Cuomo challenges Trump on need to give up New Yorkers’ ID numbers to get vaccines

Governor Andrew Cuomo today continued his criticism of the Trump administration’s plan for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine once it is available.

In a conference call with reporters, Cuomo focused on the administration’s requirement that states provide identification numbers to anyone who wants a vaccine.

“First, the Federal Government must tell the States exactly why this data is necessary, what it will be used for, and how it will be safeguarded,” Cuomo wrote in a Nov. 2 letter to President Donald Trump; Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services.

Second, Cuomo noted that the “data use agreement” says the information will be used by the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services as well as “other federal partners.”

“My concern is that this information, without proper safeguards, could be used by non-health related agencies such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or Immigration and Customs Enforcement in furtherance of this administration’s anti-immigrant policies and its relentless pursuit of undocumented people,” Cuomo wrote in his letter.

He likened it to “the federal administration’s past attempts to extort the State of New York through the Trusted Traveler Program fiasco.”

In July, after federal officials had originally said New York State was alone in restricting access to motor-vehicle records, government lawyers said in court papers that other states also limited access but had not been subjected to a clampdown as New York had.

The matter is now being investigated by the inspector general of Homeland Security.

“There is no legitimate health reason,” Cuomo told reporters on the conference call today of the current request for an identification number. “This is just another example of them trying to extort the state of New York to get information that they can use at Department of Homeland Security and ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] that they’ll use to deport people. That is what this is. I will not do it. I wouldn’t do it when they extorted me on [the] Trusted Traveler Program, and I won’t do it now.”

Yesterday, Cuomo had spoken about the federal plan as being discriminatory because vaccines are to be administered by pharmacy chains with stores frequently not found in poor neighborhoods.

“I believe not providing state government with funds to supplement the private provider network is discriminatory and I believe it’s illegal,” Cuomo reiterated on Monday’s conference call. “If they provided me funds, I could supplement the private provider network just like it did with COVID testing.”

Earlier, he had also criticized the plan because it used the same system used for COVID-19 testing, which he said was not up to the task of managing the sheer volume of needed vaccines.

“Vaccination is going to be more challenging than anything we’ve done,” Cuomo told reporters on Monday’s conference call.

He described the federal vaccination plan as “very simple” and summed it up this way:

“Big pharma will produce the vaccines ... the military will be in charge of shipping them although the military says they’re going to use commercial shippers like FedEx and another company called McKinnon, and they’ll ship them to the states and then the states will be responsible for the distribution except the distribution mechanism that the federal government has designated is the traditional private health infrastructure.”


$328M for HEAP

Separately on Monday, Cuomo announced that applications for the Home Energy Assistance Program, known as HEAP, open today.

More than 1.6 million New York homeowners and renters received heating aid in 2019-20. In the Capital Region, there were 65,879 recipients, according to a release from the governor’s office.

More than $328 million in home heating aid is now available for low- and middle-income New Yorkers.

“Cold weather brings yet another challenge for many New Yorkers already struggling to make ends meet during this unprecedented pandemic,” Cuomo said in the release.

Eligible homeowners and renters may receive assistance of up to $741 from HEAP, overseen by the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, depending on income, household size, and how they heat their home. A family of four may have a maximum gross monthly income of $5,019 or an annual gross income of $60,226 and still qualify for benefits.

Applications for assistance are accepted at local departments of social services in person or by telephone, with funding provided on a first-come, first-served basis. In Albany County, applicants should call the Department of Social Services at 162 Washington Ave., at 518-447-7323. Albany County residents may also apply online for regular heating assistance benefits.  

Earlier this year, Governor Cuomo signed legislation extending a moratorium that prevents utility companies from disconnecting utilities to residential households that are struggling with their bills due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Utility companies must instead offer tax deferred payment agreements on any past-due balance.

New Yorkers who receive HEAP assistance this season and continue to fall behind on their utility bills or are running short on heating fuel may also qualify for a one-time emergency HEAP benefit. Applications for emergency benefits will be accepted starting on Monday, Jan. 4.


Newest numbers

Based on Sunday’s test results, the statewide infection rate reported by Cuomo on Monday was 1.70 percent. This includes the 3.50 percent in the micro-cluster areas.

All 10 regions of the state were above the targeted 1-percent positivity rate. The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, was at 1.5 percent.

“We’re in the party season; Halloween, coming into Thanksgiving, students are going home,” Cuomo told reporters on his Monday conference call. “All I can do is warn New Yorkers and ask them to remember what worked for us, and what worked for us is discipline and smart ... We have to keep it up because these are dangerous, dangerous times.”

Albany County Executive Daniel Mccoy said at his Monday morning press conference that he had seen a lot of pictures on Facebook of kids partying on Halloween.

He said he’d be watching to see if there is an uptick in COVID-19 cases in four or five days.

As of Monday morning, Albany County has 3,645 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019, an increase of 25 since Sunday.

Of the new cases, 12 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, one reported traveling out of state, nine did not have a clear source of infection identified at this time, and three are health-care workers or residents of congregate settings.

Currently, 1,362 county residents are under quarantine, up from 1,354. The five-day average for new daily positives increased to 28.4 from 27.8. There are now 177 active cases in the county, down from 179 on Sunday.

So far, 16,482 people have completed quarantine. Of those, 3,468 had tested positive and recovered.

Twenty-three county residents are hospitalized, down from 26 on Sunday; one patient is in an intensive-care unit. The county’s hospitalization rate has gone down to 0.63 percent from 0.71 percent.

Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 142.


More Regional News

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday reported that New York State has another case of the highly transmissible variant of COVID-19 known as B.1.1.7. The latest confirmed case is in Tompkins County, bringing the state’s total to 17.

  • “When it comes to this vaccine, access has to be fair all across the board,”said Governor Andrew Cuomo. “We’re working with 300 churches to distribute the vaccine. We’re working with public housing authorities all across the state.”

  • Counties with populations of at least 200,000 — Albany County has about 320,000 residents — were eligible to apply for federal funds to help landlords, County Executive Daniel McCoy said as he praised county staff for turning around an application in just three days.

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.