State, Counties Warn Congress: Show Us the Money or ‘Dramatic Actions’ Will Be Taken

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo at a coronavirus briefing in New York City on August 3. Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

State and county officials reissued a plea to Congress to deliver federal disaster relief for the financial fallout from the COVID-19 crisis.

A warning that drastic actions will be taken if federal funding does not come through comes as Congress and the White House are negotiating a new, two-year financial stimulus package to help the country recover from the pandemic-related recession. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to support additional funding for state and local governments.

“Normally, when they pass a bill in Washington, it’s unclear what the consequences are,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a media conference call on Thursday afternoon. “But this piece of legislation is unlike any other. They’re deciding the state budget. You tell me what they pass in the bill, and I will tell you the consequences in New York.”

The state needs $30 billion, according to Cuomo. If there is no federal help, “we’re going to have to take very dramatic actions and these dramatic actions I believe will be counter productive. We will have no choice because I don’t have a printing press like the federal government does.”

The MTA needs $12 billion over the next two years to avoid dramatic increases to tolls and fares, and the Port Authority requires $3 billion to make up for its loss of revenues, Cuomo said.

“When they sign a federal bill, when the house members raise their hand and say, ‘Aye,’ when the senators agree to pass the bill,” Cuomo said, “if it does not have $30 billion, $12 billion and $3 billion, they are deciding the actions of the state budget.

Here in Suffolk, the county is facing a budget hole of up to a $1.5 billion through 2022.

Just 10 days ago, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone visited Washington, D.C. with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran to meet with members of the Long Island and New York State congressional delegation to advocate for federal disaster relief.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone met with Senator Chuck Schumer in Washington, D.C. on July 29. Independent/Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office

On Thursday afternoon, he was joined by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on a Zoom call to again outline the dire state of county’s finances. Without federal assistance, the county faces major layoffs and cuts to services or local taxpayers footing the bill — or a combination of all three.

According to the National Association of Counties, the COVID-19 pandemic could impact county budgets across the nation by at least $202 billion through the fiscal year of 2021 including lost revenue, additional expenditures and state funding cuts.

The counties are facing major cuts to social services that are needed now more than ever, Bellone said, rattling off a list of in-demand county needs.

Opioid related deaths have risen significantly since the pandemic began, after two years of a reduction in deaths. There has been a dramatic increase in the need for mental health services — a 100 percent increase in calls to the county’s suicide prevention hotline. Domestic violence shelters are over capacity. Meals on Wheels has seen a 60 percent increase.

“COVID-19 has only made the problems that existed before the virus worse, the challenges even greater. It is the counties who are at the forefront of these challenges. We are on the frontlines,” Bellone said.

If the federal government does not step in with funding, “we literally are talking about hallowing out, or gutting, the level of government that provides these services,” he said. “It is just unconscionable.”

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