A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward

With the state legislature returning to session this week there are a number of vital items that need to be considered to move our state forward in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are in the midst of a phased re-opening of the state and I am pleased that the regions that make up the 51st Senate District are among the first to get back to business.  As more and more businesses open their doors, we need to continue to follow the recommended health and safety guidelines to ensure we do not have to backtrack.  I would invite everyone to review the website https://forward.ny.gov/  for details on the phased re-opening.

Simply offering re-opening guidelines and telling our businesses they are able to bring employees back is not enough.  There are a number of bills I am supporting to help our small businesses survive.  The legislation includes:

S.8179-Small Business Relief Bill – Comprehensive 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;

S.8172- 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;

S.8249- 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;

S.8319- 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.

Earlier this month, I joined with members of the Republican Conference in calling on the Senate majority leader to include these bills on the legislative agenda upon our return.   The letter to the majority leader reads in part:

“Tragically, we’ve lost many New Yorkers to this virus and that human toll is incalculable. However, our citizens are also suffering from the rapidly growing economic toll of this crisis. The near-total closure of businesses statewide has put New Yorkers out of work. More than 1.8 million state residents have filed for unemployment and thousands are turning to food banks for help, many for the first time in their lives.

“As state leaders, it is incumbent on us to do everything we can to address this unfolding economic disaster. 

“We believe the first step in that process is to take up measures that will help save many small businesses who are at or nearing the financial brink. Small businesses employ nearly half of our state’s private sector workforce and are the backbone of New York’s economy. If we allow this crisis to put them out of business, our state’s economy, and more importantly – our residents – will suffer for years from a devastating loss of jobs and opportunity.

“The sacrifices of everyday New Yorkers across the state are making a difference and giving us hope that better days are imminent. However, we need to ensure that when this crisis has passed, that there are jobs and opportunities waiting for them. That is a goal that needs our support and action right now.”

Safely re-opening our small businesses and providing employers with the means to re-establish themselves is a clear priority of mine.  Ensuring employees are able to safely return to work is just as critical.