County Leaders Decry No Direct State And Local Aid In Latest COVID Relief Package | WAMC

County Leaders Decry No Direct State And Local Aid In Latest COVID Relief Package

Dec 21, 2020

Congress has reached a deal on a $900 billion coronavirus relief package. It does not contain direct aid for state and local governments. For the New York State Association of Counties and county executives in the state, that’s a problem.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer says New York will receive roughly $54 billion.

“There’s more to be done,” Schumer says. “This is not a stimulus; it’s an emergency survival bill, so today is a good day but it’s not the end of the story.”

Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is president of the New York State County Executives Association, an affiliate of the New York State Association of Counties, or NYSAC.

“When we needed a lifeline, they gave us a sucker punch,” Molinaro says. “And I’m hopeful that, come the New Year, there will be realization that this country will not, will not claw its way out of the economic condition nor will we overcome this crisis without supporting local government partners.”

Democrats in Congress say a bigger package with direct local aid would come in the New Year under the Biden Administration. Again, Molinaro:

“I can assure you we are not counting on anything if it demands universal acceptance in Washington,” says Molinaro. “That said, we are hopeful.”

Democratic Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan is also hopeful.

“I’m hopeful that there will be more, and I’m hopeful that the President-elect has said this is a down payment, which is encouraging, and that next round absolutely has to include direct support to state and local governments because we made it through this year with our budget and we were able to hold the line on taxes but, going into another year of this, that, next to impossible to do,” Ryan says.

Schumer, on a call Monday with reporters, says Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is responsible for obstructing direct aid.

“We have found some other ways to get the states and localities some money through education, transportation, vaccine distribution,” says Schumer.

Schumer says he is optimistic such aid would come under a Biden Administration, regardless of whether Democrats take the majority in the Senate.

“I think there’s a good chance even if we don’t get the majority, a better chance if we do, but I think Donald Trump was one of the barriers here. He was saying he didn’t want it,” Schumer says. “I think when Republican senators and congressman saw that his negativity on COVID aid in general helped Joe Biden win the election, without him there as president, I think we have a better chance to get Republicans to join us in getting state and local aid. Joe Biden has told me he’s going to make it a high priority and try to work on a bipartisan way to get something done, so I’m hopeful.”

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario says he’s disappointed the relief package lacks direct state and local aid, but says the New York congressional delegation did its part advocating for it.

“This is a natural disaster and, up to this point in time, when Florida has multi-billion dollar impact with hurricanes or Texas or Louisiana or Alabama, the United States stands up and sends aid to those states. In California, if it’s earthquakes or if it’s fires, these are natural disasters and there is aid that is sent to them accordingly. Every state had a natural disaster with COVID. It is the role of the federal government to support the emergency management operations for the states and the local governments,” Acquario says. “In this particular case, the counties of New York are responsible for executing the pandemic response at the local government level. We need resources. We’re not getting those resources.”

Molinaro says without direct aid:

“Well, I don’t know how they expect us to do our job,” says Molinaro. “County governments, local governments have been on the front line of responding to this pandemic, and as vaccine distribution gets under way, we play another critical role, all while providing the direct services that people expect from us.”

He gives an example of how local governments are affected.

“Snowstorm after snowstorm after snowstorm, with staff thin to begin with, some isolating because of potential contraction of the virus or those who test positive mean that wait times on snow removal is longer,” Molinaro says. “It means that the ability to clear up after a storm is a little bit longer, which threatens public safety.”

He says taking a bit longer to clear up after a storm was the case with the recent Nor’easter. Poughkeepsie had Highway Department personnel out with COVID and some county departments also were thin for the same reason. Ulster County’s Ryan says it is frustrating to have the calls for state and local aid go unanswered.

“I mean I think it is important to recognize that the bill provides some of what is really desperately needed relief to workers and families and small businesses. So that is good news, but it still falls far short,” Ryan says. “And especially I am disappointed that Congress failed to support state and local governments. We have been on the front lines of this running testing centers, planning vaccine distribution and about to execute vaccine distribution, running food delivery efforts and so much more, all while losing revenue due to the economic impacts of shutting things down.”

As part of the package, eligible individuals would receive stimulus checks of $600. Schumer wanted $1,200 per person.