State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) and Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio were joined by business representatives Tuesday in calling for both President Donald Trump and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic an act of terror.
Doing so would enable businesses harmed by the virus to access the Terrorist Risk Insurance Fund, which was created after Sept. 11, 2001, and which has close to $1 trillion that currently can’t be accessed unless there is act of terror, according to Mr. Palumbo, who held a press conference Tuesday at his Riverhead office.
“As it stands now, you cannot sue China under the sovereign immunities act,” he said. “This would allow that to happen.”
Mr. Palumbo, who is running for State Senate on the Republican line this fall, said China has been deceitful and intentionally lied about when they first knew about the virus and how many people have been affected by it.
He said China first knew of the virus on Nov. 17, and the United States didn’t know until mid-to-late January, according to news accounts.
“And most importantly, they allowed flights from China to continue internationally with impunity while they still domestically would not allow flights in and out of Wuhan,” he said. “They shut it down, but they allowed their residents to fly internationally. Just for perspective, 20,000 passengers come to the United States a day from China.”
Ms. Giglio, who is running for Mr. Palumbo’s Assembly seat on the Republican line, said she’s gotten to know a lot of businesses here as a former president and co-founder of the Riverhead Business Alliance.
“I know firsthand the pain that the businesses are suffering and I know firsthand the pain that this virus has caused, in the sickness and death of many family members and close friends,” she said.
The federal Small Business Administration loans are not enough and small businesses are having difficulty accessing those funds and difficulty applying for unemployment insurance, she said.
“Our businesses are in crisis and we are counting on the president and the governor to do everything they can to make sure we survive,” said Gary Pollakusky, the president and executive director of the Rocky Point/Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve been paying into these insurance policies for well over 30 years, as long as you’ve been in business,” said Bob Gerety of the Suffolk Restaurant and Tavern Association. “And now, when you need them, they disappear.”
Restaurants have been particularly hard hit by the virus because the state has ordered them to close, allowing only take-out or delivery orders.
“We’ve been closed for 30 days now, with no revenue coming in, and the bottom line is, when we do reopen, we’re all going to need help,” Mr. Gerety said. “If we don’t get help, at lease half of our membership will not survive. They will close their doors for good. A lot of people’s life’s work is on the line here.”
Mr. Palumbo said that the important thing is to be able to access the Terrorist Risk Insurance Fund, which can only be done with a declaration of a terrorist act.
He said he is not calling for a war with China, or even filing a lawsuit against China initially.
“We don’t need China at all,” he said, adding that in the future a lawsuit could be filed against China.
“That’s down the road,” he said.
Once the payments are made, private insurance carriers would have to deal with the government to get reimbursement, he said.
“So if this is declared an act of terrorism, our business owners can get immediate relief by applying to their insurance carriers under the terrorism clause in their insurance and they will immediately be paid for damages,” Mr. Palumbo said. “This is a program that provides relief to insurance carriers who pay claims relative to the terrorism. So the insurance carriers will not suffer any losses in light of this fund. But we cannot access this fund without a declaration of an act of terrorism.”
The press conference was live-streamed and also carried on a number of candidate and business group web sites.
Laura Jens-Smith, Ms. Giglio’s likely opponent for the North Fork Assembly seat that Mr. Palumbo is vacating, responded to the press by conference by calling the plan “bizarre and grandstanding.”
“Serious times call for serious answers,” Ms. Jens-Smith said in a press release. “It is unfathomable that Tony and Jodi are wasting five minutes time on international relations when they should be aiding the unemployed, small business owners who are hurting, and nurses who need PPE.
“Why are these two elected officials, who have important jobs to do, picking a time like this to insert themselves into international affairs? Oh, how we will miss Ken LaValle, who in four decades of service never sought the microphone, he just got things done.”