Suffolk County has a tough task in digging out of its enormous financial hole.
A group of independent and municipal financial experts completed their analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on the economy and presented it to County Executive Steve Bellone (D) last night.
Over the next two and a half years, the county is facing a shortfall that is anywhere from $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion, which is three times the budget deficit the county faced coming out of the financial crisis of the last decade.
“This is a budget crisis that is greater than this county has ever seen before,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters. “This report outlines it well. We have a long road ahead.”
Bellone is sending this report to the entire congressional delegation so they can understand the financial emergency created by the public health crisis.
“This is a crisis that’s beyond what a local government has the capacity to deal with on a local level,” Bellone said. “If ever there was a time that a local community needed their federal representatives to deliver for them, that moment is now.”
After residents did as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal government instructed, by staying at home, not going to work and limiting their activities over the last few months, Suffolk County residents need the federal government to say, “Yes, we have your back,” Bellone said.
The range of estimates for the shortfall comes from the uncertainty about how the virus will affect the county for the remainder of this year. On the lower end, which is still an enormous financial challenge, the economy remains open. In a second scenario, where a second wave of the virus hits in the fall, potentially concomitant with the appearance of the flu, the county needs to enact some economic restrictions.
In the third scenario, the spread of the virus is so problematic that it forces another lockdown, which would cause the shortfall to balloon to $1.5 billion.
No matter how the virus affects the county later this year, however, this has a “cataclysmic financial impact,” Bellone said. “This is not something we can get through alone. We need that support.”
The county executive said he plans to meet with employee unions, including those that represent police, nurses and emergency workers, to have some tough conversations.
These people are out there “trying to keep the public safe and to prevent a second wave,” Bellone said. “These are tough conversations only because these are extraordinarily difficult challenges.” It’s not something they should have to think about.”
Ultimately, Bellone said he believes the federal government will step up to the challenge created by the public health crisis and the economic damage it wrought.
“I’m confident our federal government will deliver and will do what needs to be done,” Bellone said.
As for the ongoing protests, including a demonstration in Shirley yesterday, Bellone remained appreciative of the peaceful and constitutionally protected way demonstrators expressed themselves.
When the demonstrators marched along William Floyd Parkway, the police “worked to deescalate a situation that could have grown worse,” Bellone said.
In the last day, the number of people who died from the virus was three, bringing the total to 1,909.
Those deaths, horrific as they are for each person who died and for the families and friends who lost a loved one, are the lowest they’ve been since March.
“If there’s anything positive today in being able to talk about those numbers” it’s that the death toll is lower than it’s been since the beginning of the crisis, Bellone said.
In the 24 hours ending on May 31, the number of residents hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped by six to 247. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds remained unchanged at 67.
People with COVID-19 accounted for 68 percent of bed use, while residents with COVID-19 accounted for 54 percent of ICU bed use, which are each below the target 70 percent figure that was necessary for Phase 1 of reopening.
The number of positive tests increased by 275 to 39,980. That number, however, includes 200 people who had not been reported earlier, which puts the number of new infections closer to the county’s daily tally, which has been tracking below 100.
The number of people who have tested positive for the virus on an antibody test has increased to 14,222.
As for supplies, the county distributed 22,000 pieces of personal protective equipment over the last day, raising that total above 5.8 million.