Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone has invited multiple other county executives on his public Zoom calls to discuss the necessity of disaster assistance from the federal government, especially for New York communities. Last Friday, Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz joined his governmental colleague to further illustrate the economic concerns at the county and local levels due to the effects of shutting down the economy.
“And COVID-19 has only made the problems existing before the virus even worse, the challenges even greater. It is the counties that are at the forefront of those challenges. We are at the front lines there,” Bellone said, continuing on to highlight the still-existing impacts from the public health crisis. “We literally are talking about hollowing out or gutting the level of government that provides these services, that does these things that are critical to our health and to our safety.”
Considering the impacts to the region by the recent tropical storm, Suffolk County and nearby areas are facing additional economic stress.
“This storm that we just got hit with was really another punch in the gut to the community and to people who are already in crisis in many ways — small businesses that are struggling to survive,” Bellone said. “For me, it makes it all the more confounding that we have still not seen the disaster assistance from the federal government that is necessary to allow local governments [and] state governments to be able to grapple with storm events that we are seeing right now, to deal with all the ramifications that have been brought by this COVID-19 virus.”
Although Erie County was not hit by the storm, county executive Poloncarz did note that their region has its share of storms. He commended Bellone and Long Island officials for their handling of Tropical Storm Isaias.
“When it comes to natural disasters, you have had your share of them. I want to wish my best to all our friends on Long Island,” Poloncarz said via Zoom, continuing on to the topic of counties and local governments needing federal assistance. “We are getting back to our feet when it comes to our economies, but there is still so much that we have to deal with.”
He pointed out the looming eviction cliff, a housing concern that spans the country. Because evictions were put on hold during the shutdown, several individuals/families who were supposed to be evicted several months ago — as well as those who would have normally been evicted in later months due to the lack of income — will now be subject to a mass eviction once the action is once again permitted.
“We need help from the federal government,” Poloncarz said. “The CARES Act provided us enough money to respond initially, but it doesn’t allow us to address the huge deficit and revenue holes that exist in our budgets.”
Poloncarz explained that in Erie County — which is a larger county in the state, as is Suffolk County — is facing an eight-figure deficit for 2020 as well as 2021.
“This pandemic is going to be around for a while, and the economic impact is going to be around for a while,” he said. “Local governments are the front lines and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. County governments across the United States — but especially here in New York State, where we provide the department of health, where we provide the 911 call centers, where we provide law enforcement, where we provide so many services that have been necessary at this point including hospitals — need help.”
Lastly, Poloncarz plugged the HEROES Act passed by the House of Representatives. The legislation was proposed as a supplement to the funding provided from the CARES Act and significantly funds counties and local governments.
“[It] provides $187.5 billion for counties across the United States to address the holes that we have for revenue shortages as well as any additional costs that we have to deal with in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic. A perfect example of that is the housing cliff that is coming across the entire United States,” Poloncarz said. “We need our partners at the federal government to come up with a strong plan that addresses many issues, whether it is extension of the unemployment benefits [or] additional assistance for small businesses.”
If no federal aid is received at the county level, Poloncarz said that the county would be forced to either cut services or impose a significant tax increase. Most likely, the situation would call for both repercussions, he added.
“The last thing we can afford to do at this time when we have this great economic impact on our national economy and the need in our community is to cut services that the public needs, but at the same time ask them to pay more for the services that remain,” Poloncarz said. “That is why it is incumbent upon our leaders in the federal government to get a deal done that assists county governments.”