Zeldin, local officials say more funding critical for local governments amid pandemic

As Congress resumed its session Monday following a six-week recess, a group of local officials is calling on representatives in Washington to provide funding to state and local governments coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Led by Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a group of Suffolk County supervisors, legislators and state lawmakers gathered for a press conference outside Town Hall in Smithtown Monday morning to issue an urgent plea for additional funding.

“Every Suffolk County township, including Riverhead, has experienced a budgetary shortfall due to COVID-19 pandemic,” said Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, noting that complying with pandemic-related mandates has taken a financial toll.

“We need our representatives in Washington to step in and provide critical funding to assist individual townships rebound from the economic strains we continue to experience.”

Mr. Zeldin issued a call for the same bipartisan spirit that enabled earlier aid packages to pass.

In an op-ed released Monday, he criticized House leader Nancy Pelosi for sending Congress home for six weeks rather than remaining in D.C. to negotiate the next coronavirus aid response package.

“Congress needs to put politics aside and do what is right for the American people with a new coronavirus response package that delivers aid directly to the people and communities needing it most,” he said.

“Supposed relief bills have been crafted without bipartisanship, debate, vetting, discussion or compromise and are filled to the brim with unpassable, irresponsible partisan proposals for the sole purpose of grandstanding,” Mr. Zeldin added.

Mr. Zeldin has sponsored bipartisan legislation along with Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-Rhinebeck) and senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand that would provide local governments with direct federal relief to pay for essential services and offset lost revenues.

Under the Direct Support for Communities Act, funding would be split 50/50 with half committed to cities, towns and villages and half directed to counties. It would be allocated across all counties based on population.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell did not attend Monday’s rally but urged support for the bill in Congress.

“As local governments struggle financially from the costs of our response, we are still firmly committed to providing the vital services everyone deserves. It is especially important during these difficult times that we stand resolute and united to defeat the pandemic,” Mr. Russell said in a statement. “[The bill] will provide the funding that our local governments need to continue our mission. These funds are essential to continue to support our first responders, our health care workers and our residents.”

Mr. Zeldin’s op-ed specifically pointed out that in New York, every level of government down to towns and villages had to react to the pandemic while keeping essential services — public transportation, utilities and health care facilities — operational.

“However, keeping these services running came at a massive cost, and with tax revenues drying up, state and local governments found themselves going further into the hole just to keep the lights on,” Mr. Zeldin said.

In addition to direct funding support, he called for flexibility to use it for future expenses but also to make up for the lost revenues.

“Just when we were on the right track, the pandemic hits,” said Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who attended the rally with Ms. Aguiar.

In her decade serving on the Town Board, Ms. Giglio said she’s worked with her colleagues toward a balanced budget. 

Now, the town is facing a $1 million budget shortfall due to a drop in revenue and increased expenses directly related to COVID-19.

Ms. Giglio, who is running for state Assembly in November, attributed the loss in revenue to stalled activity among the town’s building and planning departments and said the pandemic led to increased expenses, including doubling the number of Meals on Wheels deliveries provided to elderly residents throughout the pandemic.

In addition, the state has indicated it may cut 20% of school and local municipalities’ funding to make up for its own budgetary shortfalls this year.

Suffolk County received $257 million from the coronavirus CARES Act package, most of which has been spent on county payroll costs and other services.

“The towns feel they are entitled to their fair share of the money,” Ms. Giglio said, noting that Riverhead is asking to be reimbursed for lost revenue. “It’s really a small amount for the town of Riverhead but a much greater amount for the town of Islip, or Brookhaven, who has 600,000 residents and you still have to keep up the services.”

Last week, Mr. Zeldin announced an additional $7.3 million in federal coronavirus funding will be awarded to Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town.

Under the CARES Act, the Community Development Block Grant program was awarded supplemental funding that can be used to meet an array of needs in response to the pandemic, including providing food to low-income residents, the elderly and children, small business assistance, emergency housing payments and other uses.

Of the $7.3 million, Suffolk is slated to receive $2.7 million, while Brookhaven Town will receive $4.6 million.

“As one of the first communities hardest hit by coronavirus, Long Islanders immediately came together at every level of government to fight this outbreak and work to get us back to our way of life,” Mr. Zeldin said in a statement. “This additional federal funding is vital to continuing the incredible progress Long Island has made and helps ensure we have the resources to keep future outbreaks at bay.”

Since the outbreak began in March, more than $3 trillion in federal funding has been allocated to address the response to and economic fallout from COVID-19.

Earlier this month, the Senate narrowly rejected a trimmed-down version of a stimulus package unveiled by the GOP that did not include extra funding for state and local governments or a second round of stimulus checks for most Americans.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell reportedly expressed pessimism at the negotiations Friday, telling reporters, “I wish I could tell you we were going to get another package but it doesn’t look that good right now.”

In New York State, 583 additional cases of COVID-19 were reported Sunday out of 63,358 tests administered. Four additional COVID-19 related deaths were reported Sunday, according to numbers released by the state.