New congressman tells county legislators he supports federal stimulus for local governments

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 August 2020 at 3:28 pm

Chris Jacobs says Congress should authorize infrastructure funding to jump-start economy

Photos by Tom Rivers: U.S. Rep. Chris Jacobs speaks with Orleans County legislators on Wednesday.

ALBION – Chris Jacobs, the area’s newly elected congressman, told Orleans County legislators he supports a federal stimulus package that includes funding for local governments.

Jacobs, who started in Congress last month, also wants to see Congress approve a major infrastructure bill that would include high-speed internet in rural areas.

Jacobs, speaking to county legislators on Wednesday, said broadband access has become a bigger issue for families during the Covid-19 pandemic, with students forced to do remote learning at home. Many don’t have internet access or strong enough internet to do the work online. He also said broadband is needed in the rural communities with the emphasis on more telehealth services.

Lynne Johnson, the County Legislature chairwoman, said the county already has submitted a list of infrastructure projects totaling about $40 million if federal funding is approved. Broadband expansion accounts for $10 million of the total, with roads, bridges, culverts and waterlines representing most of the work. (Click here to see the projects.)

Johnson told Jacobs the projects aren’t a “wish list.”

“This is a mandatory list for us,” she told Jacobs.

The congressman told the legislators he wants “to be a proactive partner” with the local government.

Jacobs told the group he is in a position to help the county’s strongest industry – agriculture. He was appointed to serve on the Agriculture Committee in the House of Representatives and looks to establish an Agriculture Advisory Committee in the 27th Congressional District, which includes eight counties.

He also is on the Budget Committee and would like to be on the Committee for Transportation and Infrastructure.

Chris Jacobs addresses county officials, and takes questions from the group during a meeting on Wednesday at the Legislature chambers in the County Office Building.

The county officials said Congress and the President so far have failed to deliver funding for local governments, which have seen tax revenues drop and delayed or shrinking reimbursements from the state. Johnson said the funding wouldn’t be a “bailout” but a “stimulus” so the local governments can maintain services without a big tax increase.

Jacobs said he supports stimulus funding for the local governments. He is concerned the money would be allocated to the states, which would then hold onto the funding. He wants to see if the money can be sent directly to the local municipalities.

“We need to be partners with the local government,” Jacobs said. “We need to see if we can send it directly or force the state to release it.”

Jacobs also said he supports federal aid to hospitals, more funding for the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, and continuing the federal unemployment bonus but not at the $600 weekly level. Jacobs said that amount discouraged people from going back to work, making it difficult for many businesses to find employees as they have reopened during the pandemic.

County Legislator Ken DeRoller told Jacobs that the U.S. Postal Service is critical in the rural areas. Jacobs voted against $25 billion in federal funding for the Postal Service, but then said he meant to vote in support of the funding.

DeRoller also said broadband internet is crucial to help the county offset a population loss. Younger families demand high-speed internet or they won’t consider moving to the country or a rural area. DeRoller said the county is in demand, and there is actually a housing shortage. The Covid-19 pandemic has allowed more people to work from home, rather than drive to the city, and that has more people looking to small towns with big backyards, DeRoller said.

County Legislator John DeFilipps also said the county is concerned about flooding from Lake Ontario. The lakeshore towns of Yates, Carlton and Kendall all suffered significant property damage from flooding in 2017 and 2019.

Jacobs said a bi-national plan for managing lake levels needs attention. Since Plan 2014 was adopted, there have been two years of extensive flooding. This year, with near drought-like conditions, has mostly spared the southshore from damage.

“We got lucky this year but it’s still not resolved,” Jacobs said.

The congressman has reopened district offices in Clarence and Geneseo and he said his staff is working on a backlog on constituent cases. Jacobs succeeds Chris Collins in Congress. Collins resigned on Sept. 30 and later pleaded guilty to an insider trading scheme. His seat was vacant for about 10 months.

Jacobs is up for election in November for a full two-year term, and again faces Nate McMurray, a Democrat.

“It is truly an honor to represent you,” Jacobs told county legislators. “I want to do it with vigor and use every means possible.”

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