A congressman in the time of coronavirus

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), whose Democratic primary is next month, says his biggest priority is "[bringing] bring money back to New York." (Screencap by Rose Weldon)

Among all of his Twitter and Facebook posts since the coronavirus pandemic took off, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) says he gets the most reactions on an oddly specific variety.

“The thing I get the most feedback on is when I travel to Washington, D.C., and I’ll do a video about what I’m going to do, and I’ll take a picture and show how the train, plane or station is empty,” Suozzi said. “It’s kind of this eerie feeling of traveling out there in the midst of all this.”

The former Nassau County executive and former Glen Cove mayor’s 3rd District includes Manhasset, Roslyn, Port Washington, Great Neck and Floral Park, among other areas, and after winning terms in 2016 and 2018, his seat is again up for election this year.

Suozzi is being challenged in the state’s Democratic primary on June 23 by Michael Weinstock of Great Neck and Melanie D’Arrigo of Port Washington, with the first wave of absentee ballots being sent out this week. The winner of the primary will face Republican nominee George Santos of Queens for the seat in November.

One of the two halves of Suozzi’s schedule is spent in Washington.

“I’ve got the Washington, D.C., part of my life, where I’m trying to get legislation passed, holding Zoom calls with the Ways and Means Committee to talk about doing hearings virtually going forward,” Suozzi said. “Every week I have a couple phone calls with all the Democrats, a caucus call with [House speaker] Nancy Pelosi, [Rep.] Steny Hoyer, a couple hundred of us.”

The congressman says he has also held Zoom meetings with the Problem Solvers Caucus, various guest speakers and groups, and that he “fields calls with the governor’s office and the [Nassau] county executive.” His main priority, he says, is seeing that funds in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act recently passed by the House, are distributed to the states based on rate of infection.

“I’m trying to bring money back to New York, that’s my big focus right now as part of  the HEROES Act,” Suozzi said. “I fought very hard to get money distributed to NY based on rate of infection to all the states.  It started out with the hospitals, when they were first distributing money for the hospitals, they were doing it based on 2019 Medicare data, not very helpful. As a result, Texas, which at the time had 2.5 percent of the cases, got more money than New York, which had at the time over 35 percent of the cases.”

Suozzi says he recruited “every Democrat and every Republican from New York and New Jersey to sign a letter to Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell” stating a need for a special fund that would be distributed in such a way. The fund, totaling $10 billion, was added to the act.

“New York hospitals got $4 billion of that money, so that by itself will address a lot of the hospitals’ money problems,” Suozzi said. “So now we’re doing the same thing with the states. We got a $49 billion fund put in the HEROES Act, so that by itself would generate $10 to $12 billion for New York. New York State would get about $22 billion overall based on population and unemployment rates, but $12 billion is just from this special fund for $49 billion that I helped to advocate for.”

The $49 billion is “non-negotiable,” Suozzi says, but he has hopes that another priority of his could be put in the act, that being expanding the state and local tax (SALT) deduction for 2020 and 2021.

“It’s my legislation that was passed [by the House] in December to reinstate the SALT deduction,” Suozzi said.

President Donald Trump capped the deduction at $10,000 in a 2017 federal law that reduced taxes for corporations and most wealthy and middle class families, with Long Islanders and other Northeastern residents having to pay more in income tax.

Suozzi’s bill to increase the cap to $20,000 for the 2020 tax filing year passed in the House of Representatives in December, with bipartisan support from U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), but has not yet passed in the Senate.

Meanwhile, at home in Glen Cove, Suozzi says his offices are flooded by calls from constituents.

“We get hundreds of calls a day and often I’m having to talk with people to try and help them navigate the bureaucracy to figure out how to get this done,” Suozzi said. “We get people calling every day to my New York and Washington offices, which are working remotely, saying ‘I can’t get through to unemployment,’ ‘I need help with my payroll protection program,’ ‘I haven’t gotten my stimulus check yet,’ maybe they’ll want to push for a certain kind of legislation that has nothing to do with what’s happening.”

Coronavirus itself hit the congressman particularly close to home. In mid-April Michael Wrotniak Jr., father of Suozzi’s wife, Helene, died of the virus at Glen Cove Hospital, less than two days after testing positive. Wrotniak’s widow, Carol, later tested positive for the virus as well.

Also paramount to the congressman is sending money to local municipalities, villages, towns and cities, “regardless of their population size all the way down to the smallest ones.”

“In the past five years, [New York] taxpayers have sent $125 billion more to the federal government than we’ve gotten back in federal aid or help,” Suozzi said. “We’re the biggest net donor in the entire country. [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell, from Kentucky, his state has received $150 billion more than they paid in, they’re one of the biggest net takers of all the states. It’s the height of hypocrisy for him to be talking about a ‘blue state bailout’ when we bail out his state every year.”

“The stimulus money is where people get a check, the PPP and the unemployment insurance,” Suozzi said. “The question is whether that’s going to work and if we need to do more than that. Every economist says, ‘you can’t make a mistake by doing too much right now. You can only make a mistake by doing too little.’ And that’s the fight between the Democrats and Republicans right now. Nobody knows the answer yet, and nobody knows what’s going to happen as we reopen.”

Among his major accomplishments in office, Suozzi lists increasing funding for Long Island Sound cleanup by 400 percent as co-chair of Long Island Sound Caucus and increasing funding to clean up the Bethpage plume of toxic chemicals in the ground. He has also earned A grades or their equivalents from organizations such as the National Education Association, the Children’s Defense Fund, End Citizens United, the League of Conservation Voters, the Humane Society, the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood, Communications Workers of America, NARAL Pro Choice America, American Federation of Government Employees, Alliance for Retired Americans, Federally Employed Women and the National Association of Police Organizations.

“I’ve demonstrated that I’m very hard working, I’m committed to getting things done for my district, and I get things done for my district,” Suozzi said. “I’ll always fight for New York, and I’ll always fight for all the things people care about, whether it’s better health care, a cleaner environment, gun safety, immigration reform, whatever the issue may be, they know that I’m fighting to get those things done for my constituents, for my state and for my country. I’m not just someone who’s saying, ‘I believe this,’ or ‘I believe that.’ I can do it because I’ve done it.

“I’ve got a record for every single issue. I’m going to stand up for the things I think are right based upon what’s best for my district and what I think is the right thing to do, and when it comes to the politics of it, I’m going to try and beat them in the election.”

The last day to apply for an absentee ballot for the June 23 Democratic primary is June 16, and the last day to postmark such a ballot is June 22.

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Rose Weldon

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