Cuomo Proposes Hazard Pay for Coronavirus Front-Line Workers

NEW YORK (New York Daily News/TNS) -
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his daily press briefing on COVID-19, Tuesday in Buffalo. (Darren McGee/Office of Gov. Cuomo)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the federal government Monday to boost wages for health care workers, cops, firefighters and others on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus outbreak, as another 478 New Yorkers died overnight from the respiratory contagion.

In his daily briefing from Albany, Cuomo said Congress should ensure that the next COVID-19 emergency funding package bankrolls a 50% hazard pay bonus for all workers that fit into the “essential” employment category.

“Thanks is nice, but recognition of their efforts and their sacrifice is appropriate,” Cuomo said. “They’re the ones that are carrying us through this crisis.”

And, the governor added, “This crisis is not over.”

In addition to first responders and hospital staff, essential workers include grocery store clerks, teachers and transit workers, among others.

The governor noted that a large number of those workers are people of color.

“We see the infection rate among African-Americans and brown Americans higher proportionally than other groups — why? Because they were out there exposing themselves, that’s why,” he said.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are currently squabbling over how much federal cash to earmark for a small business loan program that ran dry in just two weeks after fielding millions of applications.

“Fund all those businesses,” Cuomo said, “but at the same time don’t forget teachers and police officers and firefighters and transit workers and healthcare workers and nursing home staff.”

The governor is also pushing federal lawmakers to make sure the next emergency package includes more cash for New York state and city governments, which are hemorrhaging money because of the virus. In the Monday briefing, Cuomo said New York will be forced to cut funding for schools, local municipalities and hospitals by 20% if it doesn’t soon get sizable federal bailouts.

Cuomo’s request for more funds came after another 478 people in New York died from the virus between Sunday and Monday, bringing the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 14,347.

Twenty-three of the latest victims died in nursing homes, which have been particularly hard-hit, according to data released by the New York State Department of Health.

The Big Apple continues to suffer the worst consequences of New York’s outbreak, with 9,101 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of Sunday, according to city Health Department data.

The city has a one-day lag in reporting, meaning the count was almost certainly higher Monday.

In addition, the city Health Department reported another 4,582 “probable” coronavirus deaths in the five boroughs. The “probable” category lists people who died from COVID-19-like symptoms without testing positive.

Accounting for those deaths, the city had 13,683 deaths as of Sunday.

Cuomo called New York’s daily death toll “horrifically high,” but noted that it continues to track downward. Monday was the first time in weeks that the tragic daily count fell below 500.

The governor also said daily hospitalizations and intubations are going down, suggesting the worst is over for New York.

The glimmer of good news came on the same day as health officials began a program aimed at testing thousands of people across the state for coronavirus antibodies to gauge immunity levels as New York moves slowly toward reopening its economy.

Cuomo called the effort “the largest antibody test ever done.”

Though New York appears to have reached its apex, Cuomo reiterated he’s not going to rapidly reopen the state’s economy and took a jab at anti-social distancing protesters who have gathered in large groups across the nation in recent days.

“You don’t need protesters to convince anyone in this country that we have to get back to work and we have to get the economy going, and we have to get out of our homes,” Cuomo said. “The question is going to become how, when, how fast, and what do we mean in terms of reopening?”

A social media group is calling on people to swarm the streets around the state Capitol in Albany on Wednesday.

Cuomo suggested such demonstrations are narrow-minded and said patience is key in reopening the economy.

Any rash decision, he said, could result in disastrous consequences.

“What we do today will determine tomorrow,” he said. “If we make smart decisions, you will see smart outcomes in two weeks. We make bad decisions, you will see bad outcomes in two weeks.”

New York’s stay-at-home order, which requires all nonessential businesses and schools to stay closed, is in effect until May 15.

Cuomo urged people Monday to continue following social distancing guidelines, stay at home as much as possible and wear face masks whenever outside.

In a bid to help low-income New Yorkers, Cuomo said the state is sending 500,000 cloth masks and 10,000 gallons of hand sanitizer to public housing communities.

“These communities are especially vulnerable,” he said.