Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/35 Sat, 04 Apr 2020 08:59:18 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) To Save Our Safety Net, Continue the Regional Coronavirus Approach https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9273-save-our-safety-net-continue-regional-coronavirus-approach-taxes-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9273-save-our-safety-net-continue-regional-coronavirus-approach-taxes-new-york Governors Cuomo Murphy Lamont

Gov. Cuomo with neighboring governors (photo: Governor's Office)


Tri-state governors have coordinated to close bars. Now they must coordinate to close tax loopholes.

Governor Cuomo has gotten a lot right in addressing the COVID-19 health crisis in the past few weeks. But at the state budget deadline, he has been far too willing to shred the social safety net that millions of New Yorkers rely on, and so many more will need as the economic crisis worsens.

One thing he got right could point the way to repair some of that damage.

Cuomo saw right away the need to get New York working closely with New Jersey and Connecticut. The governor quickly brought the tri-state region together to shut down bars and recreational businesses, and to collaborate on a regional approach to confront the coronavirus crisis.

That’s no small feat. Regional coordination has long been the elusive dream of good government gurus, seeking a saner approach to transportation and economic development. President Trump appears so threatened by this new tri-state alliance that he threatened to quarantine us off from the rest of the country.

Now that this tri-state partnership exists, we must use it for more. A regional approach can help us replace lost revenue and rise to the recovery challenges we face.

As New York State looked ahead to its new fiscal year, a $6 billion budget deficit was blown wide open by the pandemic, with tax revenue projected to drop by as much as $15 billion. Given the halt of so much economic activity and mass layoffs, Connecticut and New Jersey face similar problems. The federal relief package offers scant help. We must keep fighting for more, but it’s not likely to be anywhere near enough.

To address the budget gap, Governor Cuomo has pushed reductions to health care and public education funding (including steep cuts to already diminished CUNY and SUNY schools), and in aid to cities and counties. In the midst of the crisis, his Medicaid Redesign Team proposed a $2.5 billion cut to the projected state Medicaid budget, including $400 million that would have gone to hospitals just as they battle coronavirus.

Some cuts are necessary, but these cuts to our core safety net programs will be devastating to the very people hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has turned pre-existing gaps into gulfs. Those who were already on the margins, served by underfunded hospitals, or living paycheck to paycheck, are hit hardest by the public health and economic catastrophe. Undercutting their health care and education is not the answer.

Revenues are going to take a big hit, though, as income and sales taxes plummet. So we need new ways to raise funds from those who have plenty, rather than cutting services for those who did not have enough even before this crisis.

As he has been in the past, Governor Cuomo has been reticent to increase taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers, or even to close tax loopholes.

But his own regional response offers a new, smart way to do so. In the past, one concern he has voiced about such policies has been that businesses or wealthy individuals will flee New York State to avoid any new tax policy, thus depriving us of even more revenue. After all, it is not that hard to commute to work on Wall Street from Greenwich rather than from Scarsdale. Or to move your business address to Jersey City.

One change that advocates have long sought is to close the “carried interest” loophole. Because of this loophole, the income of private equity and hedge fund managers is taxed at half the rate of other taxpayers (their income is taxed at the “capital gains” rate, lower than the income tax rate, even though this is not investment money that the managers have put at any risk).

Two years ago, Cuomo proposed to close this loophole, calling it a “fairness fix” that could bring in over $1 billion to state coffers. But there was one hitch: it would only go into effect if neighboring states would adopt it as well. Sadly, they did not.

The regional compact that the governor has established to confront the COVID-19 crisis is a great opportunity to revive this effort. Just as our states have coordinated to close bars and restaurants, we can coordinate to close this loophole.

The governors should take a similar approach to coordinate on other proposals to tax the region’s very wealthiest, such as a tax on wealth over $1 billion, annual income over $5 million, or an increase in corporate tax rates. Yes, Wall Street has taken a hit. But the top 1% in our region are not facing food insecurity, eviction, and homelessness.

Given the likely need to reopen this budget as the contours of economic and fiscal challenges become clearer, and the pain of the cuts is felt, it is not too late to consider these tax policy changes. In fact, it is right on time.

Raising revenue to fill budget gaps and provide essential services is not the only place where new models of regional partnership are needed. Governor Cuomo railed at the federal relief effort passed last week, harping on the relatively smaller pot of direct aid for New York state and local governments. But that’s not the only place the federal response fell short.

Our region has flourished over the past decades as a result of the work and creativity of immigrants. But many of those very families (undocumented people, mixed-status families, and even many immigrants with legal status) will be denied federal relief. They will not be eligible for the $1,200 emergency checks heading out to the majority of Americans, or for the expanded disaster unemployment insurance. Without help, they will soon be facing very real crises, unable to pay for food or rent.

Our region’s economy is built on the labor and the spending of these workers and their families, who work in restaurants, clean buildings, deliver food, take care of the elderly and the young, and much much more. We cannot afford to leave them behind.

We need a regional approach both to make up the budget shortfall and to put money where it is urgently needed right now: in our hospitals, and in the pockets of the most vulnerable families.

We will all feel the squeeze of this crisis. But those who will suffer the most are those whose health insurance, education, and social services have been put on the chopping block. Using a regional approach to raise revenues from those who have more than enough is both the smart and compassionate path forward.

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Brad Lander is a New York City Council Member from Brooklyn, and the Council’s Deputy Leader for Policy. He is a candidate for New York City Comptroller in 2021. On Twitter @bradlander.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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To Save Our Safety Net, Continue the Regional Coronavirus Approach Wed, 01 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Previously Struck Down in Court, New State Campaign Finance System and Political Party Ballot Thresholds Passed in Budget https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9274-struck-down-court-new-state-campaign-finance-system-and-political-party-ballot-thresholds-enacted-into-law-cuomo-albany https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9274-struck-down-court-new-state-campaign-finance-system-and-political-party-ballot-thresholds-enacted-into-law-cuomo-albany Cuomo Heastie Stewart-Cousins

State government leaders Stewart-Cousins, Cuomo, Heastie (photo: The Governor's Office)


A new state campaign finance system, with public matching money for candidates who choose to participate and lower individual contribution limits, will be enshrined in law through inclusion in the new state budget. It is accompanied by new and highly-controversial ballot-threshold requirements for political parties.

Using a modified system due to the coronavirus outbreak, the state Legislature voted through various budget bills on Tuesday and into the late hours on Wednesday, meaning the spending plan is late given the April 1 start to the new fiscal year, as negotiations continued among the governor and legislative majorities.

The campaign finance system had already been approved last year based on the recommendations of a state-created commission but was struck down in mid-March by a supreme court judge who ruled that such a commission could not be tasked with writing laws.

[Read: Judge Strikes Down New State Campaign Finance Law]

Last year, despite mounting public pressure and their own promises to get it done, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic majorities in the state Legislature could not come to an agreement on a new campaign finance system including public matching of small donations and lowering New York’s sky-high contribution limits. They chose instead to punt that responsibility to the state Public Campaign Financing Commission, which was created in the budget.

After months of public hearings and expert testimony, the commission’s report was released and automatically became law in December, when the Legislature neither rejected nor amended it. But, the commission’s creation invited legal challenges from New York’s Working Families Party and Conservative Party, which saw it as a threat to the system of fusion voting that allows candidates to appear on a ballot with numerous party lines. One of those challenges succeeded when, on March 12, Niagara County Supreme Court Justice Ralph Boniello ruled that the commission’s powers were unconstitutional and that only the Legislature could create or change state law.

The budget bill approved on Wednesday addressed that mistake, and passed the same recommendations the commission had made. The law allows candidates for statewide office and the Legislature to opt in to a system of public financing that incentivizes small dollar donations by matching them with public funds. It’s similar to the system that has been used in New York City for over three decades.

The law drastically lowers contribution limits across the board, though government reform advocates say the limits remain too high nonetheless. Candidates for statewide office can now raise a maximum of $18,000 in a four-year election cycle from an individual contributor, down from about $70,000; state Senate candidates can raise $10,000, down from $19,300; and state Assembly candidates can raise $6,000, down from $9,400.

The most controversial aspect of the new law is the change it makes to party thresholds and ballot access requirements, along the lines of what had minor party leaders concerned when the commission was created last year, and what led to immense uproar as the commission’s recommendations were released and temporarily became law.

Statewide candidates now have to get 45,000 signatures from voters to get on the ballot, up from 15,000. For an automatic ballot line, a party must receive at least 130,000 votes or 2% of the vote, whichever is higher, every two years in a gubernatorial or presidential election, up from 50,000 votes every four years in a gubernatorial election. These new thresholds also take effect immediately, while the new contribution limits and campaign financing system won’t take effect till after the November 2022 general election. As was true when the commission crafted its recommendations last year, many see the results as especially favorable to Cuomo, who has said he plans to run for reelection in 2022 and is well-known to raise immense sums from wealthy interests, and who has sought to diminish the Working Families Party that he has warred with.

Candidates will only be able to qualify for funding once, regardless of the number of ballot lines on which they run. The system will be based on dual thresholds. Candidates for governor will have to raise at least $500,000 in qualifying contributions from a minimum of 5,000 contributors; those running for lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller will have to raise $100,000 from at least 1,000 contributors. State Senate candidates need to show $12,000 in fundraising from a minimum of 150 donors, and Assembly candidates will need at least $6,000 from 75 donors.

Statewide candidates can receive a maximum of $7 million in public funds between both the primary and general election, while Senate candidates can get $750,000 and Assembly candidates can get $350,000

The law creates a new State Campaign Finance Fund, but it makes no mention of how much money will be put towards the new system. The state commission-created law had set it at $100 million for a four-year election cycle. Funding will come from the state’s general tax revenues and from the abandoned property fund. State taxpayers can also choose to contribute to the fund when filing their taxes, and the fund can also receive private contributions. It will be overseen by the state comptroller and the state commissioner of taxation and finance.

The new system will be administered by a Public Campaign Finance Board within the state Board of Elections, made up of the four existing Board of Elections commissioners and three more appointed by the governor and the legislative leaders of the two main parties in both the Senate and Assembly.

The Working Families Party, which is among a handful of smaller parties that could see their automatic ballot lines at risk, reacted quickly and sternly.

"Governor Cuomo claims that now is not the time for politics — yet behind closed doors he is blocking voters from supporting minor parties and the values they stand for,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, state director of the New York Working Families Party, in a statement. “At a time when many Democrats are calling for fair and open elections, the Governor has made New York the most hostile state toward third parties in the entire nation. When he created a commission to wipe out third parties we sued and won. We feel as strongly now as we did then that the law is on our side — and we will win again in court."

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated with details about the new campaign finance system including qualifying thresholds, maximum payments and the new state Campaign Finance Fund. 

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Previously Struck Down in Court, New State Campaign Finance System and Political Party Ballot Thresholds Passed in Budget Wed, 01 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Shut Down the Subway – and Fix It https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9254-shut-down-new-york-city-subway-and-fix-it-cuomo-coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9254-shut-down-new-york-city-subway-and-fix-it-cuomo-coronavirus cuomo train tunnel MTA subway shutdown

Gov. Cuomo should close the subways, the author writes (photo: Governor's Office)


New York City is the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the United States. State and city authorities are pleading with residents to stay home, shelter in place, and maintain distance from fellow New Yorkers to slow the wave of cases crashing into the city’s healthcare facilities.

Yet, public transportation was running on the standard weekday schedule as of Monday morning. With subway ridership down ridership down 87%, the response on Tuesday was to cut trains by a quarter.

Such quarter-measures will not serve the city well. A full closure of the subway is needed, along with steps to dedicate buses and other transportation services to the essential workers who are saving lives and keeping the city running. As drastic and disruptive as shutting down the subway sounds, doing so can slow the spread of the virus. Apart from the exigency of the public health crisis, the unprecedented fall in ridership also offers an opportunity to undertake repairs and fixes that would be disruptive in normal times -- and help set the stage for the system’s recovery.

There is an irreconcilable tension between running public transport essentially as normal while authorities order folks to stay at home. Public transportation accounts for most trips within the city, and the virus travels alongside passengers in the confined spaces of trains and buses. Public transit was suspended on the first day of the lockdown in Wuhan, China in order to slow the circulation of people and the virus they may carry, and Chinese public health officials have urged cities to suspend service in other affected countries. MTA workers -- not to mention CEO Patrick Foye -- are falling ill themselves and the decision to run fewer trains has increased crowding, and thus transmission risks.

The MTA needs to immediately cease providing fully “public” public transportation. Addressing this crisis requires taking seriously the real economic, social, and health costs of continuing to provide service, and beginning to think about how the system can recover after the crisis.

The MTA should shut down all subway lines and use the time for several weeks’ worth of dedicated repairs, accomplishing fixes that would in normal times have to be stretched over months or years. Typically, major disruptions to train operations for necessary repairs are impossible or at least extremely difficult due to rider pushback, even when closures allow for faster and cheaper progress.

The subway is the circulatory system of New York City. In drastic open-heart surgeries, the heart is stopped and damage repaired to help the patient come back healthier. Taking advantage of a time when circulation needs to halt to ensure the health of the subway when it restarts is prudent and will allow New York to come back from this crisis stronger than before.

This would be an effective use of money set aside for public transportation in the new federal stimulus bill, and closure will also help strengthen existing shelter-in-place orders to slow the spread of the virus throughout the city. With ridership already at historically low levels, coupled with an imperative to minimize travel, the typical disruptions from repairs are minimized. Making progress on the extensive backlog of much-needed repairs to dilapidated stations, outdated power systems, and other priorities while advancing progress on essential signals upgrades will help the subway emerge more reliable and faster for New Yorkers after the crisis, which will help the system more quickly recover ridership.

There are, of course, major logistical challenges that must be overcome to make such a plan workable. For one, healthcare providers and other critical workers need to get to their jobs. MTA buses should be dedicated to the transport of essential workers only, maintaining existing routes on streets cleared of competing traffic. For essential workers unable to commute by bus, the city should draw on its taxi fleet to provide alternative transportation or partner with app-based services.

Care will also need to be taken to ensure the health of workers undertaking repairs. Workers will need to be screened (at least for their temperatures, if coronavirus testing delays persist), worksites will need to be consistently monitored for transmission risks, and workers must be provided guaranteed care in the case that transmission does occur on the job. Practices and procedures will have to be adapted to match the needs of these unusual times.

Slowing the spread of the coronavirus in New York requires dramatic actions, and halting public transportation to reinforce existing orders is just one needed step. Stopping the trains now and using the time to make necessary repairs can also lay the foundations for New York’s recovery by creating the opportunity for the city, and its public transportation, to bounce back better than before.

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Patrick Farrell is a Master in Public Affairs student concentrating in economics and public policy at Princeton University with prior experience as a researcher focused on urban economics at New York University. He is a co-author of the article Social Connectedness in Urban Areas, which explores the distribution of social networks in New York City and the role of public transit in shaping them.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Shut Down the Subway – and Fix It Sun, 29 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
State Budget Negotiations are Focused on the Wrong Priorities; We Need an Emergency Coronavirus Package https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9256-new-york-state-budget-negotiations-wrong-priorities-need-emergency-coronavirus-package https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9256-new-york-state-budget-negotiations-wrong-priorities-need-emergency-coronavirus-package Robert Carroll State Assembly

Assemblymember Carroll, the author (photo: New York State Assembly)


In a few days the New York State Legislature will pass a new state budget. In a normal year, this is the most consequential task the Legislature does. In a crisis year, it may be the last thing we do.

What we do now could help New Yorkers weather the storm. Unfortunately the discussions we are having, which are few, are emphasizing the wrong issues.

To understand New York’s politics, one must understand that New York’s budget is not just dollars and cents, but also a way to enact legislation. In normal years, this is a poor way to run government because it stifles debate and lacks transparency. In a year where the Legislature cannot meet in large groups and advocates and stakeholders are quarantined, it is downright anti-democratic.

Currently, via text and conference calls, the Legislature is discussing Medicaid cuts and big policy decisions like legalization of marijuana and gestational surrogacy, and rolling back bail reform. This is frustrating and frightening. Governor Cuomo has done a phenomenal job in responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, but he is acting like this year’s budget process is no different than last year’s.

There is a common-sense solution to this problem. Push off major policy debates and legislation that are not connected to COVID-19.

This includes policy issues I support, like the legalization of adult use marijuana and surrogacy, and issues I don’t support, like rolling back bail reform or creating new criminal penalties. Rolling back bail reform is especially distressing since we know jails and prisons are particularly vulnerable to epidemics. No one deserves to die from coronavirus, but it would be especially tragic if individuals held in detention died awaiting trial on minor charges. Sticking to criminal justice, Governor Cuomo should be bold and release prisoners who have served at least 50% of their sentence and are vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age or underlying health conditions. Our prisons are bad enough, we should not allow them to become death traps.

Thankfully, the governor has moved the presidential primary from April 28 to June 23, but now the Legislature must act to protect every New Yorker and ensure participation in our elections by mailing every New Yorker a ballot for the primary and general elections.

Second, we should suspend rent payments for the next 90 days for residential and commercial tenants who lost their job or business due to coronavirus. Landlords should get a similar reprieve from mortgage payments in an amount consistent with their lost rent. The governor already barred foreclosures and evictions for 90 days, this is the logical next step.

Third, we should require insurance companies to honor business interruption insurance. It is unconscionable that insurance companies that were bailed out in 2008 won’t pay out business interruption policies because they say “viruses” were either explicitly carved out of policies or because adjusters claim a “virus” is not a “physical” interruption.

Last and most importantly, we cannot cut Medicaid. Yes you heard that right – the current state budget plan, as outlined by the governor, would cut Medicaid funding to some of our neediest communities and hospitals. What we need to do is increase funding to our hospitals and other critical pieces of infrastructure that are currently taxed or are facing severe deficits, like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

The only way to do that is to raise taxes. Raise them on second homes over $5 million, raise them on individual earners over $1 million, raise them on luxury goods, or charge fees on non-essential online deliveries. No matter what we do, we need the revenue because the federal stimulus has not addressed lost state revenue.

In the last 20 years, New York lost thousands of hospital beds because of a medical system that is built on profit. Land that was valuable was sold to real estate speculators and hospital beds were lost. We had our priorities out of whack. Let’s not do it again. Governor Cuomo, if you are able to do all that and get the Legislature to go along with it, #CuomoForPresident will no longer just be trending on Twitter and might just become a reality.

***
Assemblymember Robert Carroll is a Democrat who represents Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Ditmas Park, and other neighborhoods. On Twitter @Bobby4Brooklyn.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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State Budget Negotiations are Focused on the Wrong Priorities; We Need an Emergency Coronavirus Package Sun, 29 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Mayor and Council Speaker Differ on Creating Open Space, Enforcing Social Distancing Amid Coronavirus Shutdown https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9253-mayor-de-blasio-city-council-speaker-johnson-differ-open-space-social-distancing-coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9253-mayor-de-blasio-city-council-speaker-johnson-differ-open-space-social-distancing-coronavirus speaker co jo covid update

Mayor & Speaker at a coronavirus briefing (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday gave New York City officials a 24-hour deadline to provide plans for enforcing social distancing in public spaces as the coronavirus continues to rage through the city and the governor said there was too much group activity in the five boroughs under his “pause” orders. Mayor Bill de Blasio has since announced some of the measures his administration is taking but his approach differs from what the New York City Council under Speaker Corey Johnson has proposed. 

Despite repeated requests, neither the mayor’s office nor the governor’s office provided the de Blasio administration’s enforcement plan to Gotham Gazette. The City Council did make its own plan available and it goes much further than what de Blasio announced during his near-daily coronavirus briefings earlier this week.

Cuomo had expressed disappointment with the early days under his tighter stay-at-home and social distancing orders, and repeatedly stated that he had demanded a plan from de Blasio and Johnson for greater enforcement, especially in parks, while also suggesting that the city should open more streespace to pedestrian use.

De Blasio said Tuesday that the city’s enforcement efforts had begun, with NYPD patrols across the five boroughs attempting to ensure that people stay at least six feet apart to avoid exposure to the coronavirus, unless they are members of the same immediate family. Though people can still go to parks and playgrounds, the mayor has warned that he will close them if people do not follow the city’s guidance.

“[W]hat we are seeing is broad adherence to the rules and we're going to make clear through NYPD enforcement and enforcement by many other city agencies that we must have a real respect for these rules,” he said at a Tuesday news conference. “And anyone who is not following the rules will be quickly corrected. They'll be warned, they'll be educated, and NYPD will be out making very clear to people, using our patrol officers and with messages that'll be electronically transmitted all over parks as well as all the person to person contact that we need people to deal with this new reality of social distancing.”

The mayor said he had agreed with the state and City Council to wait till Saturday (March 28) to decide whether playgrounds would remain open. “We will be doing all the enforcement, but if by the end of Saturday, it is not sufficiently clear that New Yorkers are following these new rules, at that point we'll be prepared to shut down playgrounds for the foreseeable future,” he said. The city has already begun removing basketball hoops at 80 courts where people had refused to abide by social distancing guidelines, the mayor announced Wednesday, out of 1,700 across the city. 

He also announced a pilot program to close a small number of streets to vehicular traffic to provide pedestrians more space for social distancing while getting needed fresh air and movement. From Friday through Monday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., traffic will be barred on Park Avenue between 28th and 34th Streets in Manhattan; On Bushwick Avenue from Johnson to Flushing in Brooklyn; on 34th Avenue from 73rd Street to 80th Street in Queens; and on the Grand Concourse between East Burnside and 184th Street in the Bronx. That pilot will be closely monitored by the NYPD and reevaluated, de Blasio said, while some worried he was just creating new opportunity for people to too-closely congregate and others said his initiative was so miniscule to be not even worth bothering.

Council Speaker Johnson said in an interview on PIX11 on Thursday that he would have liked to have seen the street closures be more expansive. “I want it to be a bigger area, more streets, but one of the issues that we’ve run into is the lack of personnel that we have to make sure that those areas remain safe, that you’re not seeing crowding there and that you are protecting folks when you are closing streets,” he said, apparently referencing, in part, the fact that the NYPD is starting to see a significant chunk of its workforce out sick or quarantined. “But I wanted wider swathes, longer avenues to actually accommodate folks that may be crowding into parks,” he said. 

The Council’s social distancing plan, a two-page document, also opts for more restrictive measures. It calls for closing and locking all children’s playgrounds, athletic fields and courts; and for the removal of all tennis nets, basketball hoops and any other equipment that is not being cleaned for the entire duration. The plan also suggests removing barbecues in parks. 

The plan acknowledges what Johnson raised in the PIX11 interview, that staffing may be the biggest hurdle. It calls for increased enforcement “using creative models that do not lead to over-policing or profiling,” including increasing the number of park enforcement police, redeploying 1,000-1,500 parks personnel from maintenance work and recreation centers to bolster enforcement, reassigning school crossing guards to parks, and speeding up the launch of the NYPD’s Youth Coordination Officer program to recruit more people to help educate the public about new social distance rules. 

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Johnson said, “Opening a couple of streets per borough to pedestrians is a good first step, but we need to provide more open public spaces for New Yorkers. Social distancing is a key component in the fight to mitigate the effects of this unprecedented public health crisis. As we battle this pandemic, this initiative once it is expanded could provide some relief to the city's parks as individuals look for places where to walk, exercise and get some fresh air while at the same time taking precautions to protect themselves and fellow New Yorkers."

It’s not the first time since the coronavirus outbreak in New York City that Johnson and de Blasio have disagreed. The speaker called for both closing the city’s public schools and more restrictive stay-at-home orders days before the mayor adopted those positions.

The Council plan also outlines various ways to create new open spaces, particularly in dense parts of the city that lack existing open and green space. Besides restricting vehicles on streets, it suggests expanding pedestrian plazas based off the city’s Summer Streets and Play Streets initiatives and looking at the streets under those initiatives for traffic closures. That push lines up with Johnson’s running focus on creating more space for pedestrians and bike-riders, a key piece of the “streets master plan” legislation he passed last year.

Besides public areas, the Council also recommended that the city look at the possibility of utilizing private spaces such as college campuses with outdoor space, botanical gardens, and finding recreation space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn Army Terminal, or Bush Terminal. 

The plan envisions a mass-media campaign to inform New Yorkers of the new rules, with signage at all parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields, and a multilingual citywide PSA campaign.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Mayor and Council Speaker Differ on Creating Open Space, Enforcing Social Distancing Amid Coronavirus Shutdown Fri, 27 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
City Reconfigures 2020 Census Efforts in Response to Coronavirus — and Reports Good Initial News https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9240-new-york-city-reconfigures-2020-census-efforts-coronavirus-reports-good-news https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9240-new-york-city-reconfigures-2020-census-efforts-coronavirus-reports-good-news 2 covid census

Census organizing efforts before coronavirus (photo: @JulieMenin)


Officials at the city, state, and federal levels had for years planned varying efforts to conduct a robust outreach campaign this year for the 2020 Census, to ensure an accurate count of New York’s population that will determine the level of federal funding the state receives and its representation in Congress. But the coronavirus outbreak has upended those plans, which relied heavily on person-to-person contact, especially in the hardest-to-count communities, and officials are beginning to course correct as they worry that an accurate count may be more necessary now than ever before. 

With as many as 17,856 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city as of Wednesday afternoon, out of a total of 30,811 cases statewide, New York City has quickly become the country’s epicenter of the pandemic. The very density in the city that has contributed to the rapid spread of the virus is also partly what makes it a city where there are numerous challenges to conducting a precise population count.

“We're in unprecedented times, we’re in a crisis of epic proportions,” said New York City 2020 Census Director Julie Menin, in a phone interview, noting that city has had to shift its census strategy, which had been months in the making and was originally intended to press a large ground operation into service. “Post-COVID, we've made a number of very quick shifts,” she added.

The two main phases of the Census are the initial self-response phase, where individuals are encouraged to fill out the census themselves, and the enumeration phase, which involves enumerators hired by the U.S. Census Bureau going door-to-door to count those people who did not respond. 

In a letter sent last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio called on U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham to extend the current timelines for the Census, including by delaying the self-response deadline from July 31 to September 30; the Bureau has already extended it to August 14. De Blasio also said the Bureau should postpone its early non-response follow-up efforts to the end of summer, otherwise it would miss the many students of colleges and universities that have left the city amid the outbreak and could return later. The Bureau has already postponed that operation from April 9 to April 23, while also changing its protocols for counting people in group quarters. On the same day as the mayor’s letter, the Bureau also suspended all its field operations till April 1.

“Maintaining the current timeframe for census operations in New York City would not only risk severely damaging the accuracy and credibility of the population count, it would also likely exacerbate an already severe public health crisis,” the mayor wrote. 

In New York City’s dense population are concentrations of those who tend to have lower self-response rates such as seniors, homeless people, residents of public housing, people with limited English-proficiency, non-English speakers, African-American communities of varying income bands, Native Americans, undocumented immigrants, people living in group quarters, and more. 

Self responses yield the most accurate data. But the city’s self-response rate of 62% in 2010 was far below the national and state averages of 76%. That’s why city officials were hell-bent on making sure to invest early in efforts to make sure people proactively fill out the census questionnaire. New York City’s $40 million allocation towards census outreach, including $19 million in direct grants to 157 community-based organizations, was the largest investment in such an effort. 

The city’s focus on the first phase seems to have already paid some dividends. Early self-response rates are up from 2010, though this might also owe to the fact that the Census Bureau is mostly asking people to fill out the Census online for the first time. The city’s self-response rate was 16.8% as of March 24 – 16.3% in the Bronx, 15.1%, in Brooklyn, 19.5% in Manhattan, 15.9% in Queens, and 19% in Staten Island. By March 23 in 2010, the self-response rate was only 6% citywide.

But the city had hoped to conduct a broad field operation, particularly through the community-based organizations that were granted funding that would help them reach communities that they interact with each day, that can often go overlooked by the government or may not trust the government for various reasons.

Menin’s office had created Neighborhood Organizing Census Committees that had trained thousands of volunteers, who in turn were training others, to conduct in-person census outreach. There were meant to be 300 pop-up centers where people could fill out the Census. There was an $8 million advertising campaign, with $3 million of it pegged for community and ethnic media. And there were partnerships with private sector businesses and city agencies (110 public library branches were to provide census assistance).

As the actual scope of the COVID-19 pandemic became evident, the city census office quickly shifted tack. They suspended all the door-to-door and street canvassing operations that its partner CBOs were carrying out. Organizations shifted to phone- and text-banking. The office reconfigured its advertising approach, clawing back all its ad contracts with the MTA as ads on the subway, with its plummeting ridership, will no longer have the reach they originally envisioned. Instead, they’re doubling down on digital, social media, television, and radio ads.

“Now it’s more vital than ever, in light of COVID-19,” Menin said, to get an accurate count. “Because funding for hospitals, funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program is directly linked to the Census. We want to make sure that New Yorkers know in this time of crisis for our cities, it becomes more important than ever to feel the sense of that.”

She noted one particularly germane instance of census data being used for a public health response. During the recent measles outbreak in the city, the city Department of Health used census data to determine how many vaccines it would need.    

On Sunday and Monday, the city conducted a “Text Out the Count” campaign – 1,157 people, mostly volunteers, texted 978,195 New Yorkers and received 116,159 responses. Of those, 35,116 said they had already filled out the census while another 4,925 promised to do so, according to the city census office.

“One of the ways in which we've pivoted is that we now know we need to double down on that strategy,” said Amit Bagga, deputy director of NYC Census 2020, noting that the infrastructure was already in place. “We've built it in such a way that it is allowing us to be nimble quickly and pivot very, very quickly.”

While the city had the benefit of laying months of groundwork, including 500 events around the city before the Census even began, the state has repeatedly dragged its feet. When Gotham Gazette inquired, the state had little to offer about how its own efforts have undoubtedly been hobbled by the pandemic.

Governor Cuomo had pledged a $60 million overall effort, including $20 million in grant funding that has not been sent out to nonprofits, many of which are already working on census outreach. The rest of the spending was meant to reflect state agency operations shifted toward census work, while the governor was seeking another $10 million in the upcoming state budget. 

Much of the state’s plans prior to the outbreak, which were provided by the Division of Budget, involved using the public-facing aspects of state entities to get out the census message. For example, the MTA would have used its ad space to tell people to fill out the Census. The Metro-North Railroad could have informed people at its monthly customer forums and “Station Talk” initiatives, where station managers meet and greet commuters. 

The State Athletic Commission would have provided census materials at its events. Various departments such as the Divisions of Licensing, the Division of Consumer Protection, and the Department of Motor Vehicles would have posted signage at their offices, visited by millions each year. 

But virtually all those proposed efforts fall apart when the public is told to remain at home to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 outbreak. There are no long lines at the DMV. Subways are running with far fewer passengers. The Athletic Commission is suspending events.  

Asked specifically about how the state was revamping its efforts, spokespeople for the governor did not provide any details or make anyone available for comment. Freeman Klopott, a state Division of Budget spokesperson, said in a statement, “State agencies continue to advance outreach plans and deploy resources as applicable in the current environment as part of the statewide campaign to ensure every New Yorker is counted. As soon as is possible, direct outreach efforts will move forward.”

But with the governor himself predicting that the crisis could last up to nine months, it’s hard to imagine how soon direct outreach will be possible. State Senator Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn Democrat who has focused on the Census, said he’s hoping the state will recalibrate its efforts but hasn’t heard anything about how.

“For those of us who have been talking about the Census for the past six months, this is the worst case scenario,” Myrie said. “This is exactly what we did not want to happen. We did not want the count to begin and for us to be behind the ball. It's why we were so persistent in our calls for the release of the money.” 

He also noted that the federal government’s lackluster response to New York’s pleas for more resources to fight the outbreak are the very debate central to the Census. “Part of the fight with this crisis is not getting what we deserve from the federal government,” he said. “New York is at the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, yet we are not receiving the requisite resources. That's the exact argument that we have made for why the Census should be the most important thing, because we don't get the federal money that we deserve on a consistent basis. So I'm hoping that we can invest to avoid that catastrophe.”

[You can fill out the census online here. A digital code is not required though one might have been/be sent to you in the mail. You can also fill it out by phone by calling 844-330-2020. The Bureau also offers assistance and different phone lines for various languages. You can find those here.]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Reconfigures 2020 Census Efforts in Response to Coronavirus — and Reports Good Initial News Wed, 25 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Poll: New Yorkers Financially Strained by Coronavirus, Approve Governor's Response More Than Mayor’s https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9246-poll-new-yorkers-financially-strained-coronavirus-approve-cuomo-response-more-than-de-blasio https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9246-poll-new-yorkers-financially-strained-coronavirus-approve-cuomo-response-more-than-de-blasio briefing novel covid

(photo: Don Pollard/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


As New Yorkers find themselves at the country’s epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, a majority of them are worried that they do not have the financial resources to survive if the current situation lasts more than a few months, according to a new poll. And in this time of uncertainty and anxiety, the poll found that more New Yorkers are looking to Governor Andrew Cuomo to shepherd them out of the crisis than Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

The poll, of 807 registered New York City voters, was conducted online between March 20-22 by Change Research and was commissioned by Arena, a national progressive organization formed by former campaign staffers to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, which trains Democratic candidates and campaign staff. 

After a somewhat slow start, Governor Cuomo’s leadership during the outbreak has been broadly praised. His daily briefings are now being carried by cable and broadcast networks, and he has been commended for providing a semblance of calm and stability during a particularly unpredictable time, while also pushing for what New York needs to combat the crisis. In the new poll, Cuomo received an overwhelming 73% approval rating from those surveyed. And 47% of those polled said the governor is doing an “excellent” job of handling the coronavirus outbreak; another 30% said he is doing a “good’ job, and 15% said he is doing a “fair” job. Only 7% of voters polled said he is doing a “poor” job. 

De Blasio fared far worse, with a 40% approval rating. More than a third of voters, 31%, said he is doing a poor job of handling the crisis; while 14% gave him an excellent rating; 28% said he is doing a good job; and 26% said he is doing a fair job of it. 

The ratings aren’t all that surprising for the mayor, who has seen his favorability on the slide in his second term, well before the coronavirus outbreak. For the governor, however, the numbers reflected a significant bounce from other recent polling. As recently as February, Cuomo saw his favorability rating fall to 44 in a Siena College Research Institute poll, compared to 50% of respondents who gave him an unfavorable rating. As the poll noted at the time, the governor’s ratings have “been on a seesaw” for the last year. 

But political leadership aside, what worries New Yorkers more is how they will be able to weather the financial impact of the coronavirus, which has already led to many layoffs across several major industries and the suspension of non-essential businesses. 

“New Yorkers have lost faith in the Mayor and are increasingly looking towards the Governor to lead us out of this nightmare,” said Ravi Gupta, co-founder and managing partner of Arena, in a statement. “Most importantly, New Yorkers are financially strained and feeling the walls closing in. If relief doesn’t come fast, we’ll see suffering throughout the city at levels we haven’t seen in decades.”

The poll found that just over half, 51%, feel secure in their current jobs; 24% worry they may lose employment, while 14% said they had already lost their jobs because of the coronavirus. The rest had been unemployed before the outbreak began.

Only 42% said they would have enough money to meet their basic needs if the shutdown situation across the city lasts through the end of April; 36% were sure they wouldn’t have enough, while 22% just remained uncertain. 

If the shutdown lasts through July, the numbers look worse. Only 30% of New Yorkers surveyed said they were confident they could meet their needs over that timeline, while 47% were not. Governor Cuomo has warned that the pandemic could very well last for months beyond that, perhaps even through the end of the year, while New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot has often pegged September as a hopeful return to normal city business.

Part of people’s relative confidence may stem from the fact that a large number of voters surveyed, 42%, believed that social isolations and business closings would end within two months while another 28% thought it would take three to four months. Only 16% believe it could take longer. 

Despite the widespread anxiety, however, New Yorkers were broadly supportive of the measures that officials have taken to stem the tide: 93% agreed with the decision to close the city’s public schools and only 5% disagreed. In total, 80% also strongly support or somewhat support a “shelter-in-place” order, while 17% strongly or somewhat opposed it.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Poll: New Yorkers Financially Strained by Coronavirus, Approve Governor's Response More Than Mayor’s Wed, 25 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The State Legislature in a State of Emergency https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9231-new-york-state-legislature-cuomo-state-of-emergency-coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9231-new-york-state-legislature-cuomo-state-of-emergency-coronavirus num limited senate

A near-empty chamber conducts Senate business (photo: NY Senate Media Services)


As New York has become the country’s epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo has stepped onto the national stage as New York's (and the region's) captain, coordinating the state's response to the outbreak with a profusion of executive orders and fireside chats from the State Capitol, streamed daily and with PowerPoint.

The governor has signed 11 executive orders, suspending dozens of laws, as he, his top aides, and public health officials respond to the most pressing needs presented by the emergency. He has been speaking regularly with President Trump and is leading a growing coalition of states in taking unified action to battle the novel coronavirus.

"I accept full responsibility," the governor said Friday when he signed a sweeping order to require all non-essential businesses statewide to close or stop having employees commute to work. "If someone is unhappy, somebody wants to blame someone, people complain about someone, blame me. There is no one else who is responsible for this decision."

While the Legislature retains some significant power in an emergency, like the ability to override any executive emergency decree, it so far has settled into a role of limited checks on Cuomo's executive power as the disaster unfolds. Few question the necessity of swift, resolute government during a crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak in New York. But some watchdogs note the legislative branch has become marginal in governing during the crisis, while much of the state's complex legal and regulatory framework is pushed aside.

The governor's emergency powers come from a set of statutes known as the Executive Law, which give Cuomo virtually unilateral discretion to modify or suspend any law or regulation in a disaster. At his request, the governor's power in such circumstances was recently expanded through legislation passed by the two Democratic majorities of the Legislature, along with a $40 million package to help him fight the virus.

"The governor has very broad power to set aside, modify provisions of state and local law in a disaster to address the disaster," said Evan Davis, senior counsel at the law firm Cleary Gottlieb and former counsel to Governor Mario Cuomo in the 1980s. "And the limit on that power is: the Legislature may terminate...anything that the governor has done."

"They do have an ability to pull the governor back, but whether or not they have the interest in doing so is another question entirely," said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a good government watchdog.

The reasons are complicated. The State Legislature is a huge, two-house, many-member body that operates on majority rule, and simply cannot act as quickly as the governor. Because of its congregational nature, its day-to-day operations have been profoundly disrupted by social distancing mandates (somewhat unique to the coronavirus, as opposed to a hurricane, terrorist attack, or many other emergency events). And the speed of new information about the outbreak and the number of new directives being issued by state, city, and federal officials daily is unprecedented in recent history.

On March 3, the Legislature passed and Cuomo quickly signed the bill freeing up $40 million in state funds to go toward emergency coronavirus management and amending the Executive Law to give the governor greater powers during an emergency, which will not expire until April 30, 2021, a move that has raised concerns among advocates like Horner.

The amended law gives Cuomo the power to suspend any law and authorizes him to issue "any directive" as long as it is "necessary to cope with the disaster." But the statute retains an important clause, which gives the Legislature power to terminate any order of the governor's through concurrent resolution. A majority vote in both chambers is sufficient to block any executive action.

"So it's sort of important that the Legislature stays open for business at the capacity to act, otherwise they lack all capacity to be a check on an absolute power by the chief executive," Davis said.

"Obviously you want to defer greatly to the chief executive in this kind of situation but absolute power is never a good idea," he added.

How exactly the Legislature "stays open for business" poses another challenge, with three lawmakers already testing positive for COVID-19, all in the Assembly, and activity in the chambers reduced to a trickle as government employees move mostly to remote work. Davis suggests the Legislature can use its termination power under the Executive Law as a check on Cuomo, to bring him to the table in setting the parameters for executive orders.

There is no provision in state law that requires the governor to give advance notice of executive orders to the Legislature, Davis noted.

"We are working closely with the Executive and the Assembly," wrote Gary Ginsburg, a spokesperson for the State Senate majority conference, by email. Spokespeople for Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Cuomo (all Democrats) did not respond to inquiries about the nature of communication among the leaders around executive orders, or whether norms around their vetting are being established.

Legislators have returned to Albany to pass some key bills, including paid sick leave, doing so using a special new approach to social distancing while debating and voting in the chambers.

Having moved largely to tele-commuting and facing the pressures posed by the outbreak, Horner fears legislators may have also lost ground in negotiating the state budget, which is due April 1.

"The governor is in the driver's seat to begin with, the Legislature now really is not even in the front seat anymore. They've moved to the back seat when it comes to the budget," he said.

Budget negotiations are happening, and legislators may return to the capital this week, possibly to vote on a deal if one comes together. Cuomo has insisted that legislators should continue to travel to the capital to do their work and pass a budget before the April 1 deadline, which starts the new fiscal year. He’s also said he wants to include a variety of policy decisions in the budget deal, an annual Albany practice but where the governor is potentially able to exercise even more leverage this year.

"It's not like they haven't thought about the [Executive Law], they just passed an amendment to it a couple of weeks ago,” Horner said of legislators. “They are well aware of their powers, they are well aware they could put the brakes on the governor if they wished, and there's no evidence that they wished to do so.”

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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The State Legislature in a State of Emergency Mon, 23 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
As They Issue Dire Shortage Warnings, Neither State Nor City Has Plan for Ventilator Triage https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9235-as-they-issue-dire-shortage-warnings-neither-state-nor-city-has-plan-for-ventilator-triage https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9235-as-they-issue-dire-shortage-warnings-neither-state-nor-city-has-plan-for-ventilator-triage gov cuomoo 3way

Gov. Cuomo gives dire warnings about hospital capacity (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)


City and state officials have been saying for over a week that as the spread of coronavirus continues New York's hospitals will not be able to provide life-saving treatment for everyone who needs it. One of the most immediate needs is ventilators, which are required to save the most critical COVID-19 patients and are already in short supply in New York City hospitals. With the note of alarm reaching a fever pitch in recent days, public health officials have not made available an official policy regarding ventilator triage, and have not said that any exist.

The pace of urgent developments and the overwhelming set of challenges posed by the unprecedented coronavirus crisis have left the state's highest officials themselves triaging the most pressing life-or-death matters. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have been calling on the federal government to provide more medical supplies -- most importantly ventilators -- while also pursuing them themselves.

Saying on Sunday that he had actually been able to secure an additional 6,000 ventilators, Cuomo said, "Ventilators are the most important piece of equipment and the piece of equipment that is most scarce.”

De Blasio is now saying New York City will need more ventilators very soon to avoid additional loss of life. The mayor said on CNN Monday morning that on Sunday evening he told President Trump and Vice President Pence, “if we don't get a supply of ventilators quickly, our public hospital system, literally after about a week or so, we will not have enough ventilators to keep people alive who could live through this crisis and could be saved.”

As of Monday afternoon, 1,500 of the city's 3,500 ventilators were in use, according to the mayor's office, and the administration is seeking 15,000 from the federal government by April. In the afternoon, the mayor announced the federal government was sending the city an initial 400 ventilators to help.

Calling ventilators “the number one precious commodity” during a Monday briefing from Albany, Cuomo said that there are 3,000 ICU beds across the state, but that “we may need between 18,000 to 37,000. That's my greatest concern because that's where we need ventilators to turn those ICU beds into beds for people suffering from the virus."

But as they predict dire situations and scramble to secure more ventilators, New York government and public health officials do not yet appear to be creating any ventilator allocation policies. 

And the likely shortfall and short timeline are worrisome for medical ethicists who say any government policy that may ultimately dictate who lives and who dies should be thoroughly communicated and publicly vetted.

Asked about ventilator triage guidelines and policy-making, a spokesperson for the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told Gotham Gazette that such guidelines fall into the state Department of Health’s jurisdiction.

In response to a Gotham Gazette inquiry about how difficult decisions will be made by doctors when there are not enough ventilators to save every patient, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health (DOH) wrote: "Under Governor Cuomo’s direction, hospitals in New York State continue to rapidly modify their current operating function to accommodate increasing support for patients with COVID-19 as well as the rest of the hospital population. Specific tactics include stopping elective procedures, reducing current inpatient population and expanding bed capacity. Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker has discussed this with senior hospital leadership from throughout New York State, and this is being enacted throughout the state."

A council led by Ken Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, and Michael Dowling, president of Northwell Health, has been tasked by the governor with developing hospital surge capacity. That body would be responsible for making decisions about ventilator allocation, according to another DOH spokesperson.

At this point in the state's response, the council is discussing every aspect of managing hospital surge, that spokesperson said, with the focus now on ensuring that the required equipment and processes are in place. Cuomo has already made several announcements about how the state is increasing hospital capacity, including with federal help.

In 2015, the DOH's New York State Task Force on Life and the Law developed guidelines for ventilators in a influenza pandemic, which Zucker described as "a foreseeable threat" in the report's introduction. While the task force's guidelines were designed with a "severe pandemic" in mind, the DOH spokesperson said that it is not a binding policy document steering the state's response, though it has been well circulated and read recently within the Department.

Notably, an FAQ accompanying the report specifically mentioned that the state would not be able to stockpile enough ventilators for such a scenario. The stated question was, "Can the State stockpile as many ventilators as would be needed in a severe pandemic?" The answer reads, "Even if New York State purchases additional ventilators, the demand would quickly outpace supply in a severe pandemic. No matter how many ventilators are available, in a severe pandemic there will be shortages because so many people will be sick at the same time. In addition, even with enough ventilators, a sufficient number of trained staff may not be available to operate them, particularly because health care workers will be among the ill."      

The guidelines are broken into three different categories for triaging ventilators (adult, pediatric, and neonatal guidelines) and consider a set of exclusion criteria and mortality risk with treatment. Exclusion criteria include medical conditions connected with "immediate or near-immediate mortality even with aggressive therapy," according to a fact sheet accompanying the document.

Advanced age, disability, “social worth,” are not exclusion criteria under the guidelines. Healthcare providers assessing adult mortality risk use a scoring system called SOFA (Sequential Organ Failure Assessment). For pediatric and neonatal, determinations should be made through "physician clinical judgment, a structured decision-making process that carefully considers only specific clinical factors based on available medical evidence," the sheet said.

Ethicists have been thinking about this at least since the SARS outbreak in 2003, according to Dr. Alison Bateman-House, assistant professor in the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU School of Medicine attached to NYU Langone Health. "When we saw the SARS epidemic and there were more people critically ill than we had the machines to provide for, people actually did the hard work of sitting down and saying, 'Well, if we're going to have to make difficult choices, how do we make them?'"

"Obviously no one was planning per se for COVID-19, because it is new and novel, but the basic principles were there of, there is some sort of respiratory disease that is widely infectious and we don't have enough equipment, how do we prioritize?" she said of the 2015 task force guidelines.

The task force estimated that in a severe pandemic the state could see a shortfall of as many as 15,783 ventilators. President Trump, citing claims made in an op-ed published by former New York State Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey, said Tuesday that New York's current projected shortfall is Cuomo's failure for not purchasing more ventilators in 2015.

The report briefly addresses the idea of stockpiling ventilators and illuminates the state's thinking in 2015. "The State’s current approach to stockpiling a limited number of ventilators balances the need to prepare for a potential pandemic against the need to maintain adequate funding for current and ongoing health care expenses," the report reads. At the time, the state had 1,750 ventilators in reserve.

A footnote later states: "There are significant financial burdens associated with obtaining, storing, and maintaining equipment and supplies. In addition, stockpiling results in significant opportunity costs when choosing stockpiling over another priority."

In terms of hospital capacity, Governor Cuomo has been focused on three things: reducing the rate of the outbreak's spread to help distribute the burden on hospitals over a longer period of time; building new hospital space with the help of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and local stakeholders; and securing necessary medical equipment, from masks to gowns to ventilators. The state DOH says there are also plans to redistribute resources from hospitals in areas that have not been hit hardest.

With more than 60% of the confirmed coronavirus cases statewide, New York City's hospitals may experience the most imminent shortages. As of 6 p.m. Sunday, the Mayor’s Office reported 10,764 positive cases of COVID-19 and 99 related fatalities, with at least 1,800 people hospitalized due to the virus, and of those individuals, at least 450 in the ICU, where ventilators are typically used.

“I made clear to them what I need right now is action, not words, and every day counts because we're literally in that very tight window now that if we don't get the ventilators in particular we will actually start to lose lives who could have been saved,” de Blasio said on CNN Monday of his conversation with Trump and Pence.

The mayor is imploring the federal government to deliver ventilators, surgical masks, gloves and gowns using its emergency production powers, which have in previous times of crisis been used to mandate factories produce necessary supplies. Even as he also asks Trump to produce more ventilators and other essential supplies and deliver them to New York, Cuomo has been purchasing and otherwise securing such equipment. The governor made the Sunday announcement that the state has purchased an additional 6,000 ventilators and is redistributing existing ones to the areas with the highest needs throughout the state, he said.

As with the state, the city's public health officials have not formalized a plan for ventilator allocation and in some ways appear to be ignoring the issue.

A spokesperson for New York City Health + Hospitals, the city's system of 16 public hospitals and other health care facilities, told Gotham Gazette by email Friday that there were no plans to implement ventilator triage and that every patient who needs a ventilator would receive one. The spokesperson noted that Health + Hospitals is a single health system that could shift resources from one facility to another as needed, and that it is coordinating closely with city, state, and federal agencies to ensure the most clinically appropriate care is provided.

In response to an inquiry Friday seeking clarity on the apparently contradictory information coming from the Mayor and Health + Hospitals, a spokesperson wrote, "We expect to meet our patient’s [sic] needs."

In terms of the city's private hospitals and coordination with City Hall and the public system, mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said that "There is a daily call” among Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, Health + Hospitals CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz, and Ken Raske, the president and CEO of the Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents 250 not-for-profit hospitals in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

During an appearance this past week on the New York Times podcast The Daily, host Michael Barbaro asked Governor Cuomo about how the apparently imminent choices of which critical patients get ventilators and which do not will be made. "Well, I pray we don’t get there,” Cuomo said. “But if we get there, it should be a medical decision. Unless God intervenes and God makes the determination first."

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: This article has been updated with the latest ventilator information from the mayor's office on Monday afternoon and Cuomo's Monday comments about ventilators and ICU beds, as well as additional information on ventilator stockpiles from the 2015 DOH Task Force report. 

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As They Issue Dire Shortage Warnings, Neither State Nor City Has Plan for Ventilator Triage Mon, 23 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Coronavirus' Impact on State Finances, with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9221-max-murphy-podcast-coronavirus-impact-on-new-york-state-finances-comptroller-tom-dinapoli https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9221-max-murphy-podcast-coronavirus-impact-on-new-york-state-finances-comptroller-tom-dinapoli tom dinapoliwbai600

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli on state finances (photo: Governor's Office)


March 18, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Coronavirus' Impact on State Finances, with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli

tom dinapoli wbai317New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli joined the show to discuss how the coronavirus crisis may impact state finances and more. The comptroller talked with us just after his office put out a new analysis, at the request of Governor Andrew Cuomo, of how the coronavirus outbreak and its impacts may reduce expected state tax revenue for next fiscal year, which showed a roughly $4 billion to $7 billion drop from the $88 billion previously forecasted. What does it mean? Listen in.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Coronavirus' Impact on State Finances, with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli Wed, 18 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000