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Hochul will allow emergency pandemic purchasing powers to lapse, citing COVID numbers

Gov. Kathy Hochul is seen in this January 2021 file photo.
New York Governor's Office
Gov. Kathy Hochul is seen in this January 2021 file photo.

Gov. Kathy Hochul doesn’t plan to renew a set of emergency powers granted to her office through executive order that have allowed her administration to waive certain spending oversight procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those powers expire at midnight, marking a new phase in the state’s strategy against the ever-evolving virus.

“I will not be renewing them at this time,” Hochul said. “We’re watching the numbers right now. We’re feeling comfortable that we can suspend them.”

Those powers allowed the state to relax the normal purchasing and bidding process for supplies and vendors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In normal times, those contracts would be reviewed by the State Comptroller’s Office before approval.

But because of how the state’s COVID-19 strategy required expeditious purchasing of items like ventilators and masks, and approval of contracts for things like testing sites and doses of the vaccine, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo waived that oversight.

That’s allowed during certain public health emergencies, or disasters, as they’re referred to in the text of the executive order set to expire.

Hochul has extended that executive order each time it’s been set to expire since she took office last year.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had initially agreed that allowing those emergency powers for the governor’s office was the right move at the start of the pandemic, when the rate of transmission was high and little was known about the virus.

But as the pandemic persisted, political opponents of Hochul and Democrats in the Legislature have called for those powers to lapse. They’ve criticized the governor’s ability to make decisions on state spending and response without an additional layer of oversight.

Those critics said Monday that Hochul’s decision to allow those powers to expire was long overdue.

“For too long, Gov. Hochul took advantage of her self-imposed authority and the lack of oversight and review typically required by state law,” said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Oswego. “And now, all pandemic-related mandates must come to an end.”

Barclay, and others, have pointed to a recent story from the Albany Times Union, that found the state had approved $637 million in payments for at-home COVID-19 testing kits to a company whose CEO hosted a fundraiser for Hochul.

Hochul has said in the past that her campaign donors haven’t influenced decisions by the state, and the state Department of Health defended the purchase, citing high COVID-19 numbers at the time of the state’s payment in January.

New York’s average COVID-19 positivity rate currently sits at 6.56% of tests taken over the past week, compared to about 21% at the height of the omicron variant.

Dan Clark is managing editor of New York NOW.