Written by Rachel Burt in the Watertown Daily Times on April 29, 2020

WATERTOWN — Eight U.S. representatives from upstate New York congressional districts, including north country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, convened Tuesday night for a virtual Town Hall meeting regarding COVID-19.

Hosted by WTEN-TV/WXXA-TV anchor and political affairs reporter Tim Lake and aired exclusively on 15 Nexstar stations across upstate New York, including WWTI-TV (ABC) in Watertown, the broadcast featured U.S. Reps. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck; Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam; Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville; Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica; Tom Reed, R-Corning; John Katko, R-Syracuse; Joe Morelle, D-Rochester; and Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.

The live broadcast aired from 7 to 8 p.m. across television stations, with the online livestream continuing until 8:30 p.m.

The Town Hall opened with Mr. Lake providing a recap of the latest developments in the pandemic and posing questions to the representatives. The broadcast then moved to questions submitted by viewers around the state. Viewers were able to pose questions to the representatives via a variety of social media platforms using the hashtag -NYCoronavirus, or by email to News@news10.com.

When the representatives were asked about what issues their constituents were facing and the questions they were asking, Ms. Stefanik mentioned many north country worries, such as impacts on tourism, hospital furloughs, and student and teacher access to high speed internet as some don’t have any access, noting that there is a wide breadth of issues covered in the north country.

Topics and questions posed by Mr. Lake and viewers ranged from whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo was right in calling Congress out for not supporting state funding and student loan debt, to top priorities in any new legislation in the next virus relief package and how the representatives are balancing the needs of their districts with the plan for reopening.

When asked if she feared the rush to reopen in her district could trigger a new outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Ms. Stefanik pointed out that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for something like this due to different needs in different regions.

In terms of the Canadian border, she said, “I think the fact that the president has really delegated the decision making to the governors was a strong decision. This regional approach, which Gov. Cuomo has embraced, is the right approach.”

Many in Ms. Stefanik’s district, spanning Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, and a handful of other counties, have wondered what the COVID-19-related closures mean for the Canadian border and tourism as we move toward the summer months.

When Mr. Lake posed the question of whether the border will reopen in time for the summer season, helping the north country economy in terms of tourism, Ms. Stefanik was unable to give a definite answer due to the many unknowns still surrounding the virus and what it means moving forward.

“I think public health data is going to drive those decisions and I also think conversations between the two countries are critically important,” she said. “We do that on a regional basis, but it’s going to have to be done at a federal level. We get often asked about a certain date, and I think again you have to look at public data over time when it comes to percentage of positive cases, when it comes to hospitalization rate, so I think this emphasizes the importance of that cross-border collaboration that we have both in the northern border caucus and just working with Canadians in general as our largest trading partner.”

As the last representative to speak Tuesday night, Ms. Stefanik tried to reassure viewers that their concerns about the rising unemployment numbers and financial assistance for those currently unemployed due to the pandemic were being taken into account and plans were being made to help as much as possible with regard to future efforts and payments.

“I think it’s important for viewers to know that the federal government and this Congress and everyone on this call voted in support of increased funding for unemployment,” she said. “I absolutely think that the federal government needs to do everything that we can to support New York and our unique needs because we are the epicenter.”

You can read the full article at https://www.nny360.com/