Center for Disability Rights Responds to Governor Cuomo’s Second 2021 State of the State Speech

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On January 12, 2021, Governor Cuomo gave the second in a series of speeches that will constitute his 2021 State of the State Address.  During today’s speech, the Governor announced state efforts to revive the arts, provide affordable broadband services and convert office buildings and hotels in New York City to residential use.

Although CDR is grateful for his attention to the arts and the vital role they play in New York, we are deeply offended by Governor Cuomo’s characterization that “And almost no one has been hurt more by COVID than our artists.” The Governor’s framing completely disregards the devastating impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the Disability Community, particularly residents in nursing facilities and other institutions who are dying in unprecedented numbers. 

Although the Cuomo administration has established policies intended to obscure the actual number of nursing facility residents who have died from COVID-19 in New York, according to the official count 8,110 Disabled New Yorkers died from COVID-19 in our nursing facilities and other institutions.  It is clear that – as the Governor put it – “Coronavirus in a nursing home can be like fire through dry grass.”  The true magnitude of these deaths remains unknown, but recent reporting indicates that 2 out of every 3 deaths in Onondaga County were nursing facility residents. (

Even worse, these people didn’t need to die.  A recent study in Connecticut has demonstrated that nursing facility residents were 11 times more likely to be infected and die from COVID-19 than their peers in receiving Home and Community-Based Services in the community.  Instead of expanding access to Home and Community-Based Services, the Cuomo administration has continually implemented policies that reduce access to those services through so-called Medicaid “reforms,” such as the implementation of managed care and his attacks on Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Services. 

Although we still don’t know how many nursing facility residents have died from COVID-19, we know that over 90% of those deaths didn’t need to happen if New York implemented forward-thinking policies that integrated individuals with significant disabilities in the community instead of locking them away.  Even if Governor Cuomo won’t take responsibility for his role in those needless deaths, he could at least avoid pandering rhetoric that erases them.

CDR applauds Governor Cuomo’s proposal to expand broadband access and affordability throughout the state, although from a Disability Rights perspective, we question the Governor’s commitment to ensuring access for people with disabilities.  We would be praising the Governor for this proposal if he had not – on the night before his second State of the State speech – failed to provide an ASL interpreter or, minimally, captioning on a webinar about the COVID-19 vaccine.  This was especially appalling because Governor Cuomo had been sued about his failure to provide ASL access at his pandemic briefings in April 2020.  To address this failure, CDR contacted approximately 70 state staff in various state agencies as well as the Governor’s chamber.  None responded.  If Governor Cuomo had thought to ensure access for Deaf New Yorkers or his administration was in the least bit responsive to their failure to provide access, we would potentially be more excited by this proposal. 

Finally, we tentatively applaud Governor Cuomo’s proposal to support the conversion of office buildings and hotels in New York City to residential use, but urge the Governor to recognize that institutionalized individuals – including nursing facility residents – need permanent housing.  His proposal is similar to one made early in the pandemic by Disability Rights advocates.  At that time, the New York Association on Independent Living and other advocates urged Governor Cuomo to leverage unused hotels to transition people out of nursing facilities and other institutions so they could socially distance during the pandemic. This proposal, which could have been funded using FEMA dollars, would have freed up nursing facilities for COVID-19 cases while allowing nursing facility residents to limit their exposure to COVID-19.  Since April, advocates have repeatedly asked state officials at the Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council to respond to the proposal, but been stonewalled.  Because of the horrific impact that COVID-19 has had on the Disability Community, the Cuomo administration must work with the Disability Community to ensure that Disabled New Yorkers – particularly people in nursing facilities and other institutions – are included in this initiative so that they have greater opportunities to return to community living. 

CDR also urges the Governor and his staff to review the proposal advocates sent him on April 24th, and implement this approach to saving the lives of Disabled New Yorkers needlessly imperiled by state inaction.