U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, urged federal leaders to reach a compromise as negotiations continue for a COVID-19 relief package before the holiday and highlighted new legislation to incentivize young people to live and work in rural communities Wednesday night in his first town hall since Election Day.
Delgado held his 48th town hall virtually on Facebook Live on Wednesday night from Washington. More than 75 constituents presubmitted questions before the town hall or in the comments on the Facebook Live video feed.
Delgado plans to continue to hold the events with constituents through his second term set to begin in January.
Bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate proposed a $908 billion COVID aid bill last week, but have remained at a stalemate for months while negotiating a supplemental coronavirus relief package.
House Democrats passed a $3 trillion federal HEROES Act coronavirus relief package in May, passing a modified $2.2 trillion version in October.
“I would urge my colleagues to get something done,” Delagdo said. “There’s a lot of needs out there. At this point, we can’t expect everything under the sun. We have to get something done between now and the end of the year.”
The most recent $908 billion COVID aid plan includes an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits for 18 weeks and $160 billion for states and localities — less than one third of the $500 billion Democrats requested for local governments.
“To think we haven’t been able to do anything to account for in months is really disgraceful, it’s really sad and it gets to a point where I ask myself, ‘What are you doing here?’” Delgado said of federal lawmakers. “If we can’t step up and get this done, now, when we should have already had it done, then what is our role when people are hurting and struggling?
“Whatever we can agree on, that needs to happen,” he added. “I’ll keep pressing on that as we get through the work.”
Negotiations continue as the Senate, House and White House have each proposed a stimulus plan.
“I think it’s encouraging that everybody’s involved,” Delgado said in a follow-up interview Thursday. “Everyone is working on trying to marry the different proposals together, so I’m encouraged by the fact that everybody’s engaged. I think everybody’s engaged because they know it would be incredibly shameful for us to go the rest of this year without getting a deal done.”
Delgado is advocating to extend into 2021 the Small Business Repayment Relief Act, which allows small businesses to waive principle interest and fees on Small Business Administration loans for up to six months, and introduce another round of Paycheck Protection Program payments for businesses most impacted by the pandemic.
The PPP program has about $130 billion remaining, the congressman said, but it expired in August.
“I heard from a lot of folks on the ground how if they had a second chance to apply for PPP, they would,” Delgado said. “I think it’s important we allow that to happen.”
Delgado also encouraged constituents to apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs appropriated in the CARES Act Congress passed in March.
Delgado encouraged anyone in the 19th District with questions about how to apply for federal pandemic programs or assistance to call his office at 845-443-2930.
Last week, Delgado and U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, IA-01, introduced the Rural Revitalization Now Act to provide up to $50,000 in student loan relief for people who commit to live and work in rural communities for at least eight years. The federal government would cover $25,000 and a sponsor, such as a state, county, locality or nonprofit organization, would match the other $25,000.
The legislation would help bring graduates in any work field to smaller communities of fewer than 20,000 residents, or 100,000 where the population has declined over time. The 19th District’s 11 counties all meet the waning population criteria.
“I think it’s a no-brainer... We hear often how our young people are leaving the area and people are not being drawn to live in upstate New York,” Delgado said. “We want to make sure we incentivize that. If you are a graduate and you have college debt, the government will partner with a state or county and pay up to $50,000 of that loan.
“It’s an opportunity to attract and keep young folks here,” he added.
The congressman will continue to advocate for federal funding to expand high-speed broadband service to the 19th District’s 11 rural counties after a question from Maria in Ulster County. He proposed legislation before the pandemic began to fight for better mapping and hold providers accountable when providing data to the Federal Communications Commission.
“Since COVID, we know, without a doubt, how important internet and broadband access is,” Delgado said, citing the need for schools, businesses and telemedicine. “It is a basic utility at this point. It is not a luxury anymore.
“It’s incumbent upon us in Washington to make sure we step up and invest those taxpayer dollars wisely and build for a better future.”
Delgado continues to focus on legislation to help area farmers, as the 19th District is one of the nation’s most rural congressional districts.
The congressman on Thursday sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue with 19 colleagues requesting to extend the upcoming application deadline for the second round of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
Applications will be accepted through the end of the day Friday.
The congressman also touted his Helping America’s Farmers Act to create an agriculture-specific Economic Inury Disaster Loan program for relief for farmers suffering during the pandemic, and the Small Farm to School Act to create an eight-state pilot program to reimburse public schools at a higher rate for sourcing school lunches to local farmers.
Delgado, who defeated Republican challenger Kyle Van De Water on Nov. 3, looked ahead to 2021 on Wednesday. Delgado sent out a districtwide survey to hear from constituents in the 19th District, which includes all of Columbia and Greene, Delaware, Otsego, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster counties, and parts of Broome, Dutchess, Montgomery and Rensselaer counties.
“Let me know what you’d like to see me focus on in the next couple years in the 117th Congress,” he said.
Session is scheduled to reconvene Jan. 3.
The congressman introduced the Restart Act to create a new forgivable loan program for businesses based on the decline in gross receipts instead of payroll, which PPP largely relies on.
“It’s a big advantage for folks who can’t have the ability based on their business model to bring back individuals on their payroll,” Delgado said.
In his next term, Delgado will also focus on moving the Save Our Stages Act, which creates $10 billion in grants for independent venues, talent representatives and others in the pandemic-ravaged performing arts industry to help cover rent, utilities, insurance and more.
“These are two bills I hope to keep pushing as we navigate through these times,” the congressman said.
Delgado promised to work to ensure the district will have the infrastructure and storage capacity to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to the public. The vaccine should be free for everyone, he said.
The congressman expressed sorrow for the nearly 300,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 complications. The congressman reminded New Yorkers to wear face masks in public and remain a socially distanced 6 feet apart from others to curb the spread of the virus.
“We have a long road to recovery, but we are on the road,” he said. “I’ll do all I can to make sure we continue to persevere through these very challenging times.”
The congressman held 12 virtual town halls, which he held almost weekly at the height of the state’s initial COVID-19 outbreak. Delgado may hold town halls with more frequency as cases increase and if lawmakers pass a supplemental COVID-19 stimulus deal, generating more questions from constituents.
“I want to make sure that we are engaged with the community to provide that information,” Delgado said. “How we do that is still to be determined.”
To view the congressman’s hour-long town hall, visit facebook.com/RepAntonioDelgado.