Three Hudson Valley county executives joined New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney Thursday to urge Congress to deliver a coronavirus relief package that includes direct state and local funding. County leaders say they’re looking at steep revenue losses and layoffs unless the federal government throws them a lifeline.
Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus says some county spending has gone for personal protective equipment, or PPE.
“We spent a ton of money on PPE and other COVID-related expenses, millions of dollars. I mean, I’m talking, besides masks and gloves, I had to buy body bags. I had to buy coffins,” Neuhaus says. “I had to, when I couldn’t procure enough frozen, refrigerated trucks to store remains in, I had to procure some on our own.”
And he’s turning to the federal government for financial assistance. Though the House on Friday passed the Democrats’ so-called HEROES Act, which would provide an estimated $32 billion in funds for New York’s counties and municipalities over two years, the measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate. Democratic 18th District Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, who hosted the briefing, says four critical pieces of the package need to be passed in some form.
“My top priority is giving these guys the resources they need to get the job done. And that comes in several forms,” says Maloney. “First, there should be direct aid to each of the counties. Our proposal would provide, I believe, George, about $500 million to Westchester. It’s around $168 million to Dutchess, $165 million to Dutchess, I believe. Orange County would see $216 million.”
The House bill sends $55 million to Putnam County, and the Westchester piece is $544 million. Maloney says the three other critical pieces are money for the MTA, schools and the repeal of the $10,000 cap on state and local tax, or SALT, deductions. Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer says the pandemic is piling costs onto the county while cutting into revenues.
“Most of the services that county government provides are mandated services. It’s not our discretion to run a county jail. It’s not our discretion to run a public health department. We have to have these functions out there by law,” says Latimer. “And without the proper revenue, not only will we be laying off people to add to the economic problem, but we’ll be in violation of both federal and state requirements.”
His county’s $2.1 billion budget is taking a hit, and he predicts a shortfall of between $90 million and $160 million. Republican County Executive Marc Molinaro says Dutchess has spent several million dollars on PPE.
“We are looking at significant revenue loss,” says Molinaro. “In my county alone, between $50 million and $75 million of lost revenue, yet we will have increasing costs.”
“Direct aid to county governments isn’t just a good idea, and it isn’t only responding to an emergency, it’s necessary if this country wants to grapple and claw its way back onto its feet,” Molinaro says.
He says the HEROES Act is a necessary next step to help county and local governments.
“There would be not greater mistake than, as we start to restart the economy and see small businesses begin to open, than to have government like ours have to engage in massive layoffs. That in and of itself will cripple the economy yet again,” says Molinaro.
He says the county faces up to 200 layoffs in a worst-case scenario, including retirement incentives and the like. Dutchess, Orange and Westchester Counties are part of the Mid-Hudson Region with four other counties — Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan and Ulster. New York state has yet to approve the region for meeting all seven metrics for Phase 1 reopening, which frustrates Orange County’s Neuhaus.
“I personally think that Phase 1 should have started already in Orange County,” Neuhuas says.
Neuhaus believes there are double standards at work.
“I have massive construction work, housing construction, in some areas of my county dubbed affordable housing, but regular mom-and-pop contractors can’t work, roofing companies, you name it,” Neuhaus says. “That is not fair and, if other places can open safely, so can them. And, so I believe that at least Phase 1 should start now, whether that’s for all of Hudson Valley, partially, that’s where we get some frustration.”
Westchester County’s Latimer is concerned about neighboring Connecticut, which has partially reopened.
“We’re worried about the opening of Fairfield County because if anything is going to hurt us badly, it’s going to be being able to go outdoors and dine in Greenwich and Stamford and not being able to do it in White Plains and Rye and Port Chester,” Latimer says. “So as far as I’m concerned, I think as a region we’re there.”
Congressman Maloney believes the region is ready to enter Phase 1 responsibly.
“I want the region open and the sooner, the better,” Maloney says. “And I understand and appreciate the importance of the metrics being used at the state level, but we’re ready to go.”
As of Thursday, the state shows the Mid-Hudson Region having met five of seven benchmarks, ahead of Long Island and New York City.