Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 6, 2020
In Trump World, the coronavirus pandemic apparently already has been solved, what with declarations about imminent vaccines, sometimes unsubstantiated treatment announcements and an increasingly loud campaign of denial of case totals among Trump supporters.
Of course, in the actual world, the pandemic still exists, with death tolls aiming toward 185,000 Americans and rising quickly, with schools, workplaces, beaches and even backyard barbeques canceled, shut or seriously limited.
In New York City, it takes under 30 seconds to understand that the key to re-opening anything depends on the operation of the subways, which carry millions a day during normal times. Amidst all the gloom these last months of isolation and limitation, one seeming highlight has been response of the New York City subways to learn new ways for daily cleaning and anti-coronavirus protection.
To get on the subway this summer has been a surprisingly positive experience, though to be fair, most would riders are just staying home.
So, naturally, Donald Trump has taken the one move — with no explanation — that guarantees that life will be worse for city recovery.
This past week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency put through a rule change to strip the city subways of support to keep them virus-clean, we learned through disclosure by the New York Daily News.
In a single move, Donald Trump has shown his administration to be uncaring about public health and contagion, cities and economic recovery, and trust in government. I certainly hope he thinks this serves some political desire; otherwise it makes no sense at all.
Stripping Money through Rules
Actually, the FEMA rules change this week says “the operation of schools and other public facilities” are no longer considered “emergency protective measures eligible for reimbursement,” declaring, “These are not immediate actions necessary to protect public health and safety.”
City and state officials roiled in a New York minute, of course, and have demanded explanation.
All we got from a FEMA spokesman was that the agency is no longer “authorized to support the day to day operations and operational expenses of facilities.” The spokesman added that hospitals, “emergency operations centers” for COVID-19 and some other public facilities remain eligible for reimbursements under the new rule.”
As it happens, this change as Donald Trump has declared that Democrat-led cities are “anarchist jurisdictions” that do not comport with his idea of supporting police. Whether this specific rule change is related is unclear, though it looks, feels and smells like anti-New York politics aimed at Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill DeBlasio for saying rotten things about him.
The result is schools, subways, buses will be under yet more pressure to respond to the demands of coronavirus and constant disinfecting, and to find continuing money to provide protective gear for emergency workers. The MTA that runs the subways and buses already are $12 billion underwater for the year based on a 90% drop in ridership and the need to run the subway up to 18 hours a day.
Whatever Trump intended, the effect of all of this will be on you and me, and the millions of New Yorkers who need public transit as the base for work, school and doctors’ appointments.
New York doesn’t work without public transit. Period.
These changes will affect transit agencies and schools in other states that rely on FEMA funds as well. In many other cities, people can drive cars, in fact must drive.
But the New York case shows a magnified effect in this time of a very real confluence of disease, joblessness, racial discord — and an increasingly ugly election campaign.
Apart from all else, depending on a real economy recovery requires that the cities, and New York City in particular, to return to working full-time. It is the cities that produce the income taxes that fuel most of what the federal government does, it is the cities that most drive the economy and the success of financial markets.
MTA Chairman Patrick Foye, whose agency is already facing a $12 billion deficit because of the pandemic, said the message from FEMA’s rule reform is clear: “Washington to MTA customers and employees: Drop Dead.”
“With this action, the federal government seems intent on starving the economic lifeblood of not just New York, but the nation,” Foye said.
It seems outrageous on its face that Trump would be so focused on rebutting or punishing a couple of Democrats he dislikes by putting the health of millions of New Yorkers at risk. We already have seen Trump demanding that schools re-open fully even as disease is breaking out at schools across the country.
It’s a helluva way to make America Great.