In the predictably messy $2 trillion coronavirus response bill approved by Congress on Friday, one provision stands out as a particular travesty: the nonsensical way it distributes public health funding to the states.

The chief victim of this legislative malpractice is New York, which is ground zero for the pandemic in the United States.

The $150 billion “Coronavirus Relief Fund,” a late addition to the package, is supposed to cover states’ emergency costs related to the pandemic, which are piling up fast.

Yet New York, which accounts for almost half of the nation’s diagnosed coronavirus cases — and more than one-third of its deaths — is due to receive just 5% of the money, or $7.5 billion. The nation’s original hotspot, the state of Washington, is getting a paltry 2%, or $2.9 billion.

That’s not merely unfair, but dangerous. If federal lawmakers intend to minimize the loss of life, they should be directing their firehose where the flames are flaring highest, not wastefully sprinkling the entire countryside.

New York — and especially New York City — is sliding toward the nightmare that epidemiologists have warned about: Emergency rooms are overflowing. Hospitals beds are filling up. Ventilators needed to keep the sickest patients alive are running short. Health-care workers are rationing masks and gowns.

Worst of all, New Yorkers are dying by the hundreds — which could soon become thousands if the current trend continues. One hard-pressed hospital resorted to storing bodies in a refrigerated truck.

Bracing for worse to come, the state and city governments are scrambling to accelerate testing, set up temporary hospital space, bring in emergency personnel, drum up critical supplies and extend state-sponsored health coverage for those who need it — all of which will cost billions.

State officials estimate that they recently spent $600 million just on coronavirus-related supplies and equipment in a single week. No other part of the country is facing bills that large at this point in the outbreak.

That being the case, New York should have received the lion’s share of emergency public health funding from Washington. Instead, bill drafters in the Senate divided the money according to the usual political math of a legislative body in which all states, no matter how large or small, have the same two votes.

They started by guaranteeing at least $1.25 billion to each state — including Wyoming, whose population is about one-fifth of Brooklyn’s. As of this writing, it had recorded a mere 70 cases of coronavirus and, thankfully, not a single death.

The Senate allocated the rest of the money in proportion to population, which is only marginally more sensible — because the coronavirus has paid no attention to demographics. Medium-sized Washington and Louisiana have each lost more citizens that the two largest states, California and Texas, combined.

The absurd result of this formula is that South Dakota is due to receive about $24 million for each diagnosed case within its borders, while New York will get just $168,000.

When Cuomo complained about the lack of fiscal relief for the state government — whose fiscal year starts on Tuesday — New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand defensively replied that the relief fund was meant for outbreak response, not budget balancing. Indeed, the stimulus bill specifies that the money can only be used for “necessary expenditures due to the public health emergency.”

But of course that makes the relief fund’s formula even less rational, because it does not even attempt to match the money to the need.

The bulk of the $2 trillion package seeks to mitigate economic losses for workers and businesses and allocates billions in extra funding for hospitals and other government functions. New York should get at least a reasonable share of those portions.

In terms of addressing the actual public health crisis — which should have been their most urgent priority — Congress, and especially the Senate, allowed bring-home-the-bacon politics to override the public good.

© 2020 New York Daily News

About the Author

Bill Hammond

As the Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy, Bill Hammond tracks fast-moving developments in New York’s massive health care industry, with a focus on how decisions made in Albany and Washington affect the well-being of patients, providers, taxpayers and the state’s economy.

Read more by Bill Hammond

You may also like

Vast public-construction plans come at a huge price for NY

"These are not ordinary times,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo intoned Thursday as he began a State of the State follow-up speech devoted to New York’s infrastructure needs — without accounting for the fact that Empire State infrastructure spending is uniquely prone to boondoggle. Read More

Calling Tax Cut “Theft,” Cuomo Continues to Push For Federal Bucks With Phony Math

The results of this week’s Georgia Senate runoffs, assuring Democrats will soon control both houses of Congress, as well as the White House, had to come as a huge relief to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Read More

Brace Yourself, New York

As if a second wave of Covid-19 infections weren’t enough, New York’s prospects for economic recovery will face new headwinds—from Albany. Read More

Democrats’ Supermajority in the State Senate is Terrible News for NY’s economy

As if a second COVID wave weren’t enough, New York’s prospects for economic recovery will face new headwinds — from Albany. Read More

No matter who wins the elections, New York is still in big trouble

After months of waiting for a federal coronavirus stimulus bailout that never materialized, Gov. Cuomo has staked the future stability of New York’s public finances on the outcome of this year’s election. Read More

Criminal case against union big shows insanity of Cuomo’s labor mandates

The indictment of New York’s top construction-union official on federal corruption charges this month raises a big question: If businesses are paying bribes to avoid having to work with certain construction unions, why does Gov. Cuomo insist the state keep doing it? Read More

Students Need Reforms, Not HEROES

Families and businesses are watching their bottom lines and stretching each dollar. But House Democrats are pushing a plan to prevent America’s schools from doing the same thing. Read More

The Hospital Lobbyists Behind Cuomo’s Nursing Home Scandal

Look closely at a questionable Empire State health-care policy, and you’re liable to find the fingerprints of the Greater New York Hospital Association, the hospital and health-system trade group that is one of the most influential forces in New York politics. Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130
E-Mail: info@empirecenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.