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Sen. Chuck Schumer

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By Chris Cumella

On a conference call with New York college students last month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) presented his plan to cancel up to $50,000 in debt for federal student loan borrowers.

The plan is derived from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), who proposed national debt forgiveness as a promise in her presidential campaign. Both Warren and Schumer’s joint plan involves using a presidential executive to nullify student debt up to $50,000.

“College should be a ladder up,” Schumer said during the call. “But student debt weighs people down, it is an anchor, and we have to do something about it.”

President Joe Biden (D) has the executive authority to substantially cancel student loan debt for students through the Higher Education Act, according to Schumer. This would also bypass the requirement to present the motion to Congress.

Biden has said that he supported alleviating students of loan debt up to $10,000, and now the call to action is being echoed loudly by his fellow Democratic Party members. 

On his first day in office, the president addressed the ongoing dilemma regarding student debt, where his plan was to extend the pause on federal student loan payments and keeping the interest rate at 0% through the end of September.

The United States national student loan debt has accumulated at an alarming rate. An Experian survey indicated the total amount reached a record high of $1.57 trillion in 2020, an increase of about $166 billion since 2019.

Nearly 2.4 million New Yorkers owe $89.5 billion in federal student loans as of March 2020, Schumer said. The average New Yorker owes $34,600 in student loans, greater than the national average of $32,700.

To relieve loan borrowers of their debts, Schumer mentioned that if the federal government forgave debts up to $50,000, it would greatly bounce the economy. He detailed how instead of repaying their loans, people can instead allocate their money for other immediate and urgent payments, as well as leisure spending.

Schumer told conference attendees that the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 includes roughly $2.6 billion for New York’s colleges and universities, with half of the allocations distributed as financial aid to students in addressing hardships brought about by COVID-19.

Some of the local institutions benefiting from the American Rescue Plan for “estimated minimum amount for student grants” were listed by Schumer during the conference call: City College $23.6 million, CUNY Queens College $25.8 million, Syracuse University $15.4 million, SUNY Buffalo $31.7 million and Stony Brook University $26.8 million.

Schumer also made an urgent request for the call participants, primarily college students, to stay informed by reading local and student-run newspapers. He likewise reinforced the importance of those attending the conference to take a call to action to write, call and email Biden and get their friends and family to do so to spread awareness.

“Student loan payments are on pause, but they are not going away if we don’t do something once the pandemic is over,” Schumer said. “These debts are just going to keep piling up.”

With No Indication of a Reopening Date, Businesses Try to Survive

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A federal program meant to help keep businesses afloat during the pandemic has caused more headaches than relief. Business owners are concerned they will be saddled with more debt and unclear guidelines have left them with more questions than answers. 

James Luciano, the owner of the Port Jeff Lobster House and the Port Jefferson BID secretary, has received PPP loan funds, but expressed concern of how the federal government will handle the forgiveness process. 

“It [the PPP restrictions] has been so loosely written, it’s like reading a different language,” he said. “They have also changed the applications for loans two or three times.”

“There are some things that the current guidance doesn’t answer.”

— Bernie Ryba

Luciano has begun to use the money for rent, other remaining bills, paying vendors and some payroll expenses. Though until he and other business owners receive the approval to fully reopen its businesses, he said he may struggle to comply with the forgiveness guidelines.  

For the loan to be forgiven, 75 percent of funds must be used for payroll, keeping staff to pre-pandemic levels for eight weeks after the money is disbursed. 

“The clock starts ticking once the money hits your account,” Luciano said. 

The Port Jeff Lobster House owner reiterated the difficulty of bringing all employees back without the doors being open. Another obstacle is that some employees may opt to continue on unemployment as they are receiving considerably more money than at the restaurant, according to Luciano.  

Bernie Ryba, director of the Stony Brook Small Business Development Center, said there has been a lack of clarity on the forgiveness guidelines. 

“Clients have expressed some concerns to us, we are looking to the [federal Small Business Administration] for guidance on the forgiveness provisions,” he said. “It has caused many questions from us, CPA firms and law firms. We are hoping this is cleared up as soon as possible.”

Ryba said the center advises hundreds of clients and has received dozens of calls and emails from business owners on this topic. 

“As a business center we try to do research and address their questions the best we can, but right now there is very little to refer to,” he said. “There are some things that the current guidance doesn’t answer.”

Ryba pointed to one of the provisions of PPP that requires 25 percent of funds must be used on utilities. 

“Can it be used for heat, power, internet and transportation expenses? No one knows because there are no specifics,” he said. “There are lenders who have already spent some of their funds.”

The director of the business center said that the federal government didn’t have much time to react and the SBA was not staffed to handle the influx of applications from the onset. 

A recent report from SBA Inspector General Hannibal Wared detailed that many small businesses could struggle to meet the 75 percent payroll requirement. 

Ware called on the association to evaluate the potential negative impact to borrowers regarding the percentage of loan proceeds eligible for forgiveness and update requirements. 

With uncertainty over the current criteria of PPP, local municipalities have stepped in to offer alternatives to businesses. 

Brookhaven Town is offering $10,000 grants to small businesses as part of its Emergency Microenterprise Business Relief Program. It is aimed at microenterprise businesses within the town that have five employees or less. The town received a special allocation of funds provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the CARES Act. 

The new norm for businesses could include being six feet apart and the use of protective dividers. Sean Hanley of LB Fabrication & Automation LLC., has begun making plexiglass social distancing dividers in an attempt to help his own business survive and also to allow any business to open up to full capacity. He has already installed dividers at Salon Blonde in Port Jeff, which is run by his wife. 

Many who first applied for the PPP loans after the initial April launch did not receive funds before the first set of $349 billion ran out by April 16.

Hanley’s Smithtown-based business was shut down following Governor Cuomo’s executive order. A good portion of its business comes from work on construction and other job sites where its metal fabricator and masonry services are sought after. 

“The clock starts ticking once the money hits your account.”

— James Luciano

He and his wife both missed out on the first round of the PPP loan applications but were able to get through in the second batch of applications. 

“We’re still waiting to hear back, but we would look at paying the rent first,” he said. 

Hanley is hoping the state will begin to relax restrictions so he and his wife can reopen their businesses and bring back their respective employees. 

While owners are anxious to reopen, there has yet to be any indication in what capacity businesses will be able operate. Social distancing guidelines will also play a factor. 

Luciano said it would not help his restaurant at all if he is potentially forced to reopen with significantly fewer customers. 

“We’re used to filling the place up, it would be hard for us with less capacity,” he said. 

In addition, Luciano expressed concerns on how social distancing could affect the day to day operation of the restaurant and impact the customer experience. 

“I think right now it is better to do the takeout services, we have been taking full advantage of the village’s delivery program,” he said. 

He said this is time when many businesses reap the benefits of increased foot traffic in the village and use funds to pay bills from the offseason in the winter. 

“We start to break even during May and in the summer is where we make a lot of our money, Luciano said. 

Close to two months into the pandemic, Ryba said they are still “early in the game}” and even as the crisis ultimately ends it could have wide-ranging effects. 

“There are a lot of difficult things that need to be sorted out, you could have millions of individuals who will be without a job,” the director of the business center said. 

Members of Stony Brook's medical team throw fists in the air during todays flyover by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds. Photo by Kyle Barr

After a public effort to gain access to short term funds, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) last night received word that the pleas had paid off.

Members of the non-invasive cardiology department at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Federal Reserve expanded the eligibility requirements in the federal CARES Act to counties that were below the previous threshold of two million residents to provide short term borrowing through a municipal liquidity fund.

“This is a huge short in the arm to our efforts to provide property tax relief to people who have been negatively impacted economically,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters.

The funds will allow the county to access short term borrowing for up to 36 months and will relieve the financial burden that comes from the Suffolk County Tax Act, which prevents the county from receiving funds until the middle of the year. During periods when Suffolk collects typical tax revenue, when residents can enjoy local restaurants, movies, and concerts, the urgency to access funds at a reasonable rate isn’t as high.

“This gives the county the ability to do short-term borrowing to address the cash flow issues that are caused by revenue almost completely drying up because of the wholesale shutdown of certain parts of our economy,” Bellone said.

The County thanked numerous area politicians, including U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1).

Schumer “walked the letter into [Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin’s] office and said, ‘We need to do this,’” Bellone said. “Zeldin lobbied [President Donald Trump (R)] and [Mnuchin] directly. He set up a call with Mnuchin and himself so I could make the case directly about why Suffolk County needs this and why this is so important.”

In the meantime, hospitalizations continue to decline, sustaining a trend that could lead to a measured and gradual reopening of the economy.

The number of hospitalizations declined by 15 to 1,082, with the number of residents in the Intensive Care Unit falling by four to 408.

These declines are getting close to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for 14 days, which is the minimum for restarting and reopening the economy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said today there has to be ground rules for such a reopening. Hospitals, he said, must be at no more than 70 percent capacity with a rate of transmission no higher than 1.1.

An additional 44 people left the hospital in the last day.

People are still dying from complications related to COVID-19 at a rate that is greater than one per hour, as 29 people died over the last day, bringing the total to 1,131.

In terms of hotspot areas, the six sites have now tested 2,124 people. The county has results for 1,584, with 757 of those confirmed positive. The rate of positive tests is 48 percent, which is still well above the rate of 38 percent for the rest of the county, but is below the initial testing rate of 53 percent.

The county plans to open a seventh testing site on Thursday in Southampton.

Working with Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, the county has also started providing food to people who come to select hotspot testing sites, starting with Brentwood. On Thursday, Wyandanch will also provide food distribution to those receiving a coronavirus test who also need food.

Bellone urged people who are having food security issues to contact 311. Operators will connect residents with agencies that can provide food.

Separately, campgrounds will be closed in line with state guidance through May 31, when the county will revisit the issue. Anyone who has a reservation between April 1 and May 31 will receive a refund.

“Stay tuned as we move forward in May,” Bellone urged those interested in the camp sites.

The Suffolk County Police Department continues to be “fortunate” with the overall rate of COVID-19 infection, as 86 sworn officers have tested positive, with 71 returning to work, Commissioner Geraldine Hart said on the call. Hart attributed the lower rate of infection to the procedures the police department followed early on once the infection reached the shores of Suffolk County.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said there is need to increase the PPP loan funding, but he and Republicans have disagreed how. File photo by Kevin Redding

The federal Small Business Administration announced the government’s Payment Protection Program, which initially put up $349 billion in funds for small businesses across the country, has run out of funding in just eight days since it came online.

Thousands of loans are still being processed, and both government and small business owners are calling for more funds to be added to the bill, which was meant to stimulate small businesses and help keep more from filing for unemployment.

Around 41,000 loans have been approved for New York State out of 1.7 million. However, many businesses were left short of approval or didn’t manage to file in time. Others, who filed early as possible, found their early attempts confused with both misinformation and lack of clarity from banks and federal agencies.

Bernie Ryba, the regional director of the Stony Brook Small Business Development Center , said during a live stream with the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce April 16 there are growing signs of the economy deteriorating “faster than anticipated,” and the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, passed at the end of March, may not be enough.

He added banks have already been ordered to not accept any more applications.

“It demonstrates the extent of the damage small businesses have experienced over the past three weeks,” he said. 

Ryba said the SBA was not staffed to handle the number of applications. From acceptance of application to approval was going to be 30 days, but he said that number has gone out the window due to the incredible number of applications.

Some have also criticized who have been able to apply for loans, and how quickly they received it. Politico reported that a number of large chain restaurants ate up millions of dollars in loans meant for small businesses. Such chains as the companies behind Potbelly Sandwich Shop and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, each received $20 million and $10 million in loans respectively. While the loans were meant for companies with 500 or less employees, this rule was expanded to allow companies to apply as long as they didn’t have more than 500 employees in a single location.

While both Republicans and Democrats agree more funds need to be added, the parties are bickering back and forth about how much. The GOP has proposed an additional $250 billion to the PPP program, but Dems stymied that, arguing the bill, which U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) called CARE 3.5, should also include $100 billion for hospitals, $150 billion for state and local governments and a boost to food assistance. Republicans have blocked that effort in return.

Schumer, the senate minority leader, said in a live streamed conference with Long Island Association President and CEO Kevin Law April 17 that there could be two additional COVID-related bills in the near future.

Meanwhile, Ryba said his small business center, which also has offices in SUNY Farmingdale, will be receiving around $1.1 million in federal assistance so they can hire additional staff in order to handle a larger number of business owners looking for advice.

Law said the thing of biggest importance isn’t the long term of the whole U.S. economy, but making sure that these small businesses and average people have money in their pockets to deal with the short term. He also questioned whether the government may allow some different types of nonprofits to apply for aid through PPP, as currently only 501c3’s are applicable. Schumer said they would look into allowing 501c6’s and others to also apply for any further aid in the future.

Schumer agreed, saying the government’s focus should be twofold, adding the government needs to approve the PPP extension “so their money gets out there faster, it is job number one. Testing — if we don’t get it done we’re not going to recover. Those are the two biggest things.”

More from Schumer and Law’s Conversation

People are facing multiple hurdles during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, but Law said those people need help from the federal government.

With people’s $1,200 checks for people making under $75,000 a year finally going out, Schumer said that should not be the end of such funds to everyday Americans. He added he thought the wage limit should be raised to people making around $99,000 a year.

“If you have a wife who is a hospital worker, you’re making more than [the $75K] but you still need help,” he said.

In terms of mortgages, Law said while there was something being done for those with federally backed mortgages, he asked if there was anything being done for those with more locally or commercially backed mortgages.

“We need some kind of commercial forbearance for both commercial and tenants,” Schumer said. “I pushed for this in CARE 3.” (The bill called the CARES Act passed March 30.)

The LIRR is currently asking for an additional bailout, with ridership now down by 97 percent, but services are continuing for essential workers, especially those working in health care. Schumer said he wants to provide more assistance to both the LIRR and to the Suffolk and Nassau bus systems.

For other municipalities, he said bills he called CARE 4 and 5, the first of which he expected to come up in the first few weeks of May, will also include more money for townships who have also experienced revenue shortfalls from the coronavirus.

Law also suggested the federal government look into creating some kind of public works program in the vein of President Franklin Roosevelt’s post-Great Depression programs in the 1930s and 40s, specifically for public and infrastructure works such as roads, bridges and sewers. Schumer agreed with the idea for when things finally start to open up.

“We’re going to have to stimulate the economy, and the best way to do that is through infrastructure,” the senator said.


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Northport Middle School closed after contamination concerns. File photo

A local U.S. senator is calling for a federal agency to assist in the toxic chemical investigation at Northport Middle School, which is closed for the remainder of the academic year.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), in a Feb. 3 letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief, Andrew Wheeler, urged the EPA to join local and state regulators in conducting an investigation of toxic chemicals at the school and near the campus, as well as in the Northport-East Northport school district.

“Our children’s and workers’ health is too important to risk, therefore I urge EPA perform a comprehensive site investigation and take whatever action necessary to address any contamination found,” Schumer wrote.

The decision to close the middle school came after an investigation by Bohemia-based PW Grosser Consulting Inc. — the district’s environmental firm — which revealed elevated levels of mercury vapor outside one of the classrooms. Tests also found elevated levels of benzene in soil samples from septic systems around the school.

The school’s closing has resulted in the district relocating 660 sixth- to eighth-graders to other buildings, according to Schumer.

The senator expressed other big concerns.

“Just under 3 miles down the road from Northport Middle School, a [New York State Department of Health] review revealed that there was a statistically significant higher rate of leukemia among the Northport High School’s graduating class of 2016,” he wrote. “Consequently, the NYSDOH has launched a wider investigation into cancer occurrences throughout the Northport-East Northport school district.”

In the letter, Schumer included information from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. According to the public health agency, the major health effects of long-term exposure to benzene include damage to bone marrow and a decrease in red blood cells. Schumer added that long-term exposure to benzene in the air has been shown to cause leukemia according to multiple health agencies, while the EPA has determined benzene to be carcinogenic to humans.

“In the case of Northport Middle School, mercury vapors are especially concerning as, in this form, the mercury more easily reaches the brain,” he wrote.

Schumer urged the EPA “to utilize all of its available authority, as well as its considerable technical expertise, to quickly investigate and address the possible contamination around Northport Middle School and within Northport-East Northport school district.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer with Jerry Chiano's family surround a photo at the Long Island Veteran's home in Stony Brook Dec. 20.

Before Vietnam vet Jerry Chiano of Valley Stream died in 2017 after battling a rare form of bile duct cancer, he fought to raise awareness by urging Vietnam vets to get tested for liver fluke exposure. The tiny worm, found in Southeast Asia, can be transmitted to humans after they eat raw or uncooked fish. The parasite lives in the biliary system and is the known cause of bile duct cancer. 

“It’s such a crazy disease,” said Chiano’s daughter, Jennifer Paglino. “My father wanted other people to know about it, so they’d get the treatment and benefits they deserve.” 

Chiano’s awareness campaign garnered the support of researchers at the Northport VA Medical Center, who concluded that same year in a pilot study that one in four local Vietnam vets who ate raw or uncooked fish while deployed were exposed to the parasite. 

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sounded alarms in late December, stating the study remains largely unused. He’s urging the VA to look seriously at the issue and Northport VA’s work, noting that benefit claims for the disease have increased sixfold since 2003, while 80 percent of the claims submitted in 2015 have been denied.

The VA is conducting the Vietnam Era Veterans Mortality Study, a national effort that will look at data from everyone who served in the military during the Vietnam era, from Feb. 28, 1961 through May 7, 1975, and compare mortality rates for all ailments, including bile duct cancer. Results for that study are pending. 

The agency did not say if that study would dictate whether or not bile duct cancer is considered a service-related disease. 

Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) said he hopes the VA’s new large-scale research mission “will pave the way for infected veterans to receive the treatment they have earned.”

Schumer is demanding that the Northport research be used. 

He noted that the situation raises questions about the VA process for acknowledging service-related illnesses and how its researchers use the statistically based science of epidemiology, which links exposure to disease. 

The VA website clearly states that liver fluke exposure can cause bile duct cancer. Yet, a VA spokesperson said in an email that the Northport research is flawed, while discounting the risks. 

“The VA is not aware of any studies that show that bile duct cancer occurs more often in U.S. Vietnam veterans than in any other group of people,” he stated. 

Schumer pointed out how the VA initially found in 2009 limited evidence to suggest that exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides during the Vietnam War caused Parkinson’s disease. Months later, it reversed its decision and added the disease to the list of covered conditions connected to exposure to herbicide agents. 

Schumer and the entire Long Island congressional delegation — Zeldin, Tom Suozzi (D-NY-3), Peter King (R-NY-2) and Kathleen Rice (D-NY-4) — have urged the VA to study the issue. 

“Local vets, some of whom are already sick, need reassurance that these studies lead to answers on service-related health claims, while others have passed away while fighting for awareness and VA testing,” Schumer stated. 

As the VA embarks on another large-scale research mission on toxins and environmental exposure, Schumer underscores the importance of using the Northport data. 

“We have samples, antigen markers and more; there’s good stuff here from this smaller study, but it is largely sitting on a shelf, as we are here today to say: use what’s useful,” he said. 

However, the VA bluntly states: “No future VA studies will utilize data from the Northport VA Medical Center’s pilot Liver Fluke study …” 

In an email, the VA spokesperson explained that the Northport VA liver fluke study relied on a test used in Asia, where the disease is prevalent, which is not FDA approved. It also noted, among other things, that the Northport VA study lacked control groups. Plus, he said, none of the patients who tested positive for liver fluke exposure actually suffer from bile duct cancer. 

Gerald Wiggins a Vietnam vet from Port Jefferson Station took part in the Northport VA liver fluke study and was one of 12 veterans found to have been exposed to the parasite. He does not have bile duct cancer, but he said he had two bile duct cysts removed in September 2017 at Sloan Kettering. 

The disease, he said, is a ticking time bomb. He can’t understand why the government isn’t supporting veterans. At 71 years old, he said it’s late for him. But he believes every veteran who served in Southeast Asia and areas prone to the parasite should be tested. 

“Ten people came down with Zika virus in Florida and within two weeks the federal government gave $600 million to fight it,” he said. “As a vet, I laid my life on the line and got nothing.” 

He submitted a VA claim, which he said was denied. His other insurance picked up the tab.

George Psvedos, an infectious disease specialist and a Northport VA physician, conducted the study. The Northport VA was unsuccessful in gaining clearance for an interview from the VA. But, as noted in his research conclusion statement, his study was the first to show evidence of exposure to liver fluke in U.S. soldiers deployed in Vietnam. He called for more research to examine the link between a Vietnam exposure and the likelihood of veterans developing bile duct cancer.  

Currently, no validated test for liver fluke infection is available for clinical use in the United States, according to the VA website. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not recommending serological testing for exposure, the VA said. 

The Northport VA said that if veterans express concerns or symptoms of bile duct cancer, the VA screens them right away. 

Meanwhile, the prognosis for bile duct cancer is poor, with a 30 percent five-year survival rate, according to the American Cancer Society.

Jerry Chiano stands in front of an American flag dangling his dog tags.

As for Chiano, he ultimately died of an esophageal bleed, his daughter said, caused by throat cancer induced by exposure to Agent Orange.

“He thought he was going to die of bile duct cancer,” said Paglino. “We thought [his dying of Agent Orange exposure] was his way of making sure that my mother received VA benefits after he died.”

Survival benefits for veteran’s families are extended when a veteran’s disease is considered service related. Veterans enrolled in VA health care are eligible for VA-provided cancer care, the agency said. 

“VA encourages all veterans who feel their military service has affected their health to submit a claim, which will be adjudicated using the latest scientific and medical evidence available,” said VA spokesperson Susan Carter.

Suozzi is also still following the issue.

“At minimum, we owe Vietnam veterans answers on whether they were exposed to cancer-causing parasites while serving, and the Northport VA’s study nearly two years ago was an important step in confirming that,” he said. “This data could prove instrumental in ensuring affected veterans are taken care of nationwide. I strongly urge the Veterans Administration to include this important study in their future research or, at least explain in detail why they will not.” 

Photos from Jennifer Paglino

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A temporary heating and air conditioning unit installed at the homeless shelter of Northport VA medical center. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Standing in front of Northport Veterans Medical Center’s shuttered homeless shelter on Monday morning, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said the center requires $15 million in emergency repairs to its heating and air-conditioning systems. Or, it faces the possibility of closing more buildings and its operating rooms again this summer.

“It’s hard to believe, but the dog days of summer are on our doorstep,” Schumer said. “The existing HVAC systems at this veterans center aren’t functioning. To shut down surgeries, to shut down treatment for our veterans is an absolute disgrace.”

Schumer called for the Department of Veterans Affairs to immediately cut an emergency check for more than $15 million to the Northport medical center April 9. The funding would come from the roughly $4 billion set aside in a recently passed federal spending bill to repair and upgrade veterans medical centers across the nation. The senator said he pushed for that funding to be approved specifically with Northport VA in mind.

“We have an emergency here; it’s worse than most other places,” Schumer said. “My message to the VA as summer looms is simple: Don’t make our Long Island veterans sweat over their health care.”

To shut down surgeries, to shut down treatment for our veterans is an absolute disgrace.”

— Chuck Schumer

Standing with Northport VAMC Director D. Scott Guermonprez, Schumer noted the 42-bed homeless shelter was closed in January after its heating system failed during a cold snap. In February, the hospital had to close five of its operating rooms due to an air-conditioning system malfunction, which caused 18 surgeries to be postponed.

The 91-year-old facility provides medical care and services to approximately 130,000 veterans living on Long Island, according to Guermonprez. Its buildings were constructed between 1927 and 1931, a time during which windows were opened and large ceiling fans used to circulate cool outdoor air. While these structures were retrofitted with supplemental heating and cooling systems, Guermonprez said, it was never fully to modern standards.

“As we replace them, we’ll ensure that we have new systems going in place, we’re not fixing the ones that are here today,” he said.

My message to the VA as summer looms is simple: Don’t make our Long Island veterans sweat over their health care.”

— Chuck Schumer

According to Schumer’s estimates, the Northport VA’s hospital will require roughly half of the $15 million to fix long-standing heating ventilation and air-conditioning issues. In 2016, the hospital was forced to close its operating rooms for four months as the air-conditioning system wasn’t properly filtering, but rather spitting particles into the air. The same unit is still in use today, according to Schumer, and needs immediate replacement, as it is 12 years past its maximum advised life span, for $2.5 million. It’s estimated that $5 million would be needed to cover duct work and air volume control boxes to regulate air flow and room temperature in the hospital.

The Northport VA hospital also needs approximately $700,000 to replace the heating and air-conditioning systems in its isolation units for infectious disease patients. These four rooms, located on the second floor, currently cannot be used.

Other buildings that require repairs and upgrades include the hospital’s pharmacy storage, the post-traumatic stress disorder treatment center and the administrative building.

“We have a $4 billion pot of money, $15 million isn’t too much to ask,” Schumer said. “We need to get it now before summer.”

In addition to the repairs, the VA medical center director said he has hired a new chief engineer and is in the process of reorganizing its engineering department to have the skills necessary to maintain and upkeep new, high-tech heating and air-conditioning units once they are in place.

Local officials weigh in on President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris Agreement

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, helped to establish the United States Climate Alliance in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Lawmakers signed a bill protecting the Long Island Sound last year. File photo from Cuomo’s office

By Alex Petroski

U.S. President Donald Trump’s (R) decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a global effort to combat the threat of climate change, elicited strong responses from around the world. One of the more notable reactions came from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who along with the governors of California and Washington State established the United States Climate Alliance. The coalition will convene the three states, and others that have come out in support of the initiative, in committing to uphold the parameters of the Paris Agreement despite Trump’s June 1 announcement. As of June 5 the alliance included 13 members — 12 states and Puerto Rico.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order establishing the United States Climate Alliance. Image from governor’s website

“The White House’s reckless decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement has devastating repercussions not only for the United States, but for our planet,” Cuomo said in a statement. “New York State is committed to meeting the standards set forth in the Paris accord regardless of Washington’s irresponsible actions. We will not ignore the science and reality of climate change, which is why I am also signing an executive order confirming New York’s leadership role in protecting our citizens, our environment and our planet.”

The Paris Agreement, which officially took effect in November 2016, aimed to strengthen the response to climate change globally by keeping temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius during the current century and also strengthen countries’ ability to deal with the effects of climate change. The U.S. is now one of only three nations on the planet not included in the agreement.

According to Cuomo, the United States Climate Alliance will seek to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels and meet or exceed the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan, each of which were self-imposed U.S. goals of the Paris Agreement. The Clean Power Plan was established in 2015 to establish state-by-state targets for carbon emission reductions. Trump signed an executive order early on in his administration placing a hold on the plan and pledging a review. Cuomo also announced New York State will be investing $1.65 billion in renewable energy and energy efficiency in the aftermath of Trump’s decision. In addition he said he aims to create 40,000 clean energy jobs by 2020.

Republican New York State Sens. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) did not respond to requests for comment through spokespersons.

Local officials from across the political spectrum spoke out about Trump’s decision in the aftermath of the announcement.

“We live on an island and have already begun to see some of the effects of our rising seas,” Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a statement. “To protect Brookhaven for our children and generations to come it is our responsibility to take action now. The president’s announcement today regarding the Paris climate accord is disappointing. On behalf of our residents, I will continue to fight to protect our environment.”

Democrats including 3rd Congressional District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and others blasted the decision in public statements.

“President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement is a devastating failure of historic proportions,” Schumer said. “Future generations will look back on President Trump’s decision as one of the worst policy moves made in the 21st century because of the huge damage to our economy, our environment and our geopolitical standing. Pulling out of the Paris Agreement doesn’t put America first, it puts America last in recognizing science, in being a world leader and protecting our own shoreline, our economy and our planet.”

New York State 4th District Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) expressed support for the newly minted climate alliance on Twitter, sharing the hashtag “#LeadNotLeave.”

First Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said in an emailed statement through a spokeswoman that he supported many of the goals of the Paris Agreement, but thought the U.S. “approached this entire agreement all wrong.” He criticized former President Barack Obama (D), who played a leadership role in establishing the Paris Agreement, for bypassing Congress in reaching the agreement and for what he viewed as outsized pledges made by the U.S. compared to other world powers in the agreement.

“What we need to do moving forward should include continuing to take an international approach to protect clean air and clean water, and reduce emissions that are impacting our climate, but we must negotiate it correctly so that we aren’t over promising, under delivering and causing unnecessary harm,” he said.

Sen. Schumer was among the most forceful opponents of Trump’s decision. File photo by Kevin Redding

During Trump’s June 1 speech announcing the withdrawal, he sited a loss of American jobs in the coal industry and crippling regulations on the business world as the drivers behind his decision.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who was appointed by Trump, praised his decision.

“This is a historic restoration of American Economic Independence — one that will benefit the working class, the working poor, and working people of all stripes,” he said. “With this action, you have declared that people are the rulers of this country once again.”

Administrators from the New York District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, a government agency that offers support to small businesses, were not available to comment on Trump’s decision or the formation of the United States Climate Alliance, but a spokesperson for the department instead directed the request to answers U.S. SBA Administrator Linda McMahon gave to Yahoo Global News June 6. She agreed with Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement, adding she believes this will result in more job opportunities for Americans.

“I think [Trump] was making a statement that we’re going to look at what’s good for America first,” she said. “I do think climate change is real, and I do think that man has some contribution to climate change. As to the extent of the science, predictions as to what might happen 20, 30, 40 years from now, I’m not sure we have that totally decided, but I do respect the science behind a lot of it.”