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Hayes cautious and connected as she seeks reelection

LAKEVILLE — Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (D-5) said that her primary emphasis is on health care moving forward. The first-term member of the House of Representatives is running for reelection against Republican David X. Sullivan. Hayes was interviewed by telephone on Monday, Oct. 12.

Hayes tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 20. She said her symptoms included a fever for a couple of nights, but the main problem was shortness of breath and fatigue.

Hayes said the pandemic has put a spotlight on “inequities” in the health care system. “We need to make sure people have access to health care, and to address the disparities” between different locations and communities.

She said she is focused on maintaining the Affordable Care Act’s provisions on pre-existing conditions, allowing young people to stay on their family’s health insurance, and to expand Medicare and Medicaid to include vision and dental care.

She also said that prescription drug prices continue to rise, and that when a COVID-19 vaccine is ready, it must be affordable.

On the economy, Hayes said the first thing to do is make sure people are healthy, to avoid the “circular” problem of businesses reopening and then closing again because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

She said the federal government should offer more in the way of financial assistance to businesses, and added that she wants to increase support for apprenticeship programs and trade schools so that, as the economy revives, businesses will find the district an attractive place to relocate.

She said that the pandemic has also underscored the role that public schools play. “Schools are doing double duty,” she said, providing vital nutrition programs as well as education. 

And she re-emphasized the “equity gaps,” pointing to the differences between school districts in broadband access and the purchasing of personal protective equipment.

“These are not temporary problems;” they have been thrown into sharp relief by the pandemic, she said. “None of these things are new.”

What is new is the number of people who are looking for assistance. “For so many people, this is their first time at a food bank.”

People in the 5th District “are paying closer attention, and demanding solutions.”

Hayes said her COVID-19 experience was troubling in terms of her reelection campaign, but that the response from volunteers was gratifying.

“People were stepping up, asking ‘How can I help?’”

She said if anything her illness “energized” the campaign.

Asked if she plans to come to the Northwest Corner, she said there is nothing planned at the moment, but she is regularly holding online town hall-style meetings.

“I’m still being very cautious,” she said. “We just have to be imaginative.”

She said she was reluctant to bring up President Donald Trump’s rallies, and said she would not be doing anything similar.

“This is not the year for that.

“I’m not just a candidate, I’m an elected official. I have to lead by example.”

She said she and her staffers “followed every precaution — and I still got it” (as did one of her staff members).

“I’m not going to put people at risk.”

Hayes said she enjoys coming to the Northwest Corner, and has to be careful that people in the rest of the district don’t get annoyed.

She said when people ask her to describe the 5th District, she replies, “It’s like seeing a part of the rest of the country” with the mix of urban, suburban and rural communities.

At one point, when Hayes and her husband were quarantined, they took a ride to Cornwall on a Sunday, without getting out of the car.

“There’s so much peace,” she said. “It keeps you grounded.”

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