Can legislators make coronavirus work for them?

Governor Cuomo and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran bump elbows instead of shaking hans at the coronavirus briefing on March 5th.
Governor Cuomo and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran bump elbows instead of shaking hans at the coronavirus briefing on March 5th.
Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Cuomo and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran bump elbows instead of shaking hans at the coronavirus briefing on March 5th.

Can legislators make coronavirus work for them?

The outbreak has drawn attention to income inequality and health care access.
March 6, 2020

Just five days ago, New York had one confirmed case of coronavirus. Now, there are at least 33 confirmed cases, and more than 4,000 people in isolation who are suspected of having the virus. Hundreds of college students are returning from countries with their own outbreaks. And more cases are coming. “I think it will continue for months,” Cuomo told reporters Friday about the outbreak. 

With just three weeks to go until the April 1 state budget deadline, concerns have also grown over the collateral effects of an issue that has dominated the news cycle in recent days. Will it affect state revenues? “Nobody knows,” Cuomo he added at his sixth Capitol press briefing in five days. 

The outbreak also touches upon some important issues for Democratic lawmakers. Providing more labor rights to gig workers is one example. They are delivering food, driving people places and getting other things done that allow other people to lessen their risk of exposure. In general, rich people have an easier time working from home, while many less affluent people still have to go out and work. In other words, coronavirus is just one more issue that highlights income inequality, an issue of great importance for many Democrats. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also argued earlier this week that the need to test and treat people with coronavirus is “absolutely is an argument for Medicare for All” – an issue that’s also being debated in Albany. 

Coronavirus will inevitably overshadow Democratic state lawmakers’ policy agenda in some ways. But it is plausible that it could aid their efforts on a few key fronts. Renewed attention to income inequality could help make arguments to raise taxes on the wealthy. More scrutiny of the health care system could also help lawmakers rebuff efforts by Cuomo to decrease state spending on Medicaid. If lawmakers seize such opportunities, maybe, just maybe, they can make coronavirus work for them this month.

Zach Williams
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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