WURTSBORO, NY — Promising to help local residents “get out of the ditch of COVID,” Sen. Chuck Schumer chose the Emma C. Chase Elementary School in Wurtsboro as the backdrop …
WURTSBORO, NY — Promising to help local residents “get out of the ditch of COVID,” Sen. Chuck Schumer chose the Emma C. Chase Elementary School in Wurtsboro as the backdrop Wednesday, March 31 when he unveiled details of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP).
“Help is on the way,” the newly minted Democratic majority leader announced to a small audience of local and school officials in the school’s gymnasium. Schumer donned a blue Monticello Panthers face mask as he detailed how the plan includes state and local aid to provide broadband access to far-reaching areas.
Schumer likened broadband access in the 2020s to electricity in the 1930s. He noted that in the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that electricity was a necessity. Today, access to the internet is similarly needed. “We believe, in the 21st century, broadband is a necessity and we want every home to [have] it,” he stressed.
The pandemic revealed the need for internet access and uncovered where it’s lacking. Doctors’ offices, businesses and schools all adapted to remote operations, but not all families were able to take advantage of it. Schumer noted that two categories of people in particular found it hard to connect: rural residents and those who cannot afford the cost of broadband. Both categories are represented in Sullivan County and the Hudson Valley, he added.
Sullivan County’s population of 77,547 includes areas without any internet access and other areas where connection fees range from $20,000 to more than $100,000, according to information provided by Schumer’s staff. Schumer said language in the ARP will allow Sullivan, Ulster and Orange County local governments to use local aid allocations to expand high-speed internet infrastructure. As an example, he showed off a white, square “hotspot” that will be installed in underserved neighborhoods in Sullivan County to provide WiFi access. The hotspot idea was conceived by Lorne Green, chief information officer of the Sullivan County Division of Information Technology Services, according to county legislator Michael Brooks, who also spoke at the press conference.
The broadband infrastructure expansion was welcome news to Monticello Board of Education President Lori Orestano-James. “This is a long time coming,” said Orestano-James, who herself often had trouble conducting virtual school board meetings due to spotty internet. She and Linda Oehler-Marx, assistant superintendent for curriculum, said that despite efforts that included distributing computer devices to every K-8 student throughout the district, there were still children who couldn’t participate in class because they either lacked internet or couldn’t join a Zoom class because their sibling was using the bandwidth to connect to a different Zoom class.
Schumer acknowledged the local efforts to manage issues throughout the pandemic. He personally thanked Rolling V CEO Phil Vallone for converting a school bus into a mobile classroom with the help of NYS Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, Sullivan 180 and Sullivan BOCES.
In addition to broadband infrastructure, Schumer said the ARP could have as much as a $100 billion impact on the state, including child tax credits and expanded stimulus checks.
“That’s going to take half the kids in the area out of poverty,” the senator said. The additional round of direct stimulus checks for hundreds of thousands of Hudson Valley residents will most likely be spent in local businesses, further assisting the area, he added. The plan also includes “every school district getting enough money to open five days a week and open for summer school.”
After finishing his comments at the lectern in the gymnasium, Schumer hopped up onto the stage. Sitting next to the school’s stuffed-animal panther mascot, Schumer listened as various officials offered similar praise for the ARP and for Schumer himself.
Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan summed up everyone’s praises with this: “Thank you, Sen. Schumer, for fighting harder than we’ve ever seen. In a crisis, you have to get resources to those on the front lines. You fought really hard to get that support for us."