Holding Leaders More Accountable in Crisis, Not Less

Though some of his actions have been integral to dealing with the coronavirus crisis and should be a good example for other states to follow, many of Governor Cuomo’s policies in both the past and the present have been harmful to the state’s efforts.

WSN Editorial Board

During this time of crisis, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has become a figure of admiration for many Americans looking for a dependable political authority to feel protected. After Cuomo’s daily press conferences, the hashtag #PresidentCuomo can be seen on Twitter, and numerous articles have been published praising Cuomo for his responses against COVID-19. But Cuomo’s actions both during and before the pandemic show this dependence is falsely placed in a leader with certain policies that have become part of the problem, rather than the solution.

Recently, the governor made extensive Medicaid cuts to the state’s budget in order to close the $6 billion gap from before the start of the pandemic. According to Cuomo, these cuts were necessary in order to halt the rapid growth of Medicaid spending as well as to pass a balanced budget; he also stated that the cuts would be delayed in order for the state to use federal aid during the pandemic.

However, this deficit could have been reduced without these drastic cuts. Empire State Indivisible, a progressive grassroots organization, called for increased taxes on billionaires and millionaires, a transfer tax on stock buybacks and other policies to make up for the cost of Medicaid. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams also called for taxes on the ultrarich to cover both the spending issues that come with the pandemic as well as to provide for Medicaid. The fact that these types of policies were cast aside shows a clear contradiction between Gov. Cuomo’s appearance as an advocate for his constituents and his actual policies.

While Cuomo slashed Medicaid, he also cut $400 million of hospital funding. Like the Medicaid cuts, these will also be delayed. Cuomo claims that these cuts for hospitals are fine, since they’ll receive additional money from federal stimulus packages. But hospitals across the nation are unsure of when this funding will come or how it will be implemented. Since the peak of the virus hasn’t hit yet, it is premature for Cuomo to assume hospitals won’t need state funding in addition to federal funding.

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Cuomo’s past record has also been a significant part of the state’s problem today. From 2000 to 2020, New York lost over 20,000 hospital beds. According to Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City alone currently needs 40,000 more beds in order to accommodate coronavirus patients. As of March 24, Cuomo said the state as a whole needed a total of 140,000. Cuomo’s governorship, which started in 2011, has only contributed to the problem. By reducing the number of hospital beds in budget cuts and failing to replace those lost beds with new ones, it has left the state especially vulnerable during health emergencies.

This isn’t to say that Cuomo isn’t the only executive responsible for the problems at hand. President Trump took nearly six weeks after the first diagnosed case of COVID-19 in the United States to allow hospitals and laboratories to conduct their own tests for the virus. By failing to enact decisions quickly and efficiently, the virus continued to spread rapidly — unlike in South Korea, where the government has largely been able to contain the virus through swift action. Trump’s administration hasn’t implemented nearly enough testing either, with South Korea conducting five times more tests per capita. He has also continued to call the virus the “Chinese Virus,” which promotes the already-growing xenophobia against Asians in the country. Clearly, the president has failed on numerous occasions to deal with the pandemic. 

It is important to note that Cuomo has taken decisive action during this situation. When the federal government could only send 4,000 ventilators and the state needed 37,000, the governor was able to acquire a total of 3,500 ventilators from the Chinese government and 140 from the state of Oregon. He also mobilized the National Guard to redistribute unused ventilators to areas in the state that have been hit hardest by the spread. These types of decisions shouldn’t go unnoticed when discussing New York State’s management of the crisis.

The clear absence of leadership at the federal level is evident. Trump’s shortfalls in this regard has forced the public to turn to Gov. Cuomo, whose press conferences and media presence have captivated the yearning audience. Despite this enthrallment, it is important to keep our leaders accountable — even more so during this coronavirus crisis. This includes Gov. Cuomo, whose current policies and past record show his serious mismanagement has failed New Yorkers and will inevitably cost lives that could have been preserved. 

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 6, 2020 e-print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]

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