State AG wants Kodak boss to testify about stock buy

New York state Attorney General Letitia James on Tuesday petitioned the court to force Eastman Kodak Co. CEO Jim Continenza to publicly testify about his stock purchase last year ahead of the federal government’s announcement that Kodak was in line to receive a $655 million loan to build its chemical business.

According to James, “Continenza made the purchase while he was leading secret discussions with the Trump White House and the federal government” for the loan that would enable Kodak to repurpose legacy assets here to produce drugs necessary to fight the pandemic. Continenza had purchased nearly 47,000 shares ahead of the loan announcement.

“Corporate greed will never go unchecked in New York,” James said in a statement on June 1. “As millions of New Yorkers and Americans across this nation lost their jobs and were waiting for unemployment checks, Kodak’s CEO was using insider information to illegally trade company stock. Kodak even doubled down on this fraud by relaying false information to investors before the company’s annual meeting that took place last month.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James
New York State Attorney General Letitia James

“Corporate executives don’t get to play by their own rules, which is why today’s action seeks to shine a light on Kodak and Mr. Continenza’s unlawful behavior and level the playing field,” James added. “We are asking the court to order Mr. Continenza to testify in open court, so the facts can be exposed before the American people. My office will use every tool at its disposal to hold those who violated the law accountable.”

At issue is Continenza’s purchase of 46,737 shares of Kodak stock at a weighted average price of $2.22 per share made on June 23, 2020. The stock purchase was made one week after the company filed a confidential application for the $655 million loan from the federal government to develop a new business that would produce chemicals necessary for patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

The new pharmaceutical project, also billed as a way to bring generic drug production back to the U.S., was expected to increase revenues at the company by more than $300 million annually by 2025.

Kodak officials responded to James’ petition after the bell on Tuesday, stating that Continenza was not in possession of material non-public information and, “contrary to the Attorney General’s allegations, his small stock purchase was pre-approved by Kodak’s General Counsel during an open trading window in accordance with Kodak’s insider trading policy and was subsequently found to be compliant by outside counsel in an independent investigation.” Continenza has reportedly purchased Kodak stock in nearly every open window period and has never sold any of his shares.

“This morning the New York Attorney General filed an application in New York state court seeking investigative testimony and documents from Kodak. Prior to this filing, the company repeatedly offered to make witnesses available and the Attorney General repeatedly declined,” Kodak officials said. “It is telling that she has now chosen to publicly seek this order asking for the very testimony in which she previously had no interest.”

According to the petition, “Kodak’s loan application followed extensive confidential dealings — led by Continenza personally — held directly with the White House and other federal officials.” The petition notes that Kodak gave the pharmaceuticals project a code name, “Project Tiger,” to maintain confidentiality.

Eastman Kodak Co. Executive Chairman Jim Continenza
Eastman Kodak Co. Executive Chairman Jim Continenza

On June 18, 2020, Kodak sent Project Tiger team members, including Kodak executives, an email linking to an internal memo. The memo warned that it was illegal to trade Kodak stock while in possession of material, non-public information and reminded the recipients to “pre-clear any transaction with [Kodak’s General Counsel] prior to trading,” according to the petition.

The memo stated: Kodak is a publicly traded company. It is illegal to trade in the securities of a publicly-traded company while you are in possession of material information regarding Kodak that is not generally available to the public. . . . The penalties for such illegal activity are severe and may involve fines and/or incarceration. The information you receive in the course of Kodak’s consideration of the Project may from time to time constitute such material non-public information. If you decide to trade in Kodak securities while the project is on-going, you must pre-clear any transaction with [Kodak’s General Counsel] prior to trading.

A little more than a month after Continenza’s stock purchase, Kodak signed a public letter of interest with the federal government for the loan — which had grown to $765 million — causing Kodak stock to soar. The day after the news was announced Kodak’s stock price reached a high of $60 per share, more than 27 times what Continenza had paid for the stock weeks earlier.

James’ petition also informs the court about alleged false statements Kodak made to investors about the circumstances of Continenza’s insider trading. Specifically, on May 17, 2021 — in two separate public filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission — Kodak disclosed that it anticipated being sued by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) because of Continenza’s trading.

According to the petition, Kodak falsely stated in the disclosures that Continenza’s June 23, 2020, trading was “in compliance with the company’s insider trading policy, including pre-approval by its general counsel.” James alleges that Kodak’s insider trading policy requires pre-clearance to be sought by email at least one day prior to the trading and for the requester to receive a response approving the trading — neither of which James said occurred.

“These false and misleading disclosures occurred just two days before Kodak’s annual meeting during which shareholders voted on retaining Continenza as executive chairman of the company and on endorsing his compensation package,” the attorney general contends.

The U.S. International Development Finance Corp. scrapped the loan in August, as news of an SEC investigation into potential wrongdoing broke. An independent firm hired by Kodak to investigate the claims found that no laws were broken by the company ahead of the loan announcement.

“In addition to being wrong on the facts, the attorney general’s novel and highly problematic legal theory that seeks to impose liability in the absence of intent would have a chilling effect on directors and executives of every public company, who could never invest in their own companies without fear of having good-faith decisions, pre-approved by counsel, second-guessed by regulators and charged as insider trading,” Kodak officials said in their statement Tuesday. “We are confident that the facts and the law are on our side and are prepared to present our case in court if there becomes a need to do so.”

Shares of company stock (NYSE: KODK) closed Tuesday at $7.51 and were $7.55 in pre-market trading Wednesday.

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Homebound individuals to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Homebound individuals in the nine-county Finger Lakes Region will now have the ability to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Monroe County, the Finger Lakes COVID-19 Vaccine Hub, Goodwill of the Finger Lakes and other local partners have finalized plans to bring access to the COVID-19 vaccine to the roughly 1,000 homebound individuals in the region.

“Providing equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine has been our priority since our vaccination efforts began in December. We’ve heard from medical professionals, caregivers and homebound individuals about the importance of bringing the vaccine to this population of residents,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “This program is designed from the perspective of the homebound patients and their caregivers, utilizing the COVID-19 vaccine hotline to support homebound residents and give them a point of contact to request their COVID-19 vaccine. Partnering with Emergency Medical Service agencies in our community is a win-win, with their unique perspective and relationship to people in the communities they serve.”

Last week, the partners launched a program to identify, offer and administer vaccines to homebound individuals and their caregivers. Members of the planning group to accomplish the task included Lifespan, Finger Lakes Performing Provider System, emergency medical agencies from a number of local health care systems and organizations and input from the Monroe County Medical Society and others who care for the homebound.

“We are getting great responses from the provider community, yet we want to be sure no one is left behind, so if you know of anybody who is homebound, please call and let us know. We don’t want anyone to be left behind,” said Nana Bennett, director of the Finger Lakes COVID-19 Vaccine Hub.

The Monroe County COVID-19 Hotline — staffed by Goodwill of the Finger Lakes — is creating a referral list for those who do not have a computer or internet, and need telephone assistance to get the vaccine to individuals who are homebound.

Individuals can call the Monroe County COVID-19 hotline at (585) 753-5555.

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Ultralife reports decline in Q1 income

Ultralife Corp. on Thursday reported a first-quarter drop in income, falling short of Street expectations.

For the quarter ended March 31, the Newark power and communication systems company reported revenues of $25.97 million, compared with $25.8 million in the first quarter last year. Net income was $700,000, or 4 cents per diluted share, compared with net income of $1.1 million, or 7 cents per diluted share for the first quarter of 2020. Adjusted EPS was 5 cents on a diluted basis for the first quarter of 2021, compared with 8 cents for the 2020 period.

Analysts had expected non-GAAP earnings of 5 cents and GAAP earnings of 6 cents on revenues of $26.7 million.

Battery & Energy Products revenues increased 6.5 percent to $22.1 million, compared with $20.8 million last year, as a 32.2 percent increase in medical device battery sales and a 30.3 percent increase in government/defense sales were partially offset by a 30 percent decline in oil and gas market sales, officials said in a statement Thursday.

Michael D. Popielec
Michael D. Popielec

“Profitability for the quarter reflected our continuing start-up costs to transition several new products to high volume manufacturing and investments in engineering and sales resources for new product development and market launches to support organic growth initiatives,” Ultralife President and CEO Michael Popielec said in a statement. “As we continue to work on completing new products and identify new targets in emerging markets, we are steadily expanding our long-term opportunities to scale the business and realize the operating leverage inherent in our profitable business model.”

Operating income was $1 million, compared with $1.5 million last year, and operating margin was 3.7 percent, compared with 5.7 percent in the year-ago quarter. The net adverse impact of COVID-19 on operating income for the 2021 first quarter was roughly $900,000.

During the first quarter of 2021, Ultralife’s cash-on-hand increased by 28 percent to $13.7 million and debt was reduced by 27 percent to $1.1 million, officials noted.

Shares of company stock (Nasdaq: ULBI) opened Thursday at $8.15 and were down slightly to $7.95 in early trading.

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Excellus BCBS awards funding to 14 area nonprofits

More than one dozen area nonprofits will receive Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Community Health Awards to help improve health and health care in the community. The awards are part of more than $200,000 the health plan is donating to 53 nonprofits statewide.

Each organization will receive up to $5,000 to fund programs that address the economic and social conditions influencing the health of the community, reduce health disparities, support clinical health improvement and assist communities in dealing with the impact of COVID-19.

“We are well aware of the financial burdens placed on our local nonprofit organizations this past year, and we are committed to supporting their efforts as they address the health needs of our communities,” said Stephen Cohen M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer for Excellus BCBS. “These grants demonstrate our corporate commitment to supporting community organizations that share our mission as a nonprofit health plan.”

Organizations are selected based on the proposed program’s scope of need, goals and the number of people expected to benefit from it, officials said.

The nonprofit organizations in the Finger Lakes region chosen to receive Excellus BCBS Community Health Awards include:
• Baden Street Settlement of Rochester Inc. — Funding will be used to support a Telemedicine Hub so that community members without computer equipment or internet connection can access telemedicine services to communicate with their physicians and other health care providers.
• Black Physicians Network of Greater Rochester Inc. — The award will be used to support the organization’s efforts to provide COVID-19 vaccines to parts of the community challenged by lack of digital connection and transportation.
• Boys & Girls Clubs of Rochester Inc. — Funding will support a Trauma-Informed Care Study to assess the emotional and behavioral reactions that may indicate traumatic stress in the youth of our community in light of the pandemic, health and safety concerns, remote learning challenges, food insecurity and racial unrest.
• Catholic Family Center — for its Support to Aging Residents (STAR) program serving low-income, frail elderly or seniors with limited English language skills. Funding will assist in obtaining COVID-19 vaccinations for clients, including help navigating the system to schedule appointments, transportation and accompaniment to appointments and follow-up monitoring.
• Catholic Charities of Livingston County — for the Mount Morris Food Pantry. Funding will help ensure that the shelves of the pantry remain well-stocked with healthy food.
• Child and Family Resources Inc. — to support its Healthy Families Community Baby Showers. Prenatal parents in Ontario and Yates counties are invited to this free event with a focus on newborn health and safety education and available community resources. Funding will help provide participants with “Healthy Home Baby Bags” filled with items to help parent(s)-to-be to create a safe and clean environment for a newborn.
• First Genesis Development Corp. — to provide coronavirus vaccination assistance for seniors. Funding will help support coordination of assisting seniors over age 70, especially those in Black and Brown communities within the Greater Rochester area, with online vaccination applications, transportation and assistance at vaccination sites.
• Friends of the Rochester Public Market Inc. — Funding will support the Market Token Program which allows shoppers to use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to purchase healthy foods from the Public Market’s 130 local vendors.
• Gilda’s Club Rochester — Funding will assist a new program that provides free cancer support services to city residents with focus in the African American and Latino communities. Health and wellness, healthy cooking and nutrition, support groups, survivorship and Ask the Expert services will be offered at the clubhouse on Alexander Street and at sites throughout the city, such as community centers and churches.
• Judicial Process Commission — for the New Journey for Mothers program that serves women inmates who are pregnant and/or mothers with children, who are being released to the Monroe County community from the local jail. Funding will help provide crisis counseling, one-on-one counseling, therapeutic support groups, referrals to health care services and coordination of family reunification.
• Mental Health Association of Rochester/Monroe Inc. — COVID-19 Vaccinations for those with Mental Health Conditions initiative. The award will support outreach in Livingston, Monroe and Ontario counties to promote vaccine awareness, education, peer services and help identify and find solutions to barriers such as transportation assistance, online registration and appointment reminders.
• Southwest Area Neighborhood Inc. — COVID-19 Facts initiative. Funding will assist in providing neighborhood families and seniors with vaccine information and access to personal protective equipment for those who lack economic resources.
• Spiritus Christi Mental Health Center — The award will support telehealth services to provide patient access to virtual medical and mental health care.
• The Urban League of Rochester — Project COVID-19 Vaccination Action. Funding will support community outreach to Rochester residents with timely COVID-19 vaccine information and resources.

“These awards complement our existing grants and sponsorships to agencies that work to enhance the quality of life and health of our upstate New York communities,” said Holly Snow, director of community investments and partnerships for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

Excellus BCBS has served Upstate New Yorkers for more than 85 years. In that time, the company has supported hundreds of programs that help residents in our community live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care, officials said.

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Ortho Clinical Diagnostics receives $53.7 million COVID-19 testing contract

Rochester’s Ortho Clinical Diagnostics has been awarded a $53.7 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to fund manufacturing capacity expansion dedicated to U.S. customers of the company’s COVID-19 antigen and two antibody tests and for the company’s VITROS System laboratory instruments.

Ortho Clinical, one of the world’s largest pure-play IVD companies, created the first high-volume, COVID-19 antigen and antibody tests to receive Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Emergency Use Authorization at Ortho’s Global Center of Excellence for R&D in Rochester, providing mass-scale testing solutions at the height of the pandemic.

The DoD contract is on behalf of and in coordination with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Ortho Clinical Diagnostics has been a fixture in Rochester for over three decades, and we consider it an honor to support the nation with high-quality laboratory analyzers and highly accurate COVID-19 tests as we return to our ‘new normal’ and reopen the world,” said Tony Allen, head of operations for Ortho’s Rochester site. “The continued support from BARDA and DoD is a significant investment in Ortho’s local R&D and operations infrastructure, but equally significant to the local economy and community.”

In June 2020, BARDA awarded Ortho $678,000 in support of the company’s COVID-19 antibody testing program, followed by an additional $12.85 million in September 2020 to support the development of the company’s SARS-CoV-2 antigen test, a diagnostic test designed for the rapid detection of the virus that causes COVID-19 and continued longer-term regulatory pathway support for Ortho’s antibody tests.

The company expects to deliver more than 6.7 million COVID-19 tests per month to the U.S. market by April 2022.

“I’m thrilled that Ortho Clinical Diagnostics has received this significant award that is a testament to their national leadership in the high-tech innovation sector,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Morelle, D-Irondequoit. “Not only is their work critical to strengthening our economy, it is helping our local efforts to fight this pandemic and revitalize our communities. I’m grateful for their longstanding commitment to supporting Rochester and congratulate their team on this exciting opportunity.”

Ortho’s Rochester facilities manufacture fluids and proprietary VITROS XT Microslide assays, which help labs test for antibodies and antigens or detect and measure the amount of substance, hormone or clinical marker in the sample. VITROS XT MicroSlides allow two tests typically performed together — like glucose and calcium — to be performed on the same slide, allowing labs to get results faster.

Ortho Clinical Diagnostics operates three facilities, including two manufacturing facilities and an administrative building, at Canal Ponds in Rochester, which collectively employ some 1,200 people. The new contract will add 30 jobs in both manufacturing and R&D. Ortho Clinical Diagnostics formerly was Clinical Diagnostics Inc., a division of Eastman Kodak Co. before Johnson & Johnson purchased it in 1994.

“Ortho’s ongoing partnership with BARDA and DoD to significantly expand our COVID-19 testing manufacturing capabilities underscores the continued and critical importance of bolstering the nation’s testing infrastructure by leveraging highly accurate, automated and scalable diagnostic and serological tests that are FDA emergency use authorized,” said Ortho Clinical Chairman and CEO Chris Smith. “Our high-volume testing solutions have already been an indispensable asset for hospitals, reference labs and public health leaders across the country, particularly in rural and underserved communities. We look forward to expanding the availability of these testing solutions to communities in need.”

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Cuomo, lawmakers reach deal on $212 billion budget

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers reached a deal on the state’s budget this week.

The final, $212 billion budget includes a number of measures to aid industries and sectors that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Additionally, the enacted budget closes the state’s deficit and invests in the ongoing response to the pandemic and recovery efforts.

Highlights of the budget include:
• A record $29.5 billion in aid to schools;
• $29 billion in public and private green economy investments;
• $2.4 billion for rent and homeowner relief;
• $2.4 billion for child care;
• $2.1 billion for excluded workers;
• 1 billion for small business recovery;
• A first-in-the-nation plan to make broadband internet affordable;
• Legalizing mobile sports betting; and
• Implementing comprehensive nursing home reforms.

“New York was ambushed early and hit hardest by COVID, devastating our economy and requiring urgent and unprecedented emergency spending to manage the pandemic,” Cuomo said in a statement Tuesday. “Thanks to the state’s strong fiscal management and relentless pursuit to secure the federal support that the pandemic demanded, we not only balanced our budget, we are also making historic investments to reimagine, rebuild and renew New York in the aftermath of the worst health and economic crisis in a century.

“This budget continues funding for the largest-in-the-nation $311 billion infrastructure plan, establishes a groundbreaking program to provide affordable internet for low-income families and enhances public safety through police reforms, all while continuing to provide relief to New Yorkers and small businesses as we recover from the pandemic,” Cuomo added. “I thank the legislative leaders — Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Heastie — for their partnership in helping make this critical budget a reality and delivering results for the people of this state.”

The budget comprises New York’s $311 billion infrastructure plan, which includes the governor’s $211 billion 2020-24 plan and his $100 billion 2015-2019 plan. The evolving plan increased by $36 billion in the budget with the inclusion of new development plans in New York City, a $3 billion environmental bond act, transportation programs and additional supportive, affordable and public housing support, as well as incremental increases to existing capital programs.

The budget includes legislation requiring internet service providers to offer an affordable $15 per month high-speed internet plan to qualifying low-income households. The state also will require providers to advertise the plan to ensure programs reach underserved populations statewide. To further bridge the gap, New York has partnered with Schmidt Futures and the Ford Foundation to launch ConnectED NY, an emergency fund to provide roughly 50,000 students in economically disadvantaged school districts with free internet access through June 2022.

The enacted budget directs $2.3 billion in federal child care resources to expand the availability, quality and affordability of child care. Child care providers would receive $1.3 billion in stabilization grants to support expenses, as well as additional funds for cleaning and safety. Further investments would be made to increase capacity in child care “deserts” and help parents find the child care provider that’s right for them.

The budget creates a $2.4 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to ensure residents can make rent and remain stable in their homes. The program will support households in rental arrears that have experienced financial hardship, are at risk of homelessness or housing instability and that earn less than 80 percent of area median income.

The enacted budget includes comprehensive nursing home reform legislation to help ensure facilities are prioritizing patient care over profits, officials said. The reforms establish minimum thresholds for nursing home spending of 70 percent of revenues on direct resident care and 40 percent of revenues on resident-facing staffing, capping profits at five percent, and targeting unscrupulous related party transactions. Excess revenues recouped by the state will be deposited into the existing nursing home quality pool for further investments for nursing homes to meet high-quality standards.

The budget includes a $1 billion small business, arts, entertainment and restaurant relief package to help businesses and other organizations recover from the impacts of the pandemic:
• COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program: Provides $800 million in grant funding for small businesses including for-profit arts and cultural institutions impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
• New York Restaurant Resiliency Grant Program: $25 million in grant funding to support restaurants that provide meals to distressed and under-represented communities.
• Arts and Cultural Organization Recovery Grant Program: $40 million to provide grants through the New York State Council on the Arts to eligible arts and cultural nonprofit organizations to assist in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Restaurant Return-To-Work Tax Credit: Provides up to $35 million in tax credits to support restaurants hard hit by the pandemic through 2021.
• Extend and Enhance the Musical and Theatrical Production Credit for four years: In order to support musical and theatrical productions that occur in the state but outside of New York City, the budget extends the credit for four years through 2025 and increases it by $4 million to $8 million.

The 2022 enacted budget continues to lower personal income tax rates for middle-class New Yorkers. In 2021, the fourth year of the multi-year tax cuts enacted in 2016, income tax rates have been lowered from 6.09 percent to 5.97 percent for taxpayers filing jointly in the $43,000-$161,550 income bracket, and from 6.41 percent to 6.33 percent in the $161,550-$323,200 income bracket. The cuts are expected to save 4.8 million New Yorkers more than $2.2 billion this year, officials said. When the cuts are fully phased in, middle-class taxpayers will have received an income tax rate cut of up to 20 percent, amounting to a projected $4.2 billion in annual savings for six million filers by 2025. As the new rates phase in, they will be the state’s lowest middle-class tax rates in more than 70 years.

The enacted budget includes new revenue resources that provide the revenues needed to make the investments that will support New York’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic and New York’s recovery from it, according to the governor’s office, including:
• The budget deploys the first $5.5 billion of the $12.6 billion provided for in the federal American Rescue Plan Act 2021. These funds are integrated throughout the budget in accordance with available federal guidelines.
• The budget includes appropriation authority for local governments to receive federal support. The package of $10.8 billion in federal aid for local will help support essential workers and government employees, assist the vaccination efforts, boost local economies and support the network of local government services that New Yorkers depend on.
• The budget implements a surcharge on high earners through tax year 2027 that sets a top rate of 10.9 percent for all filers earning more than $25 million. The surcharge raises $2.8 billion in FY 2022, rising to $3.3 billion in FY 2023.
• The budget implements a surcharge on corporate tax rate that increases the business income tax rate from 6.5 percent to 7.25 percent for three years through tax year 2023 for taxpayers with business income greater than $5 million. It also increases the capital base method of liability estimation to 0.1875 percent from the 0.025 percent rate in effect last year. The capital base method increase continues to exempt qualified manufacturers, qualified emerging technology companies, and cooperative housing corporations. These changes raise $750 million in FY 2022 and $1 billion in FY 2023.
• The FY 2022 enacted budget authorizes mobile sports wagering. Once fully phased in, legalization will provide more than $500 million in revenue for the state to help rebuild from COVID-19 and grow what could be the largest sports wagering market in the U.S. into a profitable industry long-term. Once fully phased in, the program will provide $5 million annually to youth sports and $6 million to combat problem gambling, doubling the resources currently available. The remainder of this new revenue will be dedicated to education.

“While this year’s state budget includes some positive measures, such as support for struggling small businesses, tax relief for middle-class residents and significant funding for local roads and bridges, the inclusion of massive tax hikes and costly mandates poses a serious risk,” said Justin Wilcox, executive director of Upstate United, a nonpartisan, pro-taxpayer education and advocacy coalition. “Imposing $4 billion in new taxes will ultimately hurt New York’s recovery efforts. This immense tax burden will drive more New Yorkers out of the state; joining the 1.4 million former residents who have fled to other states over the last decade. Embracing a massive tax-and-spend approach over a responsible pro-growth plan is the wrong choice at the wrong time.”

The budget provides $6.2 billion for the second year of a record $12.3 billion, two-year Department of Transportation capital plan that will facilitate the improvement of highways, bridges, rail, aviation infrastructure, non-MTA transit and DOT facilities, a 38 percent increase from the final two years of the last DOT capital plan.

“This year’s state budget includes an extraordinary investment in transportation infrastructure. With the unwavering efforts of our partners in the Senate and Assembly, and the support of Gov. Cuomo, local road and bridge programs will receive more than $1 billion in the coming fiscal year,” said Joe Wisinski, president of the New York State County Highway Superintendents Association. “This essential funding will help keep millions of motorists safe and create tens of thousands of jobs.”

Funding for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) and the Marchiselli program will increase by $100 million to $577.8 million and funding for Extreme Winter Recovery is $100 million. The budget also provides $100 million of new funding to localities responsible for State Touring Routes, increases highway aid through the PAVE NY program by $50 million to $150 million and maintains funding of local bridge projects through the BRIDGE NY program at $100 million. This represents an overall year-to-year increase of $285 million and brings funding for local highway and bridge projects to more than $1 billion.

“Due to the incredibly strong advocacy efforts of our partners and advocates, the overall NYSDOT capital program is the largest ever at $6.168 billion,” said Mike Elmendorf, president and CEO of Rebuild New York Now. “Within the NYSDOT capital program, state and local construction also hit a record level for the 2021-2022 budget at $4.8 billion. This significant increase in funding will allow for localities and municipalities across the state to repair decaying infrastructure and create more jobs to help our economy fully recover. New York families deserve this investment in their local communities.”

The budget provides more than $7.7 billion in state support for higher education in New York, an increase of $283 million, or 3.8 percent, from FY 2021. New York has increased funding for higher education by more than $1.7 billion, or 29 percent, since FY 2012. In addition, the enacted budget provides more than $1 billion in new capital funding to SUNY and CUNY.

“The pandemic-induced economic crisis has hit our most vulnerable students the hardest. Financial challenges, including food and housing insecurities, have disrupted their pursuit of a degree or certificate — and ultimately a rewarding, family-sustaining career in high-demand industries,” said Katherine Douglas, Monroe Community College interim president. “I’m grateful to Gov. Cuomo and our state legislators for their bold vision, leadership and support of our students. Federal and state support will eliminate hurdles to college access and completion, paving the way for more equitable, brighter futures for our students. It will also enable MCC to keep its tuition affordable. Together, we will help transform the lives of our students and the local community and revitalize our region’s economy.”

New York’s colleges and universities are expected to receive an estimated $5.4 billion in direct federal stimulus aid, including more than $3.4 billion for public colleges and close to $2 billion for private colleges. SUNY and CUNY have nearly $3 billion in remaining stimulus funds to spend over the next 2-3 years. A substantial portion of this funding will be used to provide financial aid grants to students with exceptional needs, such as students who receive Pell grants.

The FY 2022 enacted budget enacts a COVID-19 Recovery Workforce Initiative, which invests $50 million for training in high-growth industries, employer-driven training for low-income workers and funding for small businesses to re-train and hire furloughed, laid-off or new employees.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Department of Labor has paid out more than $75 billion in benefits to more than 4 million New Yorkers — more than 30 typical years’ worth of benefits. The budget supports reforms to the unemployment system, including upgrades to modernize technology, among other things.

The budget creates a $2.1 billion program to provide cash payments to workers who have suffered income loss due to COVID but who are ineligible for unemployment insurance or related federal benefits due to their immigration status or other factors.

“For the past few days, we have either been kept waiting on budget bills or working on them until the wee hours of the morning,” said Assemblyman Brian Manktelow, R-Lyons, in a statement Wednesday. “It seems the mindset for the Assembly Majority is that the bigger we grow the budget, the better New York will be. I feel the complete opposite, as I believe we must go to battle against the debt New York has stacked up in order for our state to get anywhere. We must speed up our debt payback. I view a successful budget as to not raise taxes but to reduce them at a rate of a percentage each year. The more money we can leave in the pockets of residents, the better shape our state will be in for future generations.”

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Excellus BCBS offers educational COVID-19 vaccine website

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is working to help the community become vaccine ready during National Minority Health Month.

Excellus BCBS has created a dedicated COVID-19 website that offers up-to-the-minute information on what individuals need to know such as how to schedule an appointment, “Ask the Expert” videos, what to expect after you get the vaccine, benefits and coverage and more.

The health plan has also:

• created COVID-19 educational materials and resources that are available in Spanish and English;
• is calling customers to remind them of their second vaccine dose appointment; and
• is offering community-based educational roadshows to educate the public on why getting the COVID-19 vaccine is imperative.

This year’s National Minority Health Month is focusing on the need for vulnerable communities to get vaccine ready as more vaccines become available, and is using the hashtag #VaccineReady to bring attention to the issue.

“We’re specifically encouraging our Black and Brown communities who are eligible to get the facts and to register for a COVID-19 appointment as soon as they can to help reduce the spread of the virus,” said Lisa Harris, vice president of medical affairs with Excellus BCBS.

The organization is advising everyone to get the facts about COVID-19 vaccines, share accurate vaccine information with others, get vaccinated when you have the opportunity and practice COVID-19 safety measures.

“The main thing to remember is that all three of the COVID-19 vaccines are among the most effective vaccines in history. The best choice for you is whichever vaccine you have access to first,” Harris said. “We ask that you share this information with friends, loved ones and neighbors so everyone has the facts about the COVID-19 vaccines and understands the importance of getting vaccinated.”

National Minority Health Month is presented each April by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.

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COVID-related rent issue addressed in state Supreme Court

A recent decision by a state Supreme Court Justice could have a significant impact on businesses struggling to pay rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a decision released March 9, Justice Daniel J. Doyle ruled that Flour City Bagels, located at 1601 Penfield Road in Penfield, must pay back rent to the landlord despite the slowdown caused by the pandemic.

Flour City’s lawyer, Ryan Cummings, argued that the “frustration of purpose” legal doctrine applied in the case because the pandemic made it impossible to operate the business successfully, which should excuse the business from the lease.

“The very purpose of the lease was frustrated by the pandemic and associated governmental orders that limited the workforce, prohibited in-person dining, and rendered continued operations impractical,” Cummings wrote in court papers.

But Doyle ruled that the pandemic’s impact on the five-year lease was very limited and not sufficient to trigger the “frustration of purpose” legal doctrine.

Richard N. Franco, an associate at Davidson Fink LLP who represents the property owner, Penfield TK, said this is the first decision on this issue in upstate New York.

“Until the Appellate Division addresses it, this is all we have to go on,” Franco said. “This is a favorable decision for our client because it says to the tenant, we understand that you’re having a tough time here, but you still owe the money under the lease and what you’ve suffered through is not enough to cancel or terminate the lease.”

Cummings did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.

Doyle granted Penfield TK’s motion for summary judgment on the back rent, but denied a motion seeking attorney’s fees.

Flour City Bagels’ current five-year lease started in 2018.  Monthly rent is $6,319. The tenant failed to make rent payments in April and June 2020 and made reduced payments of $2,392 in May 2020, $4,517 in July 2020 and $5,417 in August 2020. Flour City Bagels resumed full monthly payments in September 2020, according to the decision.

Doyle noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s relevant executive order only limited in-person dining, but did not entirely shut down the business and Flour City doesn’t claim they closed completely.

“Thus, it cannot establish that a curtailment of its business by government regulation for three months frustrated the purpose of the contract,” Doyle wrote.

Even if the business was completely shut down for three months out of a five-year lease, that would not be enough to establish frustration of purpose, Doyle wrote.

Doyle ruled that Penfield TK is entitled to back rent and late charges totaling $19,636.32.

Penfield TK also sought legal fees of $5,111, but Doyle denied that request because the rental contract did not explicitly call for those to be awarded if there was litigation. But Doyle did award the plaintiff court fees of $476.50.

Franco also is handling another similar pending case before Justice William K. Taylor in which Penfield TK is seeking back rent from another tenant at a different property. Franco said he sent Taylor a copy of Doyle’s decision in the Flour City case.

The Flour City Bagels case begins to establish the guidelines on the issue for landlords and tenants.

“They’re going to want to know, can I recover rent on this, and what does the other side have to show in order to apply that frustration doctrine,” Franco said.

“Undoubtedly I think there’s obviously a point where, if you were shut down enough and prevented from doing business enough, you may be able to get out of paying,” Franco said.

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Report: Small businesses still in precarious financial position

New research from Paychex Inc. has found that three of the biggest obstacles businesses face are financial instability, bringing employees back to the office and developing a COVID-19 vaccine policy.

The survey showed that small- and mid-size business owners continue to be in a dangerous position financially in the wake of COVID-19. Some 61 percent of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan recipients in the survey characterize the 2021 PPP loan as important to their business’s survival. Overall, more than half of companies with 50 to 500 employees characterize the funds as critical to their business survival this year, up 14 percent from 42 percent reporting that sentiment last year.

Two in five respondents will apply for the second PPP round, on par with application rates in 2020 and the likelihood to apply increases with company size, as it did in 2020, the survey found.

Just two in five respondents said they were aware of the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), which, according to the Consolidated Appropriation Act 2021, can now be taken in combination with a PPP loan. Only one in five business owners plans to claim the ERTC. Awareness and planned usage increase with company size as half of the mid-sized businesses will claim the ERTC.

To help maintain customer loyalty, many businesses are carefully coordinating a plan for employees’ safe return. Some 55 percent of small- and mid-size companies surveyed remain at least partly remote, while 12 percent say that some or all of their workforce will permanently work at least part of the time remotely following the pandemic. More than 40 percent of small- and mid-size businesses are still working out the details of bringing employees back to the workplace.

Business owners weigh in on the importance of the new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans to the survival of their business.
Business owners weigh in on the importance of the new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans to the survival of their business.

Vaccination will play a critical role in getting staffers back to work. Many business leaders see themselves having a role in employee vaccination. Three-quarters of small business owners (10-49 employees) and 85 percent of mid-sized businesses (50-500 employees) plan to motivate their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Some 25 percent of all survey respondents expressed concerns around potential legal liabilities if they were to incentivize employee vaccination.

The business impact of a slow vaccine rollout is the greatest concern among small- and mid-size businesses, followed by lack of vaccine efficacy. Beyond that, business leaders are most concerned about customer notification, employer guidelines and employee vaccination refusal.

More than half of respondents say their employees want the COVID-19 vaccine, with a slight increase with company size. Roughly one in five employees have either expressed reluctance or not commented.

“From the financial toll COVID-19 has taken on businesses, to the confusion around returning employees to the office, and what to consider when building a vaccination policy, business owners are facing a level of complexity never seen before,” said Mike Trabold, Paychex director of compliance risk. “That’s why we’ve created educational resources addressing a spectrum of new challenges. Whether it’s a full shutdown, seeking funds to keep doors open, struggling to manage a remote workforce, or hiring to meet new and unexpected demands, we’ll continue to guide business owners through the difficulties identified in this research.”

These insights are based on the company’s latest survey of business owners, conducted Jan. 27 through Feb. 2, 2021, which polled 300 principals of U.S. companies with two to 500 employees.

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Fairport expands LIFT Grant program

The Village of Fairport Local Development Corp. LIFT Grant program has been expanded to provide cash assistance to village retail and restaurant businesses impacted by COVID-19.

The LIFT grant program was introduced in August 2020 to provide reimbursement for purchases of COVID-related supplies, services and renovations to enable businesses to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions.

With the program expansion, retailers and restaurants in the village of Fairport that are forced to close due to required quarantine and isolation orders may be eligible for $100 per day, up to a maximum of $1,000, for each normally scheduled business day that the entity is closed due to COVID orders.

“We recognize the important role that our businesses play in making the village of Fairport a unique destination for shopping, dining and entertainment,” said Kevin Clark, FLFDC board chairman “This expansion will help our especially hard-hit village retailers and restaurants as they adapt to these ongoing challenges. The LIFE Grant program underscores our commitment to ensuring the future of the village of Fairport as a diverse and vibrant business district for residents and visitors alike.”

The program also will provide up to $1,000 to offset the higher costs of takeout supplies and third-party delivery fees incurred by village restaurants, officials said. More information can be found at

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County awards 1,315 Fast Forward small business grants

More than 2,000 applications were submitted for Fast Forward Monroe Small Business Grants and 1,315 were approved, county officials said last week.

The $17 million program, announced in October, was designed to support local small businesses affected by the pandemic. It was a direct response to a countywide Fast Forward Monroe business survey undertaken in summer 2020 and provides financial assistance to small businesses with two to 50 full-time employees in the personal services industry.

The program prioritized businesses that had not yet received COVID-related aid and assisting women and minority-owned businesses.

“The COVID-19 crisis has had a huge impact on our small local businesses, and our women and minority-owned businesses were hit especially hard,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “Using federal CARES Act dollars, Fast Forward Monroe has been able to provide flexible, direct relief to help hundreds of our community’s struggling business owners and their employees, with an emphasis on those businesses disproportionately affected by the pandemic. I am committed to doing what we can to equitably help our businesses bridge these difficult times.”

Some 49 percent of all businesses receiving grants were in low or moderate-income ZIP codes. Roughly 44 percent of approved applications were from women-owned businesses and one-quarter were from minority-owned businesses. Fourteen percent were from businesses that were both women and minority-owned.

“D&L Groceries is thankful for the Fast Forward grant. It was very helpful at a time of incredible need,” said the store’s Linford Hamilton. “The funds were used to keep our staff working on important projects such as the 211 Senior Citizen Meals Program. In addition, D&L used the funds to help implement COVID-19 safety procedures, enabling an open floor plan and installing safety fixtures.”

Bello has authorized up to an additional $4 million to continue the Fast Forward Monroe grant program. The funding will help businesses that did not receive assistance through the first round of the grant program.

“Our retail stores, restaurants and service providers are the lifeblood of Monroe County neighborhoods and households and were hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to CARES Act funding, the Fast Forward Monroe grant program was one important way to help those entrepreneurs and their families endure the struggle,” said Ana Liss, director of Monroe County Planning and Development. “Monroe County staff worked collaboratively across many departments to get this program off the ground. While we know that the road to recovery will be a long one, we are committed to supporting our small businesses in every way possible as restrictions are lifted.”

Some 295, or 22 percent, of grant recipients were in the restaurant and foodservice industry, while 261, or 20 percent, listed their sector as “other.” More than 150 grantees were spas, salons and similar businesses, while 126 were in retail and consumer goods.

Some 120 of the businesses were in the 14607 ZIP code, with a total of 429 businesses in the city of Rochester.

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Jazz Fest to return this summer, but not downtown

The CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival has been put back on the calendar this year, festival producers said Thursday.

Producers Marc Iacona and John Nugent have slated the popular event for July 30 to Aug. 7 at Rochester Institute of Technology. Plans are dependent on New York’s public health guidelines being favorable for both travel and large gatherings.

The decision to move forward will be made in the spring, officials said.

The move from downtown Rochester to RIT will allow organizers more flexible space to accommodate health guidelines that likely will dictate increased audience spacing. The move from June to July and August will enable more people to be vaccinated and give the festival optimal use of RIT’s space because it will be between semesters.

“With COVID-19 and health consequences squarely on the minds of all event-goers around the world, we again find ourselves at a crossroads,” said Iacona and Nugent in a statement. “We are deeply grateful to our loyal patrons and sponsors and for countless messages of support as uncertainty prevails. Early February now brings us to a critical junction as we explore how to potentially present a festival, secure programming, and put together the plethora of logistics.”

The CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival will return this July and August. (photo provided)
The CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival will return this July and August. (photo provided)

The festival’s 19th edition was postponed twice because of the pandemic. It originally was scheduled for June 19 through 27, 2020, then rescheduled for Oct. 2 through 10, 2020, and eventually postponed to June 18 through 26, 2021. More than 208,000 people attend the nine-day annual event, coming from more than half of the states nationwide and 20 countries to see more than 325 shows, and 1,750 artists perform.

“Planning is a challenge when we don’t know what the future will bring. We do know that this year’s festival cannot go on as usual. The way we work and how we live has changed,” Iacona said. “We are very encouraged that vaccines are becoming more available. And if public health guidelines allow us to proceed this summer, we must adapt to this new environment, which will require a more flexible and spacious festival footprint. The RIT campus meets that criteria.”

Officials said Club Pass holders will be able to use their passes at this year’s festival or in 2022 or 2023. The two headliner shows, Spyro Gyra and Puss N Boots, which were scheduled for June, will be canceled and refunds will be provided to all ticketholders. An email is being sent to every ticketholder with refund information.

“The essence of our festival has always been to bring our community together, drawn by the majesty of creative improvised music and celebrating as one entity. While this new location will be a change for us all, and the first time we are not downtown, we will still shine the musical spotlight on greater Rochester,” Nugent said. “We are committed to making every effort to include the city of Rochester and many of our downtown-based partners at this new location. We will create a festive atmosphere including a Jazz Street, assure the ability to walk between venues and offer a shuttle service.”

As plans evolve over the next few months the producers will assess RIT’s many venue options. If public health officials give the green light to proceed, the lineup will be finalized and announced in the spring. As previously announced, producers are committed to honoring agreements with as many artists as possible who were originally booked for the original 19th edition in June 2020.

“RIT embodies community pride and involvement. When asked to serve as the host venue for the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival in 2021, we were happy to comply by offering an expansive setting where COVID safety precautions can be observed,” said RIT President David Munson. “The Jazz Fest aligns well with our mission as a university that works at the intersection of technology, the arts and design. We have almost unlimited space for outdoor performance venues and ample adjacent parking. We’ve also invested more than $8 million in COVID-related infrastructure upgrades, including 3,000 new air purification systems and a variety of touchless technologies. This should provide for a safe and welcoming environment as we plan within public health guidelines. We look forward to doing our part to bring Greater Rochester together for a world-class event.”

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Pandemic forces 365 permanent layoffs at area YMCAs

Some 365 people have lost their jobs at the YMCA of Greater Rochester as a result of COVID-19 and its economic impact, a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) filed with the state Department of Labor last year and amended last week shows.

“Due to the ongoing financial impacts of the pandemic, and to remain compliant with New York state and federal WARN Acts, any employee whose furlough began on March 15, 2020, and remained on furlough, was sent a WARN notice the week of Feb. 1,” YMCA officials said in a statement. “This amended WARN notice was sent to inform employees their furlough turned into a permanent lay-off. These layoffs are a direct result of the effects of the long-term COVID-19 crisis and the YMCA of Greater Rochester’s inability to access any Paycheck Protection Programs (PPP) funding.”

Officials noted that a lack of PPP, as well as capacity limitations remaining at one-third, hinder the YMCA’s ability to bring staff fully back to prior levels.

According to the WARN notice, temporary furloughs that began on March 15, 2020, for 365 employees at 11 sites in the Finger Lakes became permanent on Feb. 3, 2021. Temporary furloughs that began on March 15, 2020, for 18 employees at a Corning Branch also became permanent on Feb. 3.

The breakdown of layoffs includes:
Furloughs lasting longer than six months will likely be carried out at the following YMCA locations:

• Association Office, Rochester, 3 affected employees
• Bay View Branch, Webster, 58 affected employees
• Before/After School Program Division, Penfield, 12 affected employees
• Camp Arrowhead, Pittsford, unspecified number of employees
• Camp Cory, Victor, closing
• Carlson MetroCenter Branch, Rochester, 33 affected employees
• Eastside Branch, Penfield, 72 affected employees
• Lewis Street YMCA Child Care, Rochester, 2 affected employees
• Maplewood Branch, Rochester, 16 affected employees
• Monroe Branch, Rochester, 18 affected employees, plant closing
• Northwest Branch, Rochester, 46 affected employees
• Schottland Family YMCA, Pittsford, 82 affected employees
• Southwest Branch, Rochester, unspecified number of employees
• Victor Active Family Center, Victor, unspecified number of employees
• Westside Branch, Rochester, 23 affected employees

The original WARN notice stated that the total number of employees impacted at all sites was 2,090.

The long-awaited $45 million Schottland Family branch opened in September 2019, just six months before the pandemic shut down most in-person activities, including gyms and similar sites. The branch is the second largest in the nation. The three-story, 140,000-square-foot branch features a daycare center and playground, a senior center, three gymnasiums that can be divided to make four, running and walking tracks, a golf simulator inside the turf gym and a community wing with a teaching kitchen and art studio.

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New York AG report details patient neglect, other conduct during pandemic

A new report from New York Attorney General Letitia James on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes has community members and organizations statewide calling for answers and looking for solutions.

Thursday’s report — a sprawling, in-depth 76-page document — details an investigation led by James’ office into nursing homes’ responses to the pandemic. James has been investigating nursing homes throughout the state since March 2020 based on allegations of patient neglect and other conduct that may have jeopardized the health and safety of residents and employees.

Among other things, James’ office found that a much larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than the state Department of Health’s published data reflected. Those deaths may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent, the report shows.

The investigations also revealed that nursing homes’ lack of compliance with infection control protocols put residents at increased risk of harm, and facilities that had lower pre-pandemic staffing ratings had higher COVID-19 fatality rates. Based on these findings and subsequent investigation, James will conduct ongoing investigations into more than 20 nursing homes whose reported conduct during the first wave of the pandemic presented particular concern.

The report did not name any specific nursing homes, so it is unclear whether any Rochester-area homes were involved in the investigation.

“As the pandemic and our investigations continue, it is imperative that we understand why the residents of nursing homes in New York unnecessarily suffered at such an alarming rate,” James said. “While we cannot bring back the individuals we lost to this crisis, this report seeks to offer transparency that the public deserves and to spur increased action to protect our most vulnerable residents. Nursing home residents and workers deserve to live and work in safe environments, and I will continue to work hard to safeguard this basic right during this precarious time.”

On April 23, the Office of the Attorney General set up a hotline to receive complaints relating to communications by nursing homes with family members prohibited from in-person visits and formally initiated a large-scale investigation of nursing homes’ responses to the pandemic. OAG received more than 770 complaints on the hotline through August 3, and an additional 179 complaints through November 16. OAG also continued to receive allegations of COVID-19-related neglect of residents through pre-existing reporting systems.

The investigations found that:
• A larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than the Department of Health data reflected;
• Lack of compliance with infection control protocols put residents at increased risk of harm;
• Nursing homes that entered the pandemic with low U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) staffing ratings had higher COVID-19 fatality rates;
• Insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for nursing home staff put residents at increased risk of harm;
• Insufficient COVID-19 testing for residents and staff in the early stages of the pandemic put residents at increased risk of harm;
• The current state reimbursement model for nursing homes gives a financial incentive to owners of for-profit nursing homes to transfer funds to related parties (ultimately increasing their own profit) instead of investing in higher levels of staffing and PPE;
• Lack of nursing home compliance with the executive order requiring communication with family members caused avoidable pain and distress; and
• Government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk.

New York state has some 619 nursing homes, with 401 of those facilities listed as for-profit, privately owned and operated entities. Of the state’s for-profit facilities, more than two-thirds — 280 nursing homes — have the lowest possible CMS Staffing ratings. The Staffing rating reflects the number of staffing hours in the nursing department of a facility relative to the number of residents.

As of Nov. 16, 3,487 COVID-19 resident deaths — more than half of all deaths — occurred in these 280 facilities. Some of these facilities have also been known to transfer facility funds to owners and investors, rather than use them to invest in additional staffing to care for residents, James noted.

Sen. Samra Brouk, D-Rochester, a member of the Senate Committee on Health, on Thursday said that she will co-sponsor S1168, the “Safe Staffing For Quality Care Act” to address inadequate staffing levels in nursing homes and acute care facilities.

“Today’s report on COVID-related nursing home deaths from the attorney general confirms what we already suspected — inadequate staffing levels, poor compliance with infection control protocols and a lack of transparency are serious problems that need to be addressed,” Brouk said. “Now that we have this information we must act quickly to enact the recommendations laid out by the attorney general and prevent future harm to nursing home residents and workers. This legislation is a step in the right direction to make sure we learn from our mistakes.”

The bill would require acute care facilities and nursing homes to implement nurse-to-patient ratios in all nursing units. It would set minimum staffing requirements such as requiring every such facility to submit a documented staffing plan to the state, and require facilities to maintain staffing records during all shifts.

“I want to thank Attorney General Tish James for her leadership on this important and timely issue. This report is hard to read. Every statistic is a human being, and part of a family and our community. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heartbreaking toll that we must never forget,” said state Assemblywoman Sarah Clark, D-Irondequoit. “While this report brings some clarity to the situation facing our nursing home residents, families and employees, it truly exposes how much work we have ahead of us to protect our most vulnerable populations and give them the quality of life they deserve. Now is the time for legislative action that will increase transparency with DOH numbers and improve oversight of the nursing home industry as a whole. We need to invest more resources into workforce development and the Ombudsman program, which is often the lifeline protecting residents in long term care facilities. Lastly, we must make sure the vaccine is immediately made available to every resident and staff member.”

The New York State Nurses Association said the report confirmed what we already knew: that many long-term care facilities lacked adequate PPE, basic infection control procedures, safe staffing and quarantine protocols to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“A key finding of the report is that poor staffing increased mortality rates, adding to the large body of evidence that shows safe staffing saves lives,” the association said in a statement Thursday. “The majority of long-term care facilities are privately-owned, for-profit corporations. These facilities had a financial incentive to understaff before the pandemic. And during the pandemic, chronic understaffing, mixed with cutting corners on health and safety, had deadly results. The report clearly underscores why relying on for-profit companies for safety-net healthcare is a tragic mistake.”

The Long Term Care Community Coalition also noted that the report’s findings reinforce the need for minimum staffing standards, increased financial accountability and meaningful regulatory oversight to ensure the quality of care, quality of life and dignity for long-term care residents in New York.

“This shocking yet unsurprising report must serve as a wake-up call that vulnerable residents and their families deserve better,” said Richard Mollot, LTCCC’s executive director. “Many of the failures documented in this report have been going on for years and have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It demonstrates that the long-standing system of accepting and paying for substandard nursing home care has been harmful for residents, their families and the public at large. We thank Attorney General James for undertaking this important work and shedding light on the catastrophic impacts of both COVID-19 and inadequate quality assurance on nursing home residents.”

Assemblyman Brian Manktelow, R-Lyons, is calling on the state Legislature to strip Gov. Andrew Cuomo of his “emergency powers,” as a result of the report.

“It is downright despicable for the governor to have allowed for the underreporting of the deaths due to COVID-19 in nursing homes,” Manktelow said in a statement Thursday. “These are people’s family, friends and loved ones, they deserve to know what has really been going on. He has also allowed nursing homes to continue to skirt infection control protocols. Given that the elderly are one of the most vulnerable portions of our population, this is completely unacceptable and must be addressed immediately, especially as COVID-19 numbers are back on the rise. We do not need a repeat of what happened last year.

“You can’t fix a mistake by making another. It was a mistake by the governor directing nursing homes to take COVID-19 positive patients, and it would be a mistake for him to retain his emergency powers. We need to return power to the Legislature,” Manktelow added.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including:
• Ensure public reporting by each nursing home as to the number of COVID-19 deaths of residents occurring at the facility — and those that occur during or after hospitalization of the residents — in a manner that avoids creating a double-counting of resident deaths at hospitals in reported state COVID-19 death statistics;
• Enforce, without exception, New York state law requiring nursing homes to provide adequate care and treatment of nursing home residents during times of emergency;
• Require nursing homes to comply with labor practices that prevent nursing homes from pressuring employees to work while they have COVID-19 infection or symptoms, while ensuring nursing homes obtain and provide adequate staffing levels to care for residents’ needs;
• Require direct care and supervision staffing levels that: (1) are expressed in ratios of residents to RNs, LPNs and CNAs; (2) require calculation of sufficiency that includes adjustment based on average resident acuity; (3) are above the current level reflected at facilities with low CMS Staffing ratings; and, (4) are sufficient to care for the facility’s residents’ needs reflected in their care plans;
• Support manufacturing of PPE to facilitate sufficient supply of PPE for purchase by nursing homes. Enforce requirements that nursing homes have sufficient inventory of PPE for all staff to be able to follow infection control protocols;
• Ensure that adequate COVID-19 testing is available to nursing home residents and employees and require nursing homes to test residents and staff in accordance with CDC and DOH evidence-based guidelines;
• Formally enact and continue to enforce regulatory requirements that nursing homes communicate with family members of residents promptly, but not later than within 24 hours, of any confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection, and of any COVID-19 confirmed or suspected death; among other things.

The full report can be found here.

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Area airports receive federal funding

Nearly $37 million in federal funding has been made available to Upstate New York airports that have been devastated by the pandemic, including more than $4.7 million for the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport.

Last month’s bipartisan COVID-19 relief package included $36.6 million for specific airports across Upstate New York, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said this week. The funding was set aside to help airports stay afloat during the second wave of the pandemic.

“Air travel is vital to the connectivity and success of the upstate economy, which is why, as New York battles a second wave of the pandemic, I fought tooth and nail in negotiations to get airports the funding they need to keep services running,” Schumer said in a statement Thursday. “Airports serve important functions in many communities, especially in more rural areas, connecting people to the rest of the world and allowing for economic opportunities to land. In the new congress, I will continue to fight for federal funding to keep our airports open and operational and to make sure Upstate New York has the help it needs to revive and thrive.”

Funding for airports in the Finger Lakes region includes:
• Greater Rochester International Airport – $4.72 million
• Penn Yan Airport – $24,000
• Canandaigua Airport – $13,000
• Genesee County Airport – $13,000
• Finger Lakes Regional Airport – $13,000
• Dansville Municipal Airport – $13,000
• Perry-Warsaw Airport – $13,000
• Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport – $1.37 million

“Like so many airports throughout the country, the Greater Rochester International Airport has experienced a decrease in air travel throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “The $4.7 million in federal aid secured by Leader Schumer and Sen. Gillibrand will help our airport continue to adapt and improve our health and safety measures as we slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and hope to see air travel return to normal. Since the start of the pandemic, we have taken numerous steps to ensure the public health and safety of travelers and passengers, including our #ReadySetRoc initiative. These funds will help to ensure we can continue those efforts and provide the best experience for residents and visitors of Monroe County.”

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