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Republicans urge Garland to probe COVID-19 deaths in New York group homes

Republicans urge Garland to probe COVID-19 deaths in New York group homes
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A group of House Republicans from New York are calling on Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandOvernight Defense: Biden officially rolls out Afghanistan withdrawal plan | Probe finds issues with DC Guard helicopter use during June protests Duckworth asks DOJ to probe 'brazenly violent' police treatment of National Guard officer Biden's court-packing theater could tame the Supreme Court's conservatives MORE to investigate whether the state’s directive on COVID-19 patients returning to group homes violated civil rights and if the state accurately reported coronavirus deaths in these facilities. 

New York GOP Reps. Claudia Tenney, Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikHouse passes bill to combat gender pay gap Business groups oppose Paycheck Fairness Act, citing concerns it could threaten bonuses and negotiating Ambitious House lawmakers look for promotions MORE, Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinLawmakers launch bipartisan caucus on SALT deduction Biden funding decision inflames debate over textbooks for Palestinian refugees Rep. Lee Zeldin announces bid for New York governor MORE, Chris Jacobs and Nicole Malliotakis on Wednesday sent a letter to the Justice Department arguing that “New York State’s Policies placed those with intellectual or developmental disabilities at increased risk of exposure to COVID, and we fear COVID-related deaths in group homes have been underreported.” 

The letter follows sharp criticism from lawmakers in response to New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoNew York Philharmonic gives first public performance in more than a year Ron Kim on nursing home immunity repeal: It was critical 'to hold these facilities accountable' NY Democratic chair blasts primary challenge against Maloney MORE’s (D) office admitting to underreporting coronavirus deaths in New York nursing homes. 

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Republicans and Democrats alike have called for investigations into Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic, while lawmakers have also called for Cuomo to resign following sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior allegations levied against the governor from multiple women in recent weeks. 

In Wednesday’s letter, the GOP representatives specifically reference an April 2020 directive from the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), which stated, “No individual shall be denied re-admission or admission to a Certified Residential Facility based solely on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19.” 

The lawmakers argue, however, that the directive’s “practical effect” was to “return COVID-positive patients who were no longer symptomatic to group homes.”

Thus far, the OPWDD has publicly reported 552 COVID-related deaths across New York’s more than 7,000 group homes, though the Republican lawmakers stated they “have reason to doubt New York State’s numbers given its poor track record of transparently sharing COVID-19 data.” 

Given that the group home directive was similar to the one issued in March for nursing homes in the state, the New York Republicans argued that “the OPWDD must be scrutinized,” to determine the policy’s true impact on coronavirus cases and fatalities. 

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Tenney, who led the initiative from the GOP lawmakers, tweeted a copy of the letter Wednesday afternoon, writing, “When it comes to protecting the lives of the most vulnerable, especially our seniors & those with disabilities, we must demand full transparency.” 

Stefanik, one of Cuomo’s most vocal critics, said in a press release announcing the letter, “Given the Governor’s reckless and reprehensible nursing home directive, and the cover up that ensued, we have reason to fear that the number of COVID-related deaths in group homes is higher than what the state has reported.” 

“The DOJ must assess whether this harmful directive violates the civil rights of some of our most vulnerable and if the reported number of deaths in group homes is accurate,” she added. 

The request for a Justice Department probe comes after the New York State Assembly last week said it would open an impeachment investigation into Cuomo in relation to the sexual harassment allegations and mishandling of nursing home data. 

The Hill has reached out to Cuomo’s office for comment on Wednesday’s letter.