SOUTH GLENS FALLS — U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, on Thursday encouraged anyone eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines to get one.
Stefanik said increasing the vaccination rates is imperative to restarting the economy and noted that vaccines are readily available throughout her sprawling North Country district.
She made the remarks following a meeting with local business leaders at Noble Gas Solutions, where she solicited input about hardships facing the local business community.
“I’m very proud of our counties with very strong vaccination rates, particularly among our seniors, who are the most vulnerable, and we want to encourage those to seek vaccinations,” she said. “It’s available in your community and you can go to your local pharmacy in most cases.”
The number of new COVID cases has been on the rise in recent days as the more transmissible delta variant has been quickly spreading between unvaccinated individuals throughout parts of the country.
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Locally, the number of active COVID cases in Warren County has quadrupled over the last eight days, with a vast majority of cases involving unvaccinated individuals.
Warren County Health Services on Wednesday said it was likely that the delta variant has been spreading throughout the county and encouraged unvaccinated individuals to get inoculated and continue to follow guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The uptick in cases comes just weeks after the state lifted most of its COVID restrictions after reaching its goal of administering at least one dose of the vaccine to 70% of adults 18 and over.
Businesses face challenges
Stefanik said the vaccine rollout is just one of the many challenges facing the business community. She met with about a dozen business leaders to discuss other issues, including the struggles to find workers.
Several in attendance said they have been trying for months to fill positions and pointed to enhanced unemployment benefits approved earlier this year by Congress as part of the American Rescue Plan.
Stefanik voted against the legislation, and referred to the $1.9 trillion piece of legislation as a “partisan package” on Thursday.
She said that people will begin reentering the workforce once the enhanced benefits expire, adding she is sponsoring legislation to repeal the benefits before they expire in September.
Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 9.5 million Americans are currently unemployed, and a recent report found that 1.8 million Americans have turned down jobs in order to collect the increased benefits, Stefanik said.
She added that the benefits have been extended multiple times and said it’s likely the benefits will be extended again.
“If you go back to last year, the Republicans wanted to wind it down at the end of the year,” Stefanik said. “That was punted and included in a partisan package that House Democrats passed to continue to extend it. They may very well extend it again.”
Jeff Mead, general manager of Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, said if the benefits are extended, it would spell trouble for the arena, which was forced to furlough its staff at the onset of the pandemic.
“When you mention that the extra unemployment may be continue past September, that’s certainly concerning for us because we ramp up right after Labor Day,” he said. “We really have no employees right now that can operate our events and food and beverage.”
Mead added if the arena is unable to operate, the impacts would be felt throughout the Glens Falls region because arena events bring scores of people into the downtown area.
Other businesses said they’ve struggled to offer competitive raises and are concerned about losing their current workers to higher-paying jobs.
“Now you got to pay new people more money to get them to come through the door because you’ve got McDonald’s and Burger King paying $15 and $16 an hour. So what do you do with your existing employees? You got to raise them up,” said Doug Bohannon, the proprietor of Kingpin’s Alley Family Fun Center in South Glens Falls.
Bohannon said the increased wages cut into the bottom line of his business, making it difficult to make repairs and invest in capital upgrades for the facility.
Stefanik said she’s heard similar stories from business owners throughout the district and criticized Democratic lawmakers for not finding long-term solutions to the problems.
She added that most Americans are frustrated by the number of workers still collecting unemployment.
“People are frustrated and I think the sentiment of the general public is wanting to reopen the economy and get small businesses back to where they were and work on economic growth and not have this perpetuated uncertainty that is stemming from this pandemic unemployment assistance,” she said.
Chad Arnold is a reporter for The Post-Star covering the city of Glens Falls and the town and village of Lake George and Washington County government. Follow him on Twitter @ChadGArnold.