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What the latest stimulus bill would mean for western New York

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Posted at 2:57 PM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-09 19:10:54-05

Williamsville mother of five Elizabeth Cimasi questions why the Senate approved billions in education funding in the American Rescue Package.

She said space, and the ability to social distance, is the issue and not money.

“No school superintendent has said we cannot allow children in the school five days a week because we don’t have the money. It all comes down to the six feet distancing rule,” Cimasi said.

She wants schools to return to five day in-person instruction, and believes it can be done if schools reduce their distancing requirements from six feet apart to three feet apart between students as recommended by the World Health Organization.

Teachers unions have been critical of reopening because they believe their health is at risk. Some Buffalo Public School students still remain fully remote with no scheduled return date.

Some republican lawmakers say the legislation would allocate billions for schools without doing anything meaningful to return to in-person instruction.

We asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer about that during his stop in Buffalo on Tuesday.

REPORTER Ali Touhey: Are there any sort of assurances the government is going to require of schools to reopen?
SENATOR SCHUMER: Yes, every school, now that they have the money to open safely, every single school will be open five days a week by September.
ALI: So, if they don’t open, do they not get the money?
SCHUMER: If they don’t open, they might not get the money. If they need help to open safely, the plan is open safely and quickly.

New York State is facing an enormous $15 billion dollar deficit. Schumer said the bill covers the state’s debt with more than $23.8 billion tentatively set to go directly to local governments statewide.

Western New York would receive $873 million, including $350 million for the City of Buffalo, and more than $258 million to Chautauqua, Erie, Cattaraugus and Niagara counties.

More than $79 million is slated to go to the N.F.T.A., and over $20 million to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. It also includes $57 billion for small business and restaurant relief statewide, and $1.8 billion for families who need child care and for the providers.

All will have to be spent on losses due to COVID-19, and there are safeguards in place to avoid fraud, so said Schumer.

“The only way out is a bill like this. If we sat here and did nothing we’d be mired in problems for years and maybe decades,” he said.

The House is scheduled to vote on the bill on Wednesday.