Kathy Hochul Vows to Quicken the Pace of COVID-Related Rental Aid

New York's new governor also faces pressure on congestion pricing in Manhattan

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Andrew Cuomo left a lot of legislative problems for Kathy Hochul to tackle on his way out of the governor’s mansion.

Hours after being sworn in as the state’s 57th and first female governor, Hochul vowed to tame the rising number of COVID-19 cases, ensure that tenants receive federal aid that was promised to them, and restore trust in government after a sexual harassment scandal drove her predecessor from office.

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The Buffalo pol emphasized that the state must release COVID aid for tenants immediately. She said she would hire more staff to process relief applications and assign a team of staffers to identify any obstacles that are preventing New Yorkers from receiving the funds.

“I am not at all satisfied at the pace this COVID relief is getting out the door,” Hochul said in her 12-minute inaugural address Tuesday afternoon. “I want the money out now, with no more excuses and delays.”

The Cuomo administration paid out only about 5 percent of the $2.7 billion pool of pandemic funds available, infuriating both tenants and landlords dependent on the aid. The pressure to unclog the spigot only intensified after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a portion of a state eviction moratorium, which could allow more cases to proceed in housing court once the state rule expires on Aug. 31. Some lawmakers want to extend the moratorium until the end of October.

Hochul also said she would prioritize making schools safe from infection, as students start returning to class later this month, by requiring public school employees statewide to get vaccinated or take weekly COVID tests. She ordered the New York State Department of Health to enact a universal masking policy for school entry. 

The new governor promised additional vaccine mandates in the coming days in order to boost the state’s stalled vaccination rate. She said the state would start planning to make enough booster shots available for New Yorkers to be able to take them eight months after receiving their first or second doses.

“So much progress has been made, but too many are not yet vaccinated, putting themselves and their communities at risk,” Hochul said. “I am prepared to do whatever is necessary, including reopening mass vax sites, so boosters are available to all New Yorkers who meet that timetable.”

She did not address the events that led to her predecessor’s resignation, other than to promise to overhaul the state’s sexual harassment policies and require trainings to be conducted in person instead of online. Cuomo left office Monday night following a monthslong state attorney general investigation that found the former governor touched several aides and a state trooper inappropriately while his staff sought to smear accusers to defend him.

Instead, Hochul said she would get the state working again without “distractions.”

“I want people to believe in government again. It’s important to me that people have faith,” Hochul said during a swearing-in ceremony in Albany Tuesday morning. “I take that very seriously.”

But the new governor’s to-do list is about to grow longer. 

A coalition of real estate developers, transit advocacy groups, ride-hailing companies, and environmental leaders demanded on Tuesday that Hochul fast-track the approval of congestion pricing. Metropolitan Transportation Authority leaders announced they would take 16 months to conduct an environmental assessment of the tolling plan to charge vehicles entering Midtown and Lower Manhattan, on top of 10 months to install the technology on roads and bridges.

Hochul has not said if she would support congestion pricing and a spokesperson for her previously told The New York Times she was weighing a decision.

“Lieutenant Governor Hochul has supported congestion pricing in the past, but the pace and timing is something she will need to evaluate further given the constantly changing impact of COVID-19 on commuters,” the spokesperson told NYT earlier this month.

Education advocates called on Hochul to make pre-K universal statewide and make more investments into child care. 

And Queens State Sen. Mike Gianaris urged the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to halt NRG Energy’s proposed fossil fuel plant in Astoria.

Meanwhile, disgraced former Gov. Cuomo moved the remainder of his belongings from the governor’s mansion to his sister’s mansion in Purchase, N.Y. Cuomo told New York Magazine he had not made plans where he would live next.

One item he won’t have to worry about transporting is an Emmy trophy. The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced it rescinded his honorary award for his daily COVID-19 briefings, hours after he stepped down. 

The move was praised by television veteran and former gubernatorial candidate, Cynthia Nixon, who tweeted: “The difference between me and Andrew Cuomo? Neither of us is governor, but I still have my Emmy(s).”