Written by Michael Goot in The Post-Star on May 13, 2020

How soon aspects of the region will open, what would be in the next stimulus package and how to entice hospitality workers to return to work were topics on the minds of local business leaders at a virtual “Conversation with Your Legislators” event held on Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, provided an update on the next stimulus package that is being negotiated in Congress. It will include aid for state and local governments.

“Our counties have borne the brunt of this and the New York delegation has been united in a bipartisan basis to include that in any bill we send to the president’s desk,” she said during the teleconference call, which was organized by the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Stefanik said she also wants to make sure that the next funding package includes financial assistance and resources for hospitals like Glens Falls Hospital.

Reopening strategy

When the region might go back to some semblance of normal was also a topic of discussion.

Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said as soon as a region meets all seven criteria outlined by the governor, it can reopen with phase one immediately. Every two weeks, the region then can implement the next phase, as long as it still meets all the criteria.

Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said it is unfair that some businesses have been allowed to stay open and others have not.

“You can go into Walmart and buy clothing and everything else, but our small clothing stores like the ones in downtown Glens Falls, they’re not able to open,” she said.

Little hoped that beaches and summer day camps would be able to open up.

“What do you expect kids to do all summer — go find some place to swim when there’s no lifeguard?” she said.

Getting workers back

Another concern that is constantly being expressed by businesses is that laid-off employees are receiving more money from unemployment insurance than they are getting paid at their job, according to Michael Bittel, executive director of the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s tough to motivate some people to come back to work. What are the rights of the employer?” he said.

Stefanik said a requirement of people receiving unemployment benefits is that they return to work if they are asked to come back at their same salary.

“If they turn that job down, they may become ineligible for the unemployment benefits,” she said.

Bittel added that he believes there is a provision in the House Democrats’ stimulus package to extend unemployment insurance through the end of the year.

“While I think the intention is good, that could also add to the challenge of getting people back to work. It’s a really tricky road to go down,” he said.

Stefanik said businesses could use some of the Paycheck Protection Program funds to increase salary. The requirement is they have to use at least 75% to meet payroll and the rest can be used for rent payments or other expenses.

Stefanik said it is frustrating that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not reached out to Republican members from states like New York, New Jersey and Washington state.

Bittel said another concern is Paycheck Protection Program only goes through June 30 and some of these seasonal businesses have not really opened.

Stefanik said the deadline was written into the law and adjusting the timeline is not something that the Department of the Treasury can adjust administratively.

“I do think expanded flexibility for how to use those funds, extending that eight-week period would be the right thing to do,” she said.

Bittel said another concern expressed by business owners is what happens if guests become sick — despite businesses having implemented best practices for cleaning and safety measures.

“We’re just worried about the legal liability in this sue-happy society that we live in. Our businesses are already hurting enough,” he said.

Stec said he does not see everybody rushing to go back to businesses at once. Some people will be reluctant to go until they feel more comfortable and confident they will be safe.

He said he does not see Legislature going back into session to address this liability issue.

In response to a question about the Saratoga Race Course, Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, said she believes the track would be able to offer this racing — without fans, at least initially.

“The hope is with improving health numbers, there would be some opportunity over the seven weeks to open it up to a limited number of fans,” she said.

Reach Michael Goot at 518-742-3320 or mgoot@poststar.com and follow his blog poststar.com/blogs/michael_goot/.

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