BY CONNOR WALKER
The lack COVID-19 vaccination sites in the borough and economic relief for Queens residents were among the topics discussed during Tuesday morning’s virtual Queens Borough Cabinet meeting.
Congresswoman Grace Meng opened the meeting describing how the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan will help Queens residents in combatting the pandemic.
“We know that Queens residents need more help, we know better than anyone else in the country because Queens really was first hit. We were the epicenter of the epicenter,” Meng said.
Meng also discussed the lack of vaccinations in Queens. Despite the scheduled Feb. 10 opening of Citi Field’s 24-hour vaccination site, there are still a lack of vaccination sites across the borough, according to Meng.
“We simply do not know who is getting the vaccines. We don’t know which one of our districts has been getting enough or not enough. We don’t know the demographics of folks who are getting them and so we really need more data,” Meng said.
Meng was also happy to announce that co-ops would now be included in the PPP and small business loan grants to assist in maintaining payroll and various expenses.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) followed Meng by announcing that a vaccine site is now open at First Baptist Church in Elmhurst after the site was delayed due to the snowstorm. Ocasio-Cortez will also host a town hall Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. to further discuss the COVID-19 vaccine.
Ocasio-Cortez also discussed FEMA’s new program offering funeral assistance of up to $7,000. The FEMA funeral assistance portal is set to go live in late March or early April, when individuals can submit documentation of expenses for reimbursement. COVID-19 must be cited as the cause of death or related to the cause of death, according to AOC.
“What this means is that, going back to January of last year, if you lost a loved one to COVID, the expenses of funeral expenses or any other expenses may be eligible for full reimbursement up to $7,000 from FEMA,” said Ocasio-Cortez.
Congressman Tom Suozzi spoke after AOC about the economic impact of the ongoing pandemic, particularly regarding unemployed Queens residents.
“Twenty-five percent of the people in America who are making less than $45,000 a year are unemployed by now,” Suozzi said. “These people are just wiped out, so we have to think about how our state is really hit harder than a lot of other places in America. We have the second highest death rate in the country; New Jersey is first.”
Suozzi mentioned that an individual living on $50,000 a year in states like Oklahoma, Iowa or North Dakota are better off compared to individuals in Queens making that same salary. There is less concern over local funding in these regions because cost of living is significantly lower than in New York, according to Suozzi.
“We constantly have to educate our colleagues as to what it’s like here. State and local aid is a big focus for me,” said Suozzi.
Further emphasizing Suozzi’s point, Congressman Gregory Meeks spoke on the idea of a population-based formula for issuing the American Rescue Plan package. This would mean that a proportionate delivery of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package would give New York more money than states with a much lower population.
“If we don’t get those resources back, and that’s why this formula is important, then that would mean more jobs lost from the city workers and state workers,” Meeks said. “We have to try and utilize the formula that would try to get us at least $15 billion back to try to cover the deficit that was caused by the pandemic so that the governor and the mayor would not have to eliminate jobs of hard working New Yorkers.”
On the topic of the vaccine, Debbie Markel, a candidate in the District 23 City Council race, raised the possibility of utilizing senior centers as vaccination sites. This would provide easy access to the vaccine for senior citizens in Queens. Recently, many seniors who do not have a relative savvy with technology to register for a vaccine have felt excluded, Markell said. This move would ease the ability of getting vaccines in the arms of seniors who feel more comfortable going to their local senior center.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said that production is the biggest issue with dispersing vaccines in Queens and throughout New York City.
“We could get it out quickly if we could just get the vaccine,” Maloney said. “It would be easy to go to the senior sites with the vaccine, but the problem is that we don’t have the product. We don’t have the vaccines.”
Currently, New York is getting 225,000 vaccine doses a week, which means that inoculating New York City’s 8 million residents has been a slow process.
The next Queens Borough Cabinet meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 9.