UTICA - U.S. Rep. Anthony J. Brindisi, D-22, Utica, addressed coronavirus/COVID-19 concerns of senior Americans in his district on Tuesday as a guest of the AARP Telephone Town Hall.
The hour-long call moderated by AARP New York Associate State Director for the Hudson Valley, Kat Fisher included discussions about social security, personal protective equipment for nursing homes, and stimulus payments during the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.
AARP New York Director of Government Affairs & Advocacy, David McNally, opened the town hall with comments explaining how the AARP fought for "vital measures" in stimulus laws passed by President Trump to make payments for those collecting social security as a primary income easier to receive.
"Social security recipients will not have to file a tax return to get their payments," McNally said. "The check will automatically be deposited in your bank account. If you don't have direct deposit, a check will be mailed to you."
McNally continued to explain how the new laws benefit those forced to collect unemployment insurance due to coronavirus- related lay-offs, as well as extending deadlines for Americans to take their required minimum distributions from their retirement plans.
"These are important victories for Americans 50 and older," McNally said. "They would not have been possible without the thousands of phone calls, emails, and actions from male and female members across the country, including, I know, many on the phone today and in this congressional district."
Brindisi said how important he felt this forum was for the people looking for answers to questions they had in this scary environment.
"Now more than ever it's important for older Americans to have good, reliable information and access to their elected officials," Brindisi said. " As COVID-19 continues to hurt many of our loved ones, our communities, and our economy, we need to be working together to get resources and information to everyone across our district."
Brindisi said as the congressional representative of this district he has worked in Washington with both Democrats and Republicans to pass bipartisan legislation to get upstate New Yorkers the resources they need.
Brindisi also offered help through his office.
"If you're having any trouble accessing your benefits," he said. "Or with a federal agency like IRS, or need help in this pandemic please, call my office. We are all in this fight together. I, as well as my staff, are here to assist and help you in your time of need."
Brindisi said last week in the House of Representatives he voted in support of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES Act, an extension of the CARES Act, until January 2021, which would provide another round of stimulus checks to millions of eligible Americans and extend expanded unemployment benefits, among other provisions.
"This legislation includes critical provisions to help upstate (New York) hospitals," Brindisi said. "Also, protections for older Americans, aide to our area farmers, and much more."
Fisher kicked off the Q&A portion of the event by asking Brindisi if he and his colleagues in Congress will support critical funding for personal protective equipment and testing for both employees and residents in nursing homes in the next coronavirus relief package.
Brindisi said the HEROES Act, which includes several AARP priorities to address the crisis in nursing homes including greater access to virtual visitation, efforts to step up the quality of care, safety, and reporting in these facilities.
"It also provides $500 million in funding so states like New York could create 'strike teams'," Brindisi explained. "Teams that could be sent to assist skilled nursing facilities where residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19."
These teams, Brindisi said, could be deployed within 72 hours of three residents, or employees being diagnosed with COVID-19 to keep the virus from spreading throughout the facility.
Nancy, from Whitesboro, said she was a little intimidated when she listened to [Senate] Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. talking about not wanting to bail out "blue states." "Do you have any thoughts about how likely the Senate is to take any action at all," she asked the congressman. "I disagree with Mitch McConnell when he says we should not be helping state and local governments," Brindisi answered. "We are all Americans first, before the party. I'm hopeful Mr. McConnell will come to his senses [on that issue]. There is broad bipartisan support in the Senate to fund state and local governments."
An online comment came in from a constituent known only as Joe and he asked, "Hearing that social security is in trouble, will it run out of money sooner now that we are in such an economic downturn, and is there anything Congress can do to keep it strong?"
"We have to do everything we can to protect and preserve social security," Brindisi said. "The shorty answer, Joe, is we have to make sure we're not handing out big tax cuts to billionaires, millionaires and multi-national corporations who move jobs overseas and don't need it."
Brindisi also said the Social Security trust fund is being "held harmless" in these coronavirus relief bills.
"That means Social Security cannot be cut," Brindisi said.
The last question of the event focused on the general public not following health officials' guidance.
Micheline from Marcy asked the congressman what can be done about people who refuse to wear a mask in public and won't practice social distancing.
" I was under the impression these people would be fined," Micheline said. "I've heard nothing about that and it's getting worse every day."
"The mask is really for the safety of others," Brindisi said. "So I would encourage through education the need to wear these masks through this time period. It's up to the local government to enforce that and I would encourage them to do so."
Brindisis reminded everyone on the call if they need assistance to please call his office in Utica at (315) 732-0713, Binghamton office (607) 242-0200, or on his website at brindisi.house.gov.