ALBANY — With latest unemployment figures showing that more than 1.8 million New Yorkers have filed for unemployment, state Sen. George Borrello urged the Senate leader to resume the 2020 session to address the growing economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Borrello and fellow GOP senators sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins insisting that there are critical pieces of legislation that must be addressed to help New Yorkers who are out of work.
“New York State has mobilized extraordinary resources and resolve towards combating the public health threat posed by COVID-19,” Borrello of Lakewood said Wednesday. “That commitment has helped us avoid some of the truly catastrophic scenarios that were advanced at the start of the pandemic.”
But Borrello said the state’s lawmakers need to show the same determination in the face of the economic disaster that has resulted from the pandemic shutdown.
The senator is one of the most vocal in calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow the economic reopening of the Southern Tier counties in his district.
Borrello noted that New York’s National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) has cited that small businesses have been hurt by the shutdown even more sharply than the broader economy, with approximately 75% applying for federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
He said that the state’s “difficult tax and regulatory environment” are difficult to operate under at any time, but such obstacles can prove to be insurmountable in a downturn.
Borrello noted that most of the measures Republicans are advancing would not involve an outlay of state funds, but are generally more aimed at preserving cash flow. The legislation includes the following bills:
• S8179 — Small Business Relief Bill: The measure includes provisions that would give businesses a 90-day extension on monthly sales and payroll taxes; eliminate penalties for late payment of business and property taxes; offer no interest loans and lines of credit from the NY Mortgage Corp.; and extend the cure period for various violations.
• S8172 — Paid Family Leave: This legislation would support both employees and employers by ensuring employees subject to mandatory or precautionary quarantine are eligible for compensation through the paid family leave program after the utilization of any available paid sick leave. This measure would alleviate the burden on small and seasonal employers of providing paid sick leave for periods of quarantine.
• S8249 — Unemployment Insurance and COVID-19: While layoffs by an employer typically result in higher unemployment insurance rates, this bill would recognize the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic by exempting COVID-19 related layoffs from being used in unemployment rate calculations for the following year.
• S8319 — Coronavirus Business Interruption and Municipal Recovery Program: This measure would establish a financial recovery grant program through the Empire State Development Corporation that would provide monthly relief to businesses, non-profits and local governments who have suffered serious economic loss due to COVID-19 and who have not received insurance payouts or other state or federal assistance.
MEANWHILE, state lawmakers heard from business owners, industry leaders and other experts Wednesday during a joint hearing to evaluate the impact of the coronavirus on small businesses.
It was the first in a series of several COVID-related public hearings that are being organized by the Legislature, which was scheduled to be in session in April and May but has been sidelined amid the pandemic.
Wednesday’s hearing largely focused on the federal response to the pandemic and how it affected small businesses.
Greg Biryla, the New York director NFIB, noted that small business assistance was a relatively small portion of the federal CARES Act, and not all businesses are sure how to properly use the funds or loans they have received from the federal government. Without specific guidance and some latitude for different businesses, he said, forgivable loans could “turn into debt.”
He added that he is concerned some businesses may not be able to afford new health and safety supplies, including masks and hand sanitizer, that will be required once the economy begins to reopen.
”Flexibility is the key,” he said. “We need to understand that every business is unique.”
In written testimony, Michael Kracker, the executive director of the fiscally conservative group Unshackle Upstate, urged lawmakers to consider holding field hearings throughout upstate New York to gauge the specific effects of the pandemic on small business and farms outside of New York City.