Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stopped by the Upper East Side last week to deliver a dispatch from Congress on the status of important legislation and answer questions from local leaders during a special district event hosted by Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright.
Those in attendance at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House Friday - including community board members, nonprofit leaders, local health care officials and small business owners, questioned the senior Senator on COVID-19 recovery, taxes, housing as well as voting rights.
But before he fielded questions, Schumer launched into a preamble noting the responsibility on the new Democratic majority to address the fundamental issues he said were neglected during the last four years as well as to create real, tangible change. He also spoke of a moral responsibility.
“You probably asked yourself the same question I asked myself: How can 74 million people vote for such a despicable human being like Donald Trump? I don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. He is a vile man. He is dishonest. He is divisive. He’s a racist. And always appeals to the dark side, which he’s very good at,” said Schumer. “And I realized that for too many Americans, they no longer have faith in the American dream.”
He said it is now the responsibility to return the country to a place of promise for middle class and working people.
Here’s what Schumer had to say during the Q&A:
Helene Goldfarb, a retired teacher and Yorkville resident, asked the Senator if the State and Local Tax Deduction, known as SALT, would be restored in any upcoming legislation. The deduction, which allowed taxpayers to deduct state and local taxes without a cap - a handy tool in a high-tax state like New York - was capped at $10,000 in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act pushed by Trump.
Schumer said the SALT cap was one of the “nastiest” aspects of legislation.
“It was aimed at the blue states because the hard-right hates government, and they don’t like the fact that the blue states like New York and others are generous in terms of education, in terms of helping who need help, in terms of housing and everything else,” said Schumer, adding that he believed Congress could eliminate the deduction cap in legislation adopted through the reconciliation process this year.
Former Community Board 8 chair Alida Camp asked that with the city and country suffering from a lack of affordable housing and investment in public housing, if the federal government would increase housing subsidies.
“First, one of my missions is to get more money for NYCHA, but also to make them spend it a lot better,” said Schumer. “We’re trying to get $80 [billion] for public housing. We intend to get $80B for public housing nationwide — New York City will get half of it, huge, $40 billion — which is enough to upgrade all of our NYCHA apartments if it’s done right.”
He said this would be done through the $3.5 trillion budget Democrats hope to get through reconciliation.
John Philips, who owns and operates the Mansion Diner, spoke to a common pain the restaurant industry in particular has felt through the pandemic with the major loss in revenue. He said that if the city were to shut down again in response to another wave, his decades-old family business would likely go under. He said he did not receive any money from the $26 billion Restaurant Relief Fund Congress, which was the first bill he put on the floor of the Senate as Majority Leader.
Schumer said he is working to put more money for restaurants in the legislation that will go through reconciliation, but is facing opposition from Republicans, who, he said, don’t want to pay for anything.
“We are fighting to get more money for the restaurants. The program worked; it just didn’t go far enough to enough people, said Schumer. “Thousands of restaurants in New York got it, but thousands didn’t it, so we are going to try to get more.”