The event, organized by Gloversville 4th Ward Supervisor Charlie Potter, included discussions between tenants with Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino, state Sen. Jim Tedisco, state Assemblyman Robert Smullen and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik over lunch.
“This is an informational gathering,” Potter said of the idea behind the event. “This has been well received in the past and it’s an informal gathering to where the tenants can hear about the issues at hand.”
Each of the elected officials expressed their appreciation at being able to meet with the constituents they represent, while also enjoying soup from the Vintage Cafe, rolls from Mendetta’s Pizzeria and cookies from Cravings Cupcakes.
Giardino thanked those in attendance for their support during the primary election in June and went over details of work being done by the sheriff’s department. Giardino noted that seniors are often targeted by individuals attempting to commit fraud by phone or online and reminded the public at large never to share personal information or send money to someone who has called or emailed them and to contact the police if they believe they have been contacted by a scammer.
Smullen, who began his first term in the state Assembly this year, said he is proud to represent Fulton County and the values that local residents hold.
“It’s a great honor to serve,” Smullen said.
Smullen noted that area residents have expressed concern over legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday decriminalizing marijuana possession. Smullen said he voted against the bill that he fears could see marijuana become more accessible by youths and questioned how the legislation will be enforced in a state that earlier this year failed to pass legislation legalizing recreational marijuana.
“Smoking is not a good thing, how can smoking marijuana be a good thing,” Smullen said. “I think we should really wait and see.”
Tedisco was similarly critical of the legislation, citing the potential health risks associated with smoking marijuana. He went on to speak out about the potential for bills to one day be passed in the state permitting heroin injection sites and legalizing prostitution, argued by some as preventive measures to respectively protect heroin users from overdose deaths and to protect individuals in the sex industry from human trafficking and other personal safety risks.
“If we legalize bank robbery are people going to go away and not rob banks anymore? If we legalize not stopping at stop signs…. That’s not the answer to all our problems,” Tedisco said. “Society has some problems, that’s why we have problems with drugs right now, that’s why we have problems with prostitution. We’re not getting to the roots of the problem in many instances and we want to change that in New York state.”
According to Tedisco, the key to solving societal issues is for elected officials to listen to their constituents, which he said is why he supports establishing a tiered dental benefits program for seniors based on income levels called Elderly Dental Insurance Coverage similar to the existing Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage program.
“I’m not opposed to investing in our constituents when I think it’s going to help them and keep them safe,” Tedisco said.
Tedisco noted that medical costs and dental costs can sometimes be overwhelming for seniors, saying his 97-year-old mother was reluctant to go to the dentist to get dentures, because she couldn’t afford it.
“I had to convince her to go to the dentist, not because she didn’t want to care for her teeth,” Tedisco said. “Why not a staggered program for elderly dental insurance coverage like elderly pharmaceutical, the two most costly things?”
Tedisco went on to argue that while the program will improve the overall health and nutrition of those enrolled, it will also save taxpayers money by reducing the rate at which older adults have to visit the emergency room.
Stefanik told those in attendance that her top priority is constituent services, which often involves her office in one-on-one casework assisting those seeking support with Social Security, Medicare and U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs benefits.
“My office is here to serve you,” Stefanik said, encouraging anyone in the district in need of assistance to contact one of her local offices. “We have been able to claim over $500,000 of Social Security claims, monies that are owed to seniors in this district.”
“We know there’s been a significant backlog and challenges being able to navigate the VA, but we’ve been able to step in on a case-by-case individual basis and claim over $3 million of VA benefits owed to our veterans,” she continued.
Stefanik also noted that she supports programs like the Older Americans Act that she voted to reauthorize in 2016 that provides social and nutritional services to seniors and their caregivers through programs such as Meals on Wheels.
While fielding questions, Stefanik was asked about her thoughts on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the “Squad” composed of democratic U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan all five of whom she described as leaning “very far to the left.”
“It has been a real challenge working with the Democratic majority,” Stefanik said. “It has been frustrating, but I have been able to continue to do my casework, to continue to have wins for the district.”
“There’s some newly elected Democrats that are not representative of common sense values,” she continued. “I don’t think their policies are the right approach for the country or for this region. It certainly is a different way of governing than I try to govern. I try to focus on my district and on results to my constituents and also putting forth good legislative ideas and actually getting those bills signed into law. They seem to be very loud with very little results.”
When asked about discussions surrounding the Medicare for All Act, Stefanik said that programs like Medicare Advantage are important for seniors, but that she does not support Medicare for All.
“Medicare for All is going to cost over $1 trillion of the taxpayers’ [money] and I don’t think we should move in the direction towards government run healthcare,” Stefanik said. “Look at the VA, look at the challenges we’ve had with the VA and the wait time and the quality. We are spending more on veteran’s care than we ever had before and yet we still see some of these challenges within the bureaucracy.”
Following the discussion Stefanik and the other elected officials helped hand out dessert and spoke with residents one-on-one. The lunch discussion was one of three stops in Fulton County for Stefanik on Wednesday who also visited Broadalbin Manufacturing Corp. and downtown Johnstown for the city’s third annual celebration of Harry Potter’s birthday.
“One of the most important jobs of being an elected official is getting around the district,” Stefanik said. “Thanks for the opportunity to be here today.”