making, no matter if it’s a pandemic or if it’s times when we are not confronted with something like a pandemic.”
He said he would be vocal in his opposition to that for Hochul “because the Senate and the Assembly need to have a seat at the table and be a part of the decision-making process.”
Hawley said he wasn’t in a position to “guess” on whether that would happen or not, but shared that, again, “we don’t need a singular individual making up rules, regulations and mandates across the state …”
ON WORKING WITH GOV. HOCHUL
Both legislators said Western New York and the Finger Lakes Region should benefit from Hochul’s ascension to governor, but will be sure to remind her of this area’s needs and priorities.
“Kathy has represented this area as a county clerk, certainly as a member of the Hamburg Town Board as well as in Congress. So, she has a high level of awareness of our issues and our priorities,” Rath said. “She’s also going to improve the tone and tenor of our state government, there’s no question about that. The toxicity, if you will, of Governor Cuomo was really difficult to work within and we’re going to have a vast improvement there as well.”
He said Hochul knows the issues in this area, and “I’m going to be a very loud voice reminding her to prioritize what needs to be accomplished here in our communities.”
Hawley, noting that Hochul, a Democrat, represented most of his Assembly district, said he’s hopeful that she “remembers her roots, each of the restaurants and each of the churches, and the Holland Land Office and Orleans County, and remembers what it is like where we live as opposed to what it is like where folks from New York City live.”
He acknowledged that downstate lawmakers, due to the huge population they represent, tend to have more influence than others, but is hopeful that she will “do the right thing.”
“This mask mandate is not indicative of that, but we’re going to continue to work with her,” he said. “Personally, I like her, and we’ve always gotten along well together. Hopefully, she remembers that regardless of where we’re from, we’re all New Yorkers.
“We’re all residents of New York State, and we have different needs, wants and desires, and they ought to be recognized.”