ALBANY (AP) — New York’s county governments, citing soaring expenses from responding to the coronavirus epidemic, are pleading with the Cuomo administration to help them pay for their needs with federal stimulus dollars controlled by the state.
New York got an infusion of more than $7 billion in federal emergency funding last March, of which some $5.1 billion went to the state. The rest of the money went to governments with populations of 500,000 or more people — the counties of Erie, Monroe, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk, along with New York City and the town of Hempstead.
That left 52 counties with no direct aid from the CARES Act.
Citing the fact a host of states have set aside pots of money for sharing with their local governments, the New York State Association of Counties urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to create such a spigot of aid from the federal money the state bureaucracy has yet to spend.
“There is a proven history of other states enacting similar programs,” NYSAC said in a letter to Cuomo.
The organization also noted that as of August, federal recordkeeping showed New York had incurred about $2.2 billion in pandemic-related expenses of the $5.1 billion sent to the state.
A spokesman for the Cuomo administration’s budget division, Freeman Klopott, said the state would be “happy” to provide more aid to local governments “as soon as the federal government provides New York state with sufficient funding to offset the impacts of COVID-19 on the state.”
“The state’s efforts to combat the virus are statewide and we will spend all of the remaining funding to reduce the costs on local governments for PPE, testing, medical equipment, contact tracing, and enforcement, particularly in areas of the state where local governments have failed to act,” Klopott said.
The localities would end up getting the tab for those expenses if the state didn’t pay for the costs, he added.
A proposed second massive federal stimulus package has been bogged in congressional gridlock, with Democrats and Republicans bickering over competing proposals. The gridlock has led the local governments to renew their focus on the initial stimulus package, in part because states have a deadline to use the money for pandemic expenses by the end of the year.
The issue has touched off statehouse debates in some states. In Nevada, for instance, lawmakers have been delving into whether local governments are making progress in spending the federal money for pandemic needs by the end of the year.
In New York, state lawmakers have handed Cuomo vast authority to make budgetary decisions during the public health crisis without their input.
Mark LaVigne, deputy director of NYSAC, said county governments are facing a “double whammy” in the form of the state’s decision to withhold 20% of state aid payments to local governments even as they don’t get a share of the federal stimulus money.
“Many of our counties have local health departments that have set up emergency management operations that have been battling COVID since March, but in New York they don’t qualify for the funding” unless the state makes it available, LaVigne said.