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ARCC Lunch With Legislators Event

On Thursday, February 23rd, the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted the “Lunch With Legislators” event at the Queensbury Hotel. Trisha Rogers – President and CEO of the ARCC – was the MC for the event, and she added levity to the event and kept the pace of the event moving. The legislators in attendance were Congresswoman Elise Stefanik from District 21, New York State Senator Dan Stec from District 45, New York State Senator Jake Ashby from District 43, Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner from District 113 and Assemblyman Matt Simpson from District 114. The questions were provided by the attendees of the event, and the question-and-answer period lasted just under an hour and twenty minutes. 

The legislators who attended this event agreed on the severity of the problems facing the people of New York, and that there are solutions that can be implemented… Each legislator had their own opinion of the struggles facing the region but it was clear that each had empathy and respect for the community, and genuinely wanted to help and support their constituents. 

The first question touched on businesses, manufacturers and the healthcare sector struggling to attract labor; this opened up the conversation to workforce training and childcare, and the concern that extended pandemic unemployment assistance had incentivized people staying out of the workforce as opposed to rejoining the workforce. On a positive side of the issue, Assemblywoman Woerner pointed out a highlight that people are starting businesses and “making jobs instead of taking jobs.” 

The shortages in the workforce led to a discussion on the decreasing population of the state – State Senator Dan Stec said, “There are just fewer people here. We have had 300,000 New Yorkers decide that they don’t want to be New Yorkers anymore. I think a lot of them are going for quality of life.”  

Assemblyman Simpson added that it may be a question of changing priorities: “To some people, what is most important is how much they are taking home, versus their benefits. Most of the younger generation is more concerned about what they are bringing home at the end of the week. I think there needs to be an opportunity to retain people who may want more money in their check at the end of the week as opposed to their benefits.” 

Another problem that the panel agreed on was the burden of the increase in unemployment insurance taxation rates for businesses; both Assemblywoman Woerner and State Senator Ashby had a sense that people believed that this is a dead issue with no way to address it: “Most of you in this room didn’t lay off a single human being during the pandemic. You figured out how to keep things going and how to keep people employed. And to have to pay a higher unemployment rate cost now feels like you are being punished for doing the right thing“ Woerner said.

Senator Stec pointed out that this could be a factor in people leaving the state: “…(we all) should be angry. This is not how it is in other states. It should be addressed in the budget” he said. Assemblyman Simpson agreed, pointing out that this increase has only added to the problems of inflation and high cost of living in the state… The members of the panel agreed that it was the burden of the state to pay the debt, and that it should not be passed on to employers. 

Other topics that were discussed included increasing accessibility to broadband – each of the panel sympathized with the problem, having faced it themselves when driving through their districts and regions of the state. Congresswoman Stefanik pointed out that the federal map shows that when an area is covered with satellite coverage, that area is considered covered: “We all know that is not the case. That is poor, poor service. I know all of the pockets where the service drops. If you look at the cost for building out broadband in New York, you will see that it is the costliest state in the nation” she said. Congresswoman Stefanik pointed out that the fiber fee was eliminated, and that has reduced the potential cost of expanding broadband networks. 

One of the more poignant moments in the panel discussion came when Assemblywoman Carrie Woener described the effect that underfunding medicaid is having on the entire healthcare system: “Our entire healthcare system is going to collapse if we don’t address this crisis. When a facility has to cut costs, a facility has to shut down beds. That means when a patient is ready to be discharged from the hospital and they need a stay in a nursing facility, there are no beds in the nursing facilities… So, the hospital keeps them there until a bed opens up. They have to be rounded, so there is medical care, they have to be fed, their rooms have to be cleaned, and you know who doesn’t pay for this care? Insurance companies. So, if you can be medically discharged from the hospital and you are not discharged, the insurance companies pay nothing. That means that the hospital is getting no revenue. Then on the other end, a patient enters the ER and are triaged in the ER. They are ready to be admitted to the hospital… (But) now, there are people… taking up those beds because there is no space in the nursing homes! So then the patients are in the waiting room or they are in a bed in a hallway… So we have the hospital system financially impacted by this, and we have patient care impacted. The nursing homes that are without support could cause the whole system to collapse” she concluded. 

The afternoon came to a close with the last question, regarding advocacy for non-profit organizations. Each of the members of the panel encouraged non-profits to use their voice and reach out to advocate for their cause; there was a call to think outside of the box to keep a cause in the front of people’s minds, and a reminder to donate locally. 

The ARCC should be congratulated for putting together a well-run event. This event showcased each of the panelist’s ideas and perspectives, shedding light on the legislators’ knowledge of the challenges that are facing our communities… There was an affirmation that these legislators did not share all of the same opinions and positions on issues, but were able to work together regardless on issues that were priorities to their constituents.