INTERVIEW: Delgado On Relief Amid COVID-19

March 30, 2020
In The News

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) – New York 19th District Congressman Antonio Delgado got on the phone with WSKG’s Gabe Altieri to discuss relief for farmers and small businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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[TRANSCRIPT]

GABE ALTIERI: This is WSKG News. I’m Gabe Altieri.

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have a large economic impact on small businesses and farms across the country. Some relief was laid out in the federal stimulus bill passed last week.

We’re joined now by New York 19th District Congressman Antonio Delgado and, Congressman, there are a lot of farmers in your district, many of which don’t have the financial room for error under normal circumstances. So how concerned are you about the effect of this pandemic and what effect it will have on the ag industry?

Democrat Antonio Delgado. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

ANTONIO DELGADO: Yeah, I’m very concerned. As you noted, there’s been challenges for our small family farms for some time now. Particularly, our dairy farmers. The last couple years with the trade war and tariffs, the uncertainty around, you know, entering into the USMCA agreement and certainly having to deal with other consolidation and the ways in which D.C. tends to focus on a bit too much, in my opinion, on corporate ag and big ag at the expense of small family farms. And as a member of the ag committee, I’ve made a point to really prioritize supporting our small family farms you have five thousand or so in the district and 97% of them are small family farms.

So, when this pandemic took hold, clearly, there was going to have a harsh impact on our farmers in many regards. And just think about from the standpoint of the local producers who rely on farmers markets. You can see how that would be very painful in terms of how that whole arena now is no longer feasible.

So, what I’ve tried to do in this package is make sure we do provide disaster relief, disaster aid, for small family farms are partnered up with Congresswoman Pingree and we were able to secure $9.5 billion for disaster assistance on top of the $14 billion for U.S.D.A.’s [Commodity Credit Corporation]*, the CCC. So we feel good about that. We’ll keep working, but certainly want to make sure we prioritize protecting our small family farms to these difficult times.

GA: Well yeah and, you know, you’ve heard so much about – from elected officials about how this bill wasn’t perfect.

AD: Yes.

GA: What else needs to be done for your average farmer to feel the kind of relief that they’re going to need after you know, this pandemic is, you know, over. At least the apex is over?

AD: Well, I think it’s more important to just continue to focus on providing extensive robust relief. We’re going to, probably, have to keep dipping into that $9.5 billion, we’re going to have to keep dipping into the CCC. I think it continued to expand upon food assistance. There was an additional $15.5 billion for SNAP and there was about $450 million for food banks and the $8.8 billion for child nutrition programs.

But I think we need to level all those programs up as we continue to move forward and we need to think creatively about how to help our farmers who are helping others, you know, they’re on the front lines, providing needed, needed, food security for families. And to the extent that we’re seeing non-profits work and coordinate with farms, to get food out to address food insecurity, we need to make sure that we’re enabling that process, the tax credits, or, you know, the appropriate funding sources.

So, a lot of work needs to be done to continue to uplift our farmers. You know, during this, these challenging times.

GA: There’s going to be a lot of people asking for help, especially other small businesses. I was speaking to a barber not too long ago that was worried that whatever package gets passed on, whether it’s on the state level, at the federal level, that there’ll be winners and losers and that maybe his business will be left out. How do you ensure that everybody is, you know, treated fairly, and can get some sort of relief out of these bills as you continue to pass them?

AD: Yeah, so I’ll speak to the small business piece. You know, I think we did a lot of good in this package, you know, trying to make sure we cast as wide a net as possible to look out for small business owners, including, you know, the self employed, including ESOP’s, including nonprofits, small midsize. And so when we think about the three buckets of funding, there is the $17 billion for SBA to cover six months of payments for small businesses with existing SBA loans.

So, if you’re a small business owner that already has an SBA loan, automatically six months of your loan repayments will be forgiven. I introduced that bill I was happy to see that get included. There’s also $10 billion for SBA emergency grants of up to $10,000 to provide immediate relief for small businesses, operating costs and that is applicable to all the different programs I just detailed. All types of businesses I just detailed. So from small businesses, to vendors, to making sure that we’re focusing on ESOPs, cooperatives, nonprofits, all of them have access to that funding.

And then lastly, there’s the $350 billion that we were able to provide grant dollars to small businesses and nonprofits to maintain the existing workforce. So, as long as you maintain your employment or your employee workforce, these loans will turn into grants, and there’ll be no repayment required.

So again, these are all buckets of funding that apply to a myriad of different kinds of small businesses that I think you do a pretty good job of – we did the same thing with the unemployment insurance. I mean, the unemployment insurance is not just applied to, you know, your full-time workers that applies to part-time workers. It applies to gig workers, independent contractors, so we really think try to do a good job of making sure that nobody is excluded in the situation.

GA: Well and Congressman, we don’t have a ton of time left here, but there’s been a lot made this week about state and local officials asking Governor Cuomo to put a travel ban on for people in hotspots around the New York City area. Do you think that should happen? I mean, there there have been officials in Delaware County and in Broome County, both of which that are in your district that have called for this worried about people traveling for vacation or otherwise to do their areas.

Should a formal travel ban be put in place?

AD: You know, I look at it from the standpoint that we need to be abiding by the guidelines. The guidelines currently instituted by the CDC, and by the administration, coming out of the administration are – and the state at this point, are to self-isolate. And so you should maintain your position where you are and you should certainly practice social distancing. When you are out-and-about, I don’t think people need to be traveling for non-essential purposes. In fact, that is what the CDC just suggested, or advised, in terms of the travel guidelines.

Unless you are traveling for an essential purpose, there really isn’t any need for folks to travel. So I think that needs to be the way in which we inform ourselves when we’re thinking about this conversation.

And with that in mind, I would also add, though, that we must be compassionate with each other and understand that everybody is managing their lives respectively. Everybody has, you know, demands on their life and people that care for and tend to whether their kids or their seniors and so all those dynamics are going to require some flexibility in terms of making sure people are able to protect themselves and their families and their loved ones. And I think we have to be compassionate in that regard as well.

GA: New York 19th district Congressman Antonio Delgado. Thank you so much for joining us.

AD: Thank you. Much appreciated.

GA: This is WSKG News.