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Business owner honored for commitment to community

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik presents Ralph Iorio a certificate of congressional recognition at his business, RalphÕs Tailor Shop, in Gloversville on Friday. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — When orders at Ralph’s Tailor Shop dried up in March due to the state stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, business owner Ralph Iorio pivoted to making the now essential face masks.

While many business owners this spring shifted operations to producing essential and hard to come by goods such as personal protective equipment or hand sanitizer as a way to make up lost revenue, Iorio made face masks to give out free to any community member in need.

“I wouldn’t charge for them,” said Iorio.

Without his usual volume of orders for proms, weddings and other spring events while also serving the needs of business professionals, Iorio pointed out that he had time to make the more than 500 reusable cloth masks that he has handed out since March.

Iorio was honored for this contribution to the community at his tailor shop on Friday when U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, state Sen. James Tedisco, Assemblyman Robert Smullen, Mayor Vincent DeSantis, Councilman-at-Large William Rowback Jr. and 2nd Ward Councilman Arthur Simonds stopped by.

Federal, state and local leaders honored Ralph Iorio for his efforts to support community members during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak during a visit to his business, RalphÕs Tailor Shop, in Gloversville on Friday. Shown from left are state Assemblyman Robert Smullen, state Sen. James Tedisco, Iorio and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

Stefanik, Tedisco and Smullen each presented Iorio with certificates of commendation for his acts of kindness while also taking the opportunity to hear how the small business has been impacted by the coronavirus.

Iorio told the elected leaders that he has experienced ups and downs while in business over the past 48 years, but never anything like he experienced throughout the spring.

“I had no work,” said Iorio. “This is the worst year I have ever had.”

Last week was the best week the tailor shop has had since March, Iorio said, but business was only at roughly 50 percent of the volume Ralph’s would normally do.

After Ralph’s was denied a Paycheck Protection Program loan, Iorio was able to stay afloat by securing unemployment and pointed to the additional $600 a week benefit from the federal government as a lifeline that pulled the business through the spring.

“If it wasn’t for the $600, I never would have made it,” said Iorio.

Iorio expressed concern that businesses in the state will experience another shutdown due to the coronavirus if cases once again surge, but is optimistic his shop will weather another decline in business.

“We’ll be all right,” said Iorio.

If non-essential businesses are forced to shutdown once more, Stefanik expressed confidence that measures needed to protect individuals, business owners, municipalities, counties and states will be in place. Those comments were made a short time before news broke on Friday that negotiations of terms for another federal coronavirus relief stimulus package had broken down.

Stefanik voiced support for extending the additional unemployment benefits through the federal government, but at a lower level than the current $600 a week flat rate.

“We need to incentivize folks getting back to work and in some cases as I’ve talked to small businesses, the additional $600 has inhibited their ability to hire folks back, because they were earning a lesser amount prior,” said Stefanik.

The congresswoman called for a compromise that would see the additional benefit tied to the actual wages the individual received prior to losing their job or at a flat rate that would gradually fall below the current $600 a week benefit.

Democrats in Congress have pointed to the flat $600 a week benefit as providing the simplest way to implement an additional benefit due to the inability of state unemployment systems to calculate and disburse benefits to each individual equal to the weekly wages they would have earned while employed. The flat $600 rate was selected as it would on average bring unemployed individuals up to the median weekly income level when combined with state benefits.

Stefanik acknowledged the failings of the state unemployment system during the deluge in job losses caused by the coronavirus but did not offer any thoughts on how the system could be addressed if additional unemployment benefits through the federal government were tied to prior wages.

“The New York unemployment system is a disaster and a mess, and we’ve known that, and I’ve personally helped hundreds of constituents, thousands of constituents get access to their unemployment benefits because the system is so broken,” said Stefanik.

The congresswoman also acknowledged that unemployment rates in the 21st District remain “too high,” but said the focus needs to be on getting people safely back to work.

“They’re too high and we need to work to lower them as quickly as possible, it’s a challenge because we’re in tourist season as well so our tourist economy has been impacted significantly in terms of people not traveling beyond close to where they live so we need to focus on getting people back to work,” said Stefanik. “I think we need to safely and swiftly reopen the north country economy and I have faith in our county public health officials to continue following the data and ensuring that we’re able to do that.”

To ensure there are jobs for people to return to even in the event of another state stay at home order, Stefanik called for passage of the State Municipal Assistance for Response and Transition Act that would provide $500 billion for a Coronavirus Local Community Stabilization Fund to address the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic on state, local and tribal budgets or inclusion of such funding in a federal stimulus package.

“I think it’s important particularly for rural counties that we ensure the aid doesn’t have a population cutoff, because in previous rounds it’s been focused primarily on urban centers, urban counties, bigger cities, we need to make sure that rural counties and rural municipalities are included in any direct aid,” said Stefanik.

She is also advocating for another round of the Paycheck Protection Program and for the ability of the hardest hit industries to apply for funding to keep workers on the payroll through the forgivable loan program for a second time.

“We need to make sure that particularly industries that have been significantly impacted like hospitality, retail or tourist based are able to go towards a second round,” said Stefanik.

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