5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: July 24, 2020

Welcome to the weekend, CivMixers. And it officials IS the weekend, as this post is coming to you a little on the late side. I was traveling…not far, just a quick jaunt to see family in my beloved Hudson Valley, which, by the way, is blowing up with NYC refugees.

I guess I do not blame them for seeking solace in my lovely valley. But they sure are making things more crowded than usual and driving up the cost of real estate.

1) As public health officials warned today that the coronavirus poses new risks to parts of the Midwest and South, enhanced federal aid that helped avert financial ruin for millions of unemployed Americans was set to expire — leaving only threadbare safety nets offered by individual states to catch them.

Early in the pandemic, with the economy cratering, the federal government added $600 to weekly unemployment checks. That increase is ending, and there is no deal in sight in D.C. on the next round of COVID-19 stimulus funding.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer blasted their Republican counterparts, blaming their “months-long disarray and delay” for a lapse in federal unemployment benefits which are set to expire in the coming days (on July 31, to be exact).

House Democrats passed an additional $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill in May which would extend the federal unemployment benefits through the end of the year, but the Republican-led Senate refused to take the measure up.

Senate Republican leaders have yet to unveil their own proposal after days of discussions with the White House and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Republicans will unveil their coronavirus proposal next week, but that it would include only a partial extension of the enhanced unemployment benefits. He expressed hope that some sort of stopgap deal could be reached in the coming weeks, but Pelosi has rejected the idea of a temporary extension to enhanced unemployment benefits.

2) Here’s an interesting little twist: Even as the CDC, after criticism from the president for issuing school reopening guidelines that were too “tough and expansive,” is now all in on the call for schools to resume operations in the fall, the school where the president’s own son, Baron, attends classes is mulling either a hybrid part-time model or returning to full on-line instruction.

In a letter to parents, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, a private school in Washington’s Maryland suburbs, said it has yet to decide on a final reopening plan. The school will decide early next month which option to follow.

3) Following ongoing complaints about bars and restaurants failing to adhere to social distancing policies, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today that 37 New York establishments — many of them located in New York City — have been issued notices of violations.

The governor (and others, to be fair) have suggested that social gatherings at watering holes and eateries are at least in part to blame for the spike in COVID-19 infections among young people. And Cuomo is very much interested in preventing the sort of significant upward direction of the curve here in New York that other states are currently experiencing – hence, this action.

Cuomo also stressed that the State Police and the State Liquor Authority can’t do all the necessary enforcement needed, and he called on local governments to “step up and do your job.”

Cuomo’s No. 1 Frenemy, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, was more restrained in his comments on this issue, though he did say he’s aware of problems cropping up in particular in Queens. He also stressed that most owners and employees at most establishments are doing their best to follow the rules.

“If people really ignore the warnings then of course some institutions sadly will be shutdown, fines we’ll use,” de Blasio said. “But I still think we’re striking a balance, and I still believe overwhelmingly compliance has been consistent in most of the city.”

4) Speaking of people who don’t get along with Cuomo, Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin, a former Assembly Republican, has a long history of verbal sparring with the Democratic governor.

Now, the Cuomo administration and McLaughlin are squaring off over a new – and very hot-button – issue: Nursing homes in the time of COVID.

Apparently, the state Department of Health sent surveyors to the Van Rensselaer Manor for a surprise inspection Monday at the request of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which had ordered the inspection following a report from the nursing home of four new suspected cases of coronavirus.

According to a DOH spokesman, the inspectors were stopped mid-survey after McLaughlin showed up and insisted they conduct the survey under supervision. Holmes said this isn’t standard practice. There was some back and forth, and the inspectors departed.

McLaughlin took to Facebook to vent his frustrations over the issue, explaining that he had been concerned the inspectors – who, according to the DOH are tested weekly for COVID and wear appropriate PPE – posed a danger to residents since he didn’t know if they had the virus or not.

The county executive said there’s a standing invitation for the DOH to tour the nursing home, but only if any such visit is “accompanied.”

5) Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen is back in home confinement and out of prison – again – thanks to a judge’s ruling that the feds locked him up in retaliation for plans to write a tell-all book about the president.

Cohen was smiling when he departed the Otisville federal prison in Orange County around 2 p.m., his lawyer Jeff Levine said.

Cohen, who had been allowed to remain confined to his home due to the risk of catching the coronavirus while incarcerated, was sent back to prison on July 9 after he and Levine were presented with an unusual gag order during a check-in with a probation officer in lower Manhattan.

He is serving a three-year sentence for campaign finance violations, tax fraud, lying to Congress and other crimes.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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