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While the fate of additional COVID-19 federal relief for state and local governments is still unknown, Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar says she wants to make sure town governments are provided direct assistance from Washington.

Aguiar yesterday asked Rep. Lee Zeldin to make sure any second round of COVID-19 aid provides direct assistance to town governments. Suffolk County, although it “got a fair share” of funding through the CARES Act signed into law by President Trump in March, did not distribute any of that funding to the local municipalities, Aguiar told Zeldin during a virtual “Coffee with the Congressman” event he hosted.

Riverhead Town is already struggling due to the COVID pandemic, Aguiar said. It expecting reductions in state aid even as it faces cost increases beyond the town’s control, such as pension fund contributions, Aguiar told Zeldin during a virtual “Coffee with the Congressman” meeting he hosted yesterday morning.

CARES Act funding, which was available to municipalities with a population of 500,000 or more, was not to be used to plug budget gaps caused by loss of revenues such as sales taxes, according to guidance issued by the U.S. Treasury Department. CARES Act funding was to used for expenses directly related to virus response, according to the guidance.

“Nassau also received a substantial amount of money,” Aguiar said. “Nassau provided funding from that CARES Act funding they distributed to the local municipalities, their towns. However, and unfortunately, and we don’t know why, Suffolk County has not distributed the funding,” Aguiar said.

A Nassau County spokesperson said this morning Nassau did not distribute CARES Act funds to towns and villages. “We helped with PPE,” said Nassau’s deputy communications director Michael Fricchione, but there was no distribution of funds from the county to any towns or villages.

Actually, Nassau County is currently seeking CARES Act money from one of its towns. The Town of Hempstead was the only town in the nation large enough to get CARES Act funding directly from the federal government — and it received more money than Nassau County got. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran recently wrote to Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin requesting $49.5 million to cover county police costs for “aiding residents” in Hempstead during the pandemic, according to a report in Newsday.

County governments have generally been the local government entities handling the coronavirus pandemic response effort, spearheaded by the Suffolk County Department of Health & Public Health Nurses, which handle testing and contact tracing, Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, which provided personal protective equipment, and other county agencies.

“The initial CARES Act funding allocated to Suffolk County in April has been fully exhausted towards public safety and public health response efforts as defined in the Treasury Department’s guidelines,” Suffolk County spokesperson Derek Poppe said yesterday.

Though the funding has been exhausted, Suffolk County continues to incur costs every day resulting from the pandemic, Poppe said.

“It is clear that this initial round of disaster assistance funds did not come close to mitigating the cost of responding to COVID-19,” Poppe said. “We wholeheartedly agree with our partners in town government and join them in calling on the federal government to deliver additional federal disaster assistance without any further delay, including funds for local municipalities,” Poppe said.

While the House of Representatives in May passed a $3 trillion stimulus package — intended to supplement a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill signed into law in March — a second coronavirus relief package has stalled in the Senate.

Zeldin, like every House Republican except Rep. Peter King of Seaford, voted against the the second stimulus bill in May, over disagreement with provisions unrelated to the pandemic response. He said yesterday he strongly supports additional aid to state and local governments. The administration is negotiating with Congress over the terms of a new relief bill, Zeldin said. “The White House’s position is currently $150 billion,” he said. Congressional Democrats, he said. Still want $900 billion.

“We need to be responsible stewards of tax dollars in Washington in reaching a deal that is sound policy in helping the towns, cities, villages, counties and states get through this outbreak,” Zeldin said. “So I do support additional funding and I want us to be responsible in how we do it.”

Zeldin said the next round of funding should provide money to not only to offset COVID-19 related expenses but also some of the COVID-19 related losses.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone wrote to the President Saturday urging him to convince Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to support federal disaster assistance for state and local governments without any further delay.

“To put it simply: COVID-19 has decimated the finances of local government. A lack of federal disaster assistance will inevitably result in devastating cuts to vital police, fire and health services,” Bellone wrote.

“Respectfully, we are out of time,” Bellone said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.