On Wednesday at a briefing to give an update on the response of his state government to the coronavirus crisis, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated that economic hardship was “not death.” He also snapped at a reporter who asked if there was a fundamental right to work if the government couldn’t get a person the money when they needed it, “By the way, you want to go to work? Go take a job as an essential worker. Do it tomorrow.”
The relevant part of the exchange went like this:
Reporter: I don’t know if you can hear, but there are protesters outside right now honking their horns and raising signs; we did speak to a few of them before we came in, and these are regular people who are not getting a paycheck; some of them are not getting their unemployment check, and they’re saying that they don’t have time to wait for all of this testing and they need to get back to work in order to feed their families; their savings is running out; they don’t have another week; they’re not getting answers. So their point is the cure can’t be worse than the illness itself. What is your response to them?
Cuomo: The illness is death. What is worse than death?
Reporter: But what if somebody commits suicide because they can’t pay their bills?
Cuomo: Yeah, but the illnesses may be my death as opposed to your death. You said they said the cure is worse than the illness. The illness is death. How can the cure be worse than the illness if the illness is potential death?
Reporter: What if the economy failing —
Cuomo: Worse than death?
Reporter: — equals death, because mental illness, the people stuck at home—
Cuomo: No, it doesn’t. No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t equal death. Economic hardship: yes. Very bad. Not death. Emotional stress from being locked in a house. Very bad. Not death. Domestic violence on the increase. Very bad. Not death. And, not death of someone else. See, that’s what we have to factor into this equation. Yeah, it’s your life; do whatever you want, but — you’re now responsible for my life. You have a responsibility to me. It’s not just about you. You have a responsibility to me, right? We started here saying, it’s not about “me”; it’s about “we.” Get your head around the “we” concept. So it’s not all about you; it’s about me, too. It’s about “we.”
Also, I get the economic hardship; everybody gets it; everybody feels it. Federal government is sending out a check for individuals, $600. An additional $1,200. We are moving heaven and earth to get the unemployment payments going. So we get the economic anxiety; the question is how do you respond to it, and do you respond to it in a way that jeopardizes public health and possibly causes more people to die. And think about it as if it was your family that might get infected, right? And that’s what we’re talking about.
And when you think about it as your family, you have a different perspective, I’ll tell you the truth: it’s not an abstract argument: they say, he says, she says, he says, she says. I know that’s how it works. Well, the protesters say this; governor says this; protesters say this; governor says this. Okay, think about it as your family might be in the mix, because when I see 484 New Yorkers die, I feel that it’s like people in my family. And nothing comes before the public health risk of somebody else’s life. And that’s where we are.
Later the reporter asked, “So you’re saying that — is there a fundamental right to work if the government can’t get me the money when I need it? Is there a fundamental right to work?”
Cuomo snapped, “By the way, you want to go to work? Go take a job as an essential worker. Do it tomorrow.”
A reporter asked Gov. Cuomo what he’d say to New Yorkers who want to go back to work because they’re running out of money, to which he replied, “economic hardship doesn’t equal death”
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 22, 2020
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