ESD Determining Fates In Darkness

The Cuomo Administration took unprecedented steps to stop the spread of COVID-19, including shutting down all “non-essential” businesses. This has taken a tremendous toll on communities across the state. The term non-essential has been ambiguous from the very beginning, causing countless headaches for business owners looking to protect their livelihoods.

The governor’s shutdown order led to putting one agency—Empire State Development (ESD)—in charge of determining what businesses should be deemed “essential.” Regrettably, ESD has been less than transparent about its decision-making.

The Government Justice Center filed two Freedom of Information Law requests asking for a list of businesses that submitted a request for essential status, along with ESD’s determinations regarding each request. ESD denied both, providing an absurd justification for its decisions that has no basis in law or common sense.

The Center has appealed both decisions. With livelihoods at stake, transparency is indispensable. Business owners deserve to know if ESD deems businesses like theirs essential, so they can open too. And New Yorkers deserve to know what businesses state government thinks are non-essential to daily life.

The state is making decisions that are critical for tens of thousands of people under the cover of darkness, creating a situation that lends itself to cronyism.

New Yorkers deserve better. GJC will continue fighting to increase government transparency and combat egregious abuses of power during this time of crisis when vigilance is needed most.