NYC hospitals are expected to receive $1.19 billion from FEMA for COVID-19 costs, and Senator Chuck Schumer and Mayor Eric Adams are urging the government to relinquish these funds immediately amidst the surge in Omicron cases.
Schumer and Adams were joined by Bronx Congressmember Ritchie Torres and health officials outside of NYC Health + Hospitals Bellevue on Sunday to bring attention to and put pressure on the federal government to foot the bill for Omicron surge expenses in addition to the billion promised to New York for COVID-19 costs.
“Today we are saying to FEMA: No more delays. When the city applies for relief money from Omicron, we can’t wait another two years. We need the money now,” Schumer said.
Schumer states that healthcare facilities are still waiting for their cut in FEMA aid. With the increase in positivity cases and hospital staff shortages, Schumer is telling the federal government to get the funds flowing now.
These health facilities have been the battlegrounds of a two-year war with COVID-19, and yet Schumer describes the despicable and sloth-like speed of FEMA to provide much needed funds to public hospitals. After pressure from Schumer and Congressmember Richie Torres, FEMA has agreed to send the $1.19 billion in COVID aid but the question remains: How long until the money is deposited?
“We all know our hospitals are under duress right now because of Omicron and this money will help FEMA, obviously, and derivatively help the city with its budget because if the city wouldn’t have had to lay out [money] if FEMA would have done so [in the first place],” Schumer said.
It took two years for FEMA to pay out costs for the COVID-19 virus that hit New York in March of 2020, but Schumer argues that can’t happen again since more money is needed to handle the latest variant surge.
“They had filed for the reimbursement in 2020. But they didn’t get it ‘till the beginning of 2022. And they had, as I said, a crazy idea of how to limit their funding. We leaned on them and the money’s here, but that’s not all. We now have Omicron and there are new expenses that the hospitals have. They’re doing a good job because we know more about Omicron and it’s less deadly than the first wave,” Schumer said.
Since the payments have still not been remitted to Health and Hospitals, New York City was forced to dip into the budget for $111 million to provide immediate aid. Schumer fears that with the costs increasing to combat the Omicron variant the city will exhaust its own funds while waiting for FEMA.
“It’s gonna go up. We need that money. Now. We don’t need the mayor having to tell other departments we can’t give you money because the hospitals have an emergency. We need it for everybody. So that’s what we’re fighting to do,” Schumer said.
Mayor Adams—who is one day shy of entering his second week in office—concurred with Schumer, who added that the money the city allocated for the Health and Hospitals was due to a concern that FEMA was playing a “bureaucratic game” even after services were provided as medical staff were on the frontlines responding to New York City’s call for help
“H&H spent over $2.5 billion to fight COVID during the first surge, and you shouldn’t have to worry about ‘Are you going to be paid.’ They did their job, darn it. The federal government needed to do its job, and Senator Schumer heard that. Much of that money was spent during March, April, and May of 2020 when the pandemic was at its worse. We saw the morgue, the trucks, bodies outside of our hospitals, but we had to act fast, increasing staffing and more hospital beds, purchasing PPE and ventilators, and retrofitting facilities to handle the COVID surge. And that was exactly what was done. We saw the hospitals move without hesitating, so why the heck did FEMA hesitate? That is irresponsible and unacceptable,” Adams said in disgust.
Adams joins both Schumer and Torres in their demand for FEMA to not only pay out the money owed for the past two years in COVID relief, but additional funds incurred during the Omicron surge. Mayor Adams stated that during a healthcare briefing this morning, he was informed that children are four times more likely to be hospitalized if they do not receive the vaccine. This fact coupled with the spike in hospitalization rates and deaths, the city needs the money now. The mayor also urged New Yorkers to get their children vaccinated in order to help quell the spread.
As the conference concluded, a local, disgruntled NYCHA resident, Melanie Aucello, heckled the senator and mayor, inquiring about COVID-19 testing and complaints about HUD and NYCHA. Adams leapt into action promising to visit her building following the briefing. The mayor then proceeded to walk with Aucello into her building located across the street from the hospital where he listened to her grievances and promised to take action, stating that his administration is all about “Getting things done.”