DCCC Chair Said Stimulus Would Fuel School Reopenings. In His District, It Hasn’t.

Local officials blame school cancellations on enhanced unemployment benefits

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D., N.Y.) / Getty Images
September 28, 2021

A top House Democrat promised his party's $1.9 trillion stimulus bill would "get kids back in school" just months before a hiring shortage upended two school districts in his community—and local officials say enhanced unemployment benefits are to blame.

At least two school districts within Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney's (D., N.Y.) 18th Congressional District boundaries have canceled or scaled back in-person classes due to a bus driver shortage, the Times Herald-Record reported in September. The New York School Bus Contractors Association (NYSBCA) attributed the problem in part to President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion "American Rescue Plan," which Maloney said would "defeat the pandemic" and "get kids back in school."

"Enhanced federal unemployment benefits and the child tax credit are compounding the problem," NYSBCA executive director Tammy Mortier told the Times Union in August. "When unemployment runs out in September, we hope to see some of them coming back." 

Maloney, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has acknowledged that such hiring problems could spell trouble for his party in 2022. During a closed-door lunch in late July, Maloney told fellow House Democrats they were on track to lose the midterms thanks in part to "inflation and the hiring shortage affecting low-wage segments of the economy."

Neither Maloney nor the DCCC returned requests for comment.

Maloney heaped praise on Biden's stimulus bill before and after Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion piece of legislation. In February, Maloney said the bill would "honor the lives of every single American who has died from this pandemic." He later called the legislation "a game changer" and said it would "crush this virus," "jump-start our economy," and get America "back to normal."

Mortier, however, is far from the only local leader to malign the bill's expanded unemployment benefits and child tax credit payments. Swing-district House Democrats notably broke from Biden on the legislation after U.S. job openings reached a record high in April. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D., Mich.) admitted that the boosted payments were inhibiting business owners from filling vacancies.

"Every single business owner that I know that has reached out to me has talked about this as their number one issue," Slotkin said in May after a constituent expressed concern over "boosted federal unemployment." "They want to make money, they want to be open, but they're having a problem getting people." Rep. John Garamendi (D., Calif.) echoed her concerns, noting "there's a lot of discussion among the business community that the unemployment insurance system is keeping people from wanting to go back to work."

According to the Herald-Record, "many schools" in Maloney's district are "dealing with bus delays, uncovered routes, a lack of monitors on vehicles for special needs students, [and] adjustments to sports and extra-curricular schedules." The shortages prompted the Pine Bush Central School District to close for two days. The Newburgh Enlarged City School District, meanwhile, ordered its superintendent to craft a remote-learning option in response to busing issues. Both Pine Bush and Newburgh are located in Maloney's district.

Newburgh did not return a request for comment. Pine Bush superintendent Tim Mains acknowledged the "bus driver shortage" but pointed to the district's transportation services contractor, Birnie Bus, for a response. The Washington Free Beacon has reached out to Birnie Bus for comment.

Maloney became DCCC chair in January, pledging to "work every day to … expand our majority." But his tenure as House Democrats' campaign chief has been defined by blunders.

In April, Maloney's staff greenlit $5,000 wire transfers from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) to vulnerable House Democrats, some of whom returned the money over political concerns. Days later, Business Insider reported Maloney failed to disclose more than $11,000 in stock sales from 2020. And in August, Maloney defied State Department guidelines to travel to France, where he partied maskless at a billionaire's estate. The DCCC paid $813 for an Air France plane ticket just weeks before the trip.

Updated 9/30/21 at 2:18 p.m.: This piece has been updated with a comment from the Pine Bush superintendent.