BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Governor Andrew Cuomo appeared in Buffalo Thursday at The Belle Center where he held his daily Covid update.
Cuomo announcing that the Western New York still has the highest infection rate in the state of 3.5%. The statewide rate has dropped to 1.8%.
But local reporters had the rare chance to ask Cuomo questions regarding a number of controversial topics swirling around his administration and himself.
Nursing homes was the first topic. The governor responding about the on-going investigation into the number of nursing home deaths at the height of the pandemic last year.
“It’s not that anybody was trying to secret a number because it wasn't about the number, it was about the accuracy of the number,” Cuomo responded.
Cuomo now finds himself deflecting the latest New York Times report that says his top aides delayed releasing death toll numbers by up to five months.
“You're dancing on the head of a pin — we always put out the total number of deaths — when you today — with retrospect — you find states have all different ways of counting,” replied Cuomo.
Cuomo said the issue remains — who died at a nursing home versus who died at a hospital.
“The total number is what we put out everyday because that was inarguable,” declared Cuomo.
The governor even challenged reporters about the total number of nursing home deaths in explaining his administration’s dilemma and places blame on the federal government.
Cuomo saying it the issue was “highly political” and in the middle of the presidential campaign.
“The president was blaming democratic governors and pointing to nursing homes as the problem,” Cuomo said. “How many people died in nursing homes — you don't know — does anyone? Your in the 99-percentile bracket of informed people — how many people died in nursing homes — none of you know,” questioned Cuomo.
The governor was also asked about an issue many of you have contacted 7 Eyewitness about, frustrating delays in trying to renew unemployment benefits at the state Department of Labor (DOL).
Cuomo says he believes the latest delays are based on the department's response to catching fraudulent claims.
“Just because you call up and say you are unemployed — how do I know if you are unemployed,” Cuomo explained
Cuomo says the DOL put a verification system in place to prevent fraud. But now, a year after the start of the pandemic, many New Yorkers are forced to reapply for benefits using the ID-ME verification system and are waiting weeks for approval.
That includes people like Miranda Green of Jamestown
“ID-ME — hundreds of times, emails, you can't leave a voice mail — there's never a live human or person that answers any telephone numbers for the Department of Labor labor or ID—Me,” Green noted.
Green says she has repeatedly tried to verify her information. She says she has been without benefits since March 31 and is falling behind on her bills.
“It's nerve wracking. It keeps you up at night. It makes you wonder what you are going to pay and what ones are going to be a priority over others,” Green remarked.
Green says she finally was contacted by the department of labor after 7 Eyewitness News forwarded her email for help. But even after offering more verification information, she still has not been verified.
“What do you say to somebody that's just lost their public trust — when they have bills to pay and they're unemployed?” Buckley asked.
“Sometimes there's fraud and it has to be verified, while I don't want to wait for you to verify it — I know — but if we don't verify it, then there's going to be fraud and then someone's going to ask me a question — there was fraud and the unemployment insurance rate went up, they have to be verified,” replied Cuomo.
Cuomo also responded to questions surrounding the state Attorney General investigation into several allegations of sexual harassment against him.
Cuomo says so far, the public has only heard one side.
“I can't tell you how eager I am to tell my side of the story and the time — will come. Thank you guys,” Cuomo stated.
Cuomo said at this point he has not been questioned by the AG.
The governor also announced that the focus is getting shots into the arms of more people, but specifically those 16 to 25 years of age. He says now is the time to focus on the “doubtful” and the “youthful”.
Surrounded by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Cuomo launched a new initiative to get younger people vaccinated against the Covid virus.
The Buffalo Urban League is partnering with the City of Buffalo and GBUAHN to offer COVID-19 vaccines from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at 1195 Main Street in Buffalo.