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County Execs Plead For Federal Coronavirus Aid

Orange, Suffolk and Onondaga County Executives hold Zoom press conference to call for federal coronavirus aid, September 25, 2020
Courtesy of the Office of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone
Orange, Suffolk and Onondaga County Executives hold Zoom press conference to call for federal coronavirus aid, September 25, 2020

Three New York county executives, including one from the Hudson Valley, are reiterating their call for Congress to deliver coronavirus stimulus aid. With proposed budgets coming out in the next few weeks, county leaders say that without direct state and local aid, further layoffs and service cuts are unavoidable.

Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, and Republicans Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon and Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus say they are dealing with an unprecedented loss of revenues and increased costs because of the COVID-19 crisis. Here’s Bellone:

“We were on a call together back in July and raising the alarm and saying, while we were in the midst of this battle, that it was critically important that the federal government provide the necessary and justified level of disaster assistance,” Bellone says. “Do what our national government has always done when local communities are hit with unprecedented disasters, and step in and provide that assistance.”

He says without assistance, counties will suffer longer term.

“Rather than recovering over the next couple of years, next few years, we’re looking at a recovery that may take a decade or more,” Bellone says. “And that’s just not acceptable.”

Onondaga’s McMahon:

“What the federal government is potentially doing is creating one of the largest unfunded mandates that we’ve ever seen,” says McMahon.

Orange County Executive Neuhaus:

“The opioid crisis is now through the roof again. My domestic violence, as well as throughout the state of New York, have now ticked up,” Neuhaus says. “They had a report two days ago on child abuse, which is really… the main source of detecting if a child is in danger is the kids being at school and their educators being able to read that’s something wrong. With those kids now being forced to be home for the last seven months, now they’ve slowly gone back, there’s been a big uptick in child abuse, and some of the cases we’re seeing here are pretty horrible.”

COVID has refueled the opioid crisis in several counties, including in Bellone’s Suffolk County.

“We had addiction deaths, opioid-related deaths, declining for two years in a row, and now COVID-19 has wiped that out,” says Bellone. “We’re seeing those deaths rise significantly once again.”

Earlier this month, the Ulster County executive declared a public health emergency due to recent spikes in fentanyl-related deaths. Democrat Pat Ryan said the numbers of overdoses and fatal overdoses from opioids in Ulster County are up this year.

Neuhaus says Orange was on a roll, but COVID put the brakes on a number of projects, including Legoland New York, which was supposed to open in July. As with many counties, Orange’s sales-tax revenues have been lower during COVID.

“As I stand today, I’m about 9 percent less, month-to-month, for September this year to last year, and that has catastrophic impacts because we do share with our local towns,” says Neuhuas. “I do use sales tax as the predominant way to balance my budget.”

Neuhaus says New York’s practice of placing states on a quarantine list hits his bottom line.

“Most of the people buying stuff in my county, I’m sure with my colleagues as well, 85 percent are from outside of Orange County, outside of New York state,” says Neuhaus. “With the travel ban, it’s really crucified my economic engine, which is the Woodbury Commons, the biggest outdoor shopping outlets mall in the country.”

Bellone says without federal aid, everything discretionary in the budget will be subject to cuts — from public safety to health to transportation. Here’s Neuhaus:

“I am prepared to put my budget out next week. I know a lot of the counties in the state have pushed it off, and there’s arguments on either side,” Neuhaus says. “I have a good relationship with my legislature. I put a caveat to say, look, this is a living, breathing document. I’m giving you my budget, but I’m going to be giving you recommendations over the next few weeks as we hopefully get some indication from Albany what changes are coming and, more importantly, the federal stimulus that the three of us are advocating for.”

Neuhaus says he believes federal aid is on hold because of the upcoming election.

“If there wasn’t a presidential election in less than two months where you have the Republicans that want, I think, $250 billion and the Democrats want $750 billion, and we’re trying to find a happy medium in play, it does not help that we have a presidential election,” Neuhaus says.

In May, the Democratic-led House passed the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion coronavirus aid package with direct aid to state and local governments. But Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t put forth a package with significant direct aid for state and local governments.

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