Government

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By Nancy Marr

The United States is an outlier in family care policies. It is one of the few wealthy democracies without national provision of paid parental and sick leave. New York has established a better record at protecting working families, from the women’s Equality Agenda to the landmark paid family leave law, to this year’s statewide paid sick time law. During the pandemic, workers who need to care for themselves or a sick loved one have been protected by the family leave and sick time laws. But there is more to be done.

Child care providers across the state have closed, leaving the child care workers without jobs and asking parents to stay home to care for their children. With schools largely virtual, parents have had to use family leave time or leave their jobs to stay home with the children. Women were twice as likely as men to report leaving work due to caregiving duties; a large percentage were low-wage workers, many of whom faced discrimination or might not be eligible for family leave payments. (To be eligible they had to have worked 40 hours a week for at least 26 weeks, or 175 days for the same employer if they were part-time workers.)  

Ending this care crisis is a crucial step toward gender equality and racial justice. Workers who are themselves experiencing COVID-19 deserve the same rights. Under the Disability Benefits Law, employees are eligible for benefits of 50 percent of their average week wage but no more than the maximum benefit of $170 per week for a period of 26 weeks. The benefits cap, raised last in 1989, must be raised. 

The paid family leave act, which will reach full phase-in in 2021, must be updated to remove exceptions and ensure coverage for all private and public sector employees, including part-time domestic workers. Workers who move between jobs or face unemployment should be covered, and we should expand the definition of family to include all those whom workers consider family.  

The New York Human Rights Law should be updated to expand the prohibition on familial status discrimination to encompass all forms of caregiver discrimination. It must ensure that domestic workers, who are predominantly women of color and immigrants, can benefit from all of the law’s protections, and we should fully fund the Division of Human Rights to ensure robust enforcement.

In 2021, the New York State Department of Labor must enact strong regulations for the paid sick time rights. There needs to be outreach and education to ensure all workers know and can use their rights.

New York must also lead the way to insure that workers have meaningful access to alternative work arrangements, including telecommuting and part-time work. Workers, especially in low-wage industries, should know in advance what their schedules will be, and have a say in planning them. Worker-protective legislation on misclassification and fair pay for all New Yorkers is also needed.  

The financing of long-term services and supports for older Americans and people with disabilities has come chiefly from Medicaid and private long-term care insurance, neither of which are available to the average middle class person. 

Direct care services for the elderly or disabled, either in nursing homes or at home, are among the fastest growing jobs in the economy, but, like child care, have low pay and few protections. Women of color are the most likely to be in this cohort, and are the most likely to leave their jobs to perform uncompensated care at home. Home care, whether by an outsider or a family member, should be paid for and protected.

Funding for family leave and disability pay comes from payroll deductions from employees and employer contributions through insurances held by employers. We need to find ways to assist employers of domestic and part-time workers to comply with regulations or seek help from the Department of Labor in order to guarantee the eligibility of their workers for benefits. More information can be found at https://www.abetterbalance.org/.

Contact New York State Governor Cuomo (www.governor.ny.gov), NYS Senate Majority Leader and Temporary President Andrea Stewart-Cousins ([email protected]) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie ([email protected]) to let them know you care about worker and family rights.  

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

By John L. Turner

Situated a mile east of Orient Point, the eastern tip of the North Fork and separated from it by Plum Gut, lies Plum Island, an 822-acre pork-chop shaped island that is owned by you and me (being the federal taxpayers that we are). 

The island’s most well-known feature is the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC), situated in the northwestern corner of the property, but Plum Island is so much more. On the western edge lays the Plum Island lighthouse which was built in 1869 to warn mariners of the treacherous currents of Plum Gut. On the east there’s the brooding presence of Fort Terry, a relict of the Spanish-American War, with scattered evidence in the form of barracks, gun batteries, and the tiny tracks of a toy gauge railroad once used to move cannon shells from storage to those concrete batteries. (The cannons never fired except during drills).

And there’s the stuff that excites naturalists:

■ The largest seal haul-out site in southern New England located at the eastern tip of the island where throngs of harbor and grey seals swim along the rocky coastline or bask, like fat sausages, on the off-shore rocks that punctuate the surface of the water.

■ The more than 225 different bird species, one-quarter of all the species found in North America, that breed here (like the bank swallows that excavate burrows in the bluff face on the south side of the island), or pass through on their seasonal migratory journeys, or overwinter.

■ Dozens of rare plants, like ladies’-tresses orchids, blackjack oak, and scotch lovage that flourish in the forests, thickets, meadows, and shorelines of Plum Island.

■ A large freshwater pond in the southwestern section of the island that adds visual delight and biological diversity to the island. 

■ And, of course, the ubiquitous beach plums that gave the island its name!

For the past decade a struggle has ensued to make right what many individuals, organizations of all sorts (including the more than 120-member Preserve Plum Island Coalition), and many public officials consider a significant wrong — Congress’s order to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder, forever losing it as a public space. 

This ill-conceived path of auctioning the island was set in motion by a half-page paragraph buried in a several thousand- page bill to fund government agencies in 2009. Fortunately, this struggle has been won — the wrong has been righted — as language included in the recently adopted 2021 budget bill for the federal government, repeals the requirement that the General Services Administration sell the island. 

Thank you to Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Senators Christopher Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and members of Congress Lee Zeldin,Tom Suozzi, Rosa DeLauro and Joe Courtney!

Thanks is also due to New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright who sponsored legislation that was signed into law creating a Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle area in the waters surrounding Plum Island.

While this victory is a vital and necessary step to ultimately protect Plum Island, it is a temporary and incomplete one since the island can still be sold to a private party through the normal federal land disposition process if no government agency at the federal, state, or local level steps up to take title to the island. 

The Coalition’s next task, then, is to ensure that a federal agency such as the National Park Service (National Monument?), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (National Wildlife Refuge?) or the state of New York (New York State Park Preserve?) expresses a willingness to accept stewardship of this magnificent island, since they get first dibs to the island if they want it. A key enticement toward this end is the $18.9 million commitment in the budget to clean up the few contaminated spots on the island.

Why the sale in the first place? Since 1956 PIADC has been conducting top level research on highly communicable animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease. To this end, several years ago staff developed a vaccine for this highly contagious disease that holds great promise in controlling the disease globally.

Despite this successful research, Congress determined the facility was obsolete and should be replaced, approving the construction of a new state-of-the-art facility, known as the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), to be located on the campus of Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. NBAF is complete and will soon be fully operational so as a result PIADC is no longer needed; PIADC is expected to transfer all operations to Kansas and close for good in 2023.

Plum Island is a rare place — a remarkable asset that holds the promise of enriching Long Islanders’ lives —your family’s lives, if we can keep it in public ownership. The Preserve Plum Island Coalition, with the input from hundreds of Long Islanders, has painted a vision for the island … so, imagine throwing binoculars, a camera, and a packed lunch enough for you and your family into your backpack and participating in this realized vision by:

— Taking a ferry across to the island, debarking to orient your island adventure by visiting a museum interpreting the cultural and natural riches and fascinating history of the island before you wander, for countless hours, to experience the wild wonders of the island. A most worthwhile stop is the island’s eastern tip where, through a wildlife blind, you enjoy watching dozens of bobbing grey and harbor seals dotting the water amidst the many partially submerged boulders.

— Standing on the edge of the large, tree-edged pond, watching basking turtles and birds and dragonflies flitting over the surface.

-Birdwatching on the wooded trails and bluff tops to view songbirds, shorebirds, ospreys and other birds-of-prey, swallows, sea ducks and so many other species. Perhaps you’ll see a peregrine falcon zipping by during fall migration, sending flocks of shorebirds scurrying away as fast as their streamlined wings can take them.

— Strolling along the island’s eight miles of undisturbed coastline, with the beauty of eastern Long Island before you, offering distant views of Great Gull, Little Gull and Gardiner’s Islands, Montauk Point, and the Connecticut and Rhode Island coastlines.

— Lodging at the Plum Island lighthouse, converted into a Bed & Breakfast and enjoying a glass of wine as the sun sets over Plum Gut and Orient Point.

— Learning about the role Fort Terry played in protecting the United States and the port of New York as your explore the many parts of the fort — the barracks where soldiers stayed, the gun batteries that once housed the cannons angled skyward to repel a foreign attack.

— At the end of day, if you don’t stay over, taking the ferry back to the mainland of the North Fork, tired after many miles of hiking in the salt air of the East End stopping at a North Fork restaurant to share a chat among friends and family about what you’ve learned relating to this fascinating place.

This legislation has given Plum Island (based on the above perhaps we should call it Treasure Island!) a second chance and an opportunity for us to achieve this vision. But this law is only the first step. We need to take the vital second step of new ownership and management in the public interest if all of the above adventures are to become realities. We collectively need to tell those elected officials who represent us, and who can make a difference in determining the island’s fate, that we want Plum Island protected in perpetuity and the opportunity for its many wonders to become interwoven into the fabric of life on Long Island. 

Go to www.preserveplumisland.org to learn more about the Coalition, receive updates, and what you can do to help.

John Turner is the spokesperson for the Preserve Plum Island Coalition.

Kara Hahn takes the oath of office as deputy presiding officer administered by County Clerk Judy Pascale on Jan. 4. Photos from Suffolk County Legislators

The Suffolk County Legislature has officially started its new session, with new lawmakers sworn in this week for the body’s 52nd organizational meeting Jan. 4. 

Legislator Nicholas Caracappa (R-Selden) took his ceremonial oath of office as a new lawmaker, while Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) and Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) were reelected to their leadership posts.

Calarco, legislator for the 7th District, was reelected to lead the body for a second year as presiding officer in a bipartisan vote, and Hahn, who represents the 5th District, was reelected deputy presiding officer, also in a bipartisan vote. 

Rob Calarco takes the oath of office as presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature. Photo from Suffolk County Legislature

“Important projects await us in the coming year, and we will confront the challenges of 2021 the same way we did in 2020 —in a bipartisan fashion with a shared commitment to cooperation and finding common ground,” Calarco said in a statement. 

In his remarks, he reflected on the challenges of 2020 and pointed to legislative progress on diversity and inclusion, open space and farmland preservation, and updates to the county’s wastewater code. 

In 2021, Calarco looks forward to building out sewers in Patchogue, the Mastic Peninsula, Deer Park, Smithtown and Kings Park, which will help protect Suffolk County’s water and provide an economic boost to downtowns. Additionally, he said the Legislature will soon be presented with a plan to reinvent policing in Suffolk, as required by an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

“The men and women of our law enforcement agencies work hard every day to do their jobs professionally and with a commitment to protecting all the residents of Suffolk County, yet we also know whole portions of our population fear the presence of police in their community, making officers’ jobs far more difficult,” he said. “We must put politics aside to ensure the plan addresses the root of those fears, and builds on the initiatives already underway to establish trust and confidence between our police and the communities they protect.”

Hahn intends to continue focusing on the global pandemic that has hit close to home.

“Looking ahead, 2021 will once again be a tough year, but with a vaccine there is now a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said in a statement. “We will focus our efforts on halting the spread of COVID-19, helping those in need, conquering our financial challenges and getting through this pandemic with as little heartache and pain as possible. There is hope on the horizon, and I know we will come back stronger than ever.”

After winning a special election in November, Caracappa will now represent the 4th District, filling the seat left by Republican Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) who passed suddenly in September. 

Nicholas Caracappa is sworn in as new legislator for Suffolk County’s 4th District. Photo from Suffolk County Legislature

A lifelong resident of Selden, Caracappa was a 34-year employee of the Suffolk County Water Authority. He was president of the Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, Local-393 for 14 years and previously served as a member of the union’s national executive board. 

He also served as a Middle Country school district board of education trustee for seven years and volunteered at Ground Zero. He said his goal is to keep his district’s quality of life at the forefront. 

“I am committed to the quality of life issues that make this community a great place for families to live, work and enjoy recreation,” he said in a statement. “My focus will be to eliminate wasteful spending, support our law enforcement, first responders and frontline health care workers, and protect our senior citizens, veterans and youth services.”

He added that he wants to continue enhancing Long Island’s environmental protection initiatives including critical water-quality measures and expanding the existing sewer studies in his district’s downtown regions. 

The Legislature’s Hauppauge auditorium is named after his late mother, Rose Caracappa.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) was sworn in last year. Representing the 6th District, she said she looks forward to continuing and expanding on the important work she’s been doing for the community. Specifically, for 2021, her top priority is working with the health department, along with federal, state and local governments to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anker said she wants to prioritize public safety and plans to continue to work with the county’s Department of Public Works and the state’s Department of Transportation to monitor and create safer roads. 

As the chair of the county’s Health Committee and chair of the Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel, she also plans to continue to collaborate with panel members to monitor the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the opioid epidemic on Long Island.

“Together we have worked to protect the integrity of this great community by addressing issues and improving our quality of life,” Anker said. “This year, I will continue to be proactive in dealing with this current pandemic and prioritize issues including stabilizing county finances, fighting crime and the drug epidemic, addressing traffic safety and working to preserve what’s left of our precious open space.”

Supervisor Chad A. Lupinacci in front of the blue lights at Huntington Town Hall 

Supervisor Chad A. Lupinacci lit Huntington Town Hall in blue on January 5 in coordination with The Safe Center LI to bring awareness to National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. 

“Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery and it is an issue that is closer to home than most people are aware of,” said Supervisor Chad A. Lupinacci. “More than 120 human trafficking survivors on Long Island have been rescued over the past ten years, and we need to be aware of the signs and tactics used by these criminals.” 

The blue lights were installed, ahead of Human Trafficking Awareness Day, January 11, and before the free Virtual Long Island Human Trafficking Conference being hosted by The Safe Center LI on Thursday, January 21. 

“Human Trafficking is an issue that is actively going on in our own backyards.  The first step in eradicating this issue is to gain knowledge on how to recognize the signs of trafficking. The Safe Center applauds the efforts of the Town of Huntington for taking a stance against Human Trafficking. We look forward to partnering with the Town of Huntington to host upcoming virtual awareness events on how to recognize trafficking,” said Keith Scott, Director of Education, The Safe Center LI. 

More information and registration for the free Virtual Long Island Human Trafficking Conference can be found at http://tscli.org/. 

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Human trafficking is a crime in which force, fraud or coercion is used to compel a person to perform labor, services or commercial sex. It affects all populations: adults, children, men, women, foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, and all economic classes. The Defense Department continues to raise awareness and do its part to end this crime.

The Safe Center is a nonprofit organization located in Bethpage that provides free, confidential, and comprehensive services for victims of abuse and assault and their non-offending family members – children, women, men, elderly, LGBTQIA+. Its Education Department presents educational trainings and programs in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties on topics of abuse and neglect for children, teens, college-aged students, parents, professionals, and other concerned adults. 

Photo from Town of Huntington

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Three Village Civic Association president and school district board trustee Jonathan Kornreich announced he is running for Brookhaven Town Council in a special election in March. Photo from candidate

One of the names on the ballot for a special election in Brookhaven March 23 is a familiar one to many Three Village residents.

Kornreich, left, with former Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and town Supervisor Ed Romaine at a 2017 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

With the Town of Brookhaven Council District 1 seat vacant, after Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) won her run as a judge for the Supreme Court of the State of New York, the town called for a special election. While the Republican candidate has not yet been officially named, Jonathan Kornreich has been announced as the Democrat in the race. Kornreich has been a Three Village Central School District trustee for more than a dozen years and is president of the Three Village Civic Association.

When he first heard Cartright was vacating the seat, he said he didn’t even think of running.

“A few people contacted me, and they were like, ‘What are you doing?’ Kornreich said. “So, I agreed to think it over.”

He added the argument many made to him was that it would allow him to continue doing the work he has been doing through the years, but more effectively. Although he had considered a run for the seat in the past, it had been many years since he had considered entering politics.

“I just have been focused on doing the work,” he said.

Kornreich said he feels his experience as both a board of education trustee and a civic president will be an asset to the position as he regularly interacts with residents and listens to their concerns.

“Over the years, having been a civic president for so many years and being involved in the community as a school board member, I’ve just learned how to serve the public, and how to listen, so it’s not going to be a hard adjustment for me,” he said. “I’m used to hearing from people.”

The 51-year-old, who lives in Stony Brook with his wife, Linda, and his two daughters, first became involved with school boards when his children attended the North Shore Montessori School in Stony Brook.

“It was important for me to be involved in their education so I got very active in their school, and eventually I joined the board of the Montessori school,” he said. “Soon after that I became the president of that board, and that’s where I really got my start in civic involvement.”

When his children left to attend school in the Three Village district, Kornreich said he decided to run for its school board in 2008. While he will take a leave of absence from his role in the Three Village Civic Association, he plans to continue with the school board.

A lifetime Long Islander, he grew up in Hauppauge and graduated from the local high school in 1987. He went on to study at SUNY Albany where he majored in English and minored in philosophy. After graduating from college, he developed an entrepreneurial spirit and started up a pool business that he ran for 20 years before selling it. He then transitioned into construction and real estate. Through the years, in addition to the pool business, he has started a computer company, an importing company and has invested in a restaurant in Thailand and a farm in Cambodia.

Kornreich said during his years of community involvement he has worked with Cartright regularly.

“What I admire was her ability to bring stakeholders together, and just make sure that everyone was heard,” Kornreich said. “Even if she didn’t agree with them, she always made sure that everyone felt heard.”

He added he never wants constituents to be frustrated with their representation, and he feels it’s important for all residents to be given the opportunity to be heard as Cartright did.

“I think that a lot of the issues that we face in the town, there’s no Republican or Democrat way to conduct town business. And I think that a lot of those national issues don’t really come into play — they don’t apply.”

— Jonathan Kornreich

“It’s time consuming and it can be difficult, but you have to go slowly and give people a chance to weigh in on things,” he said.

Kornreich said it’s important to continue the work that Cartright started including making sure the ideas gathered from area residents a few years ago for the Route 25A Three Village Area Visioning Report are implemented, and a similar study for redeveloping Upper Port Jefferson is continued. He said planning is important for the future of the district, especially regarding keeping each area’s personality.

“To maintain that sense of place is a result of planning,” he said. “In the Three Village area, for example, the 25A area is clearly in need of redevelopment. It’s not all that it could be, and I think it doesn’t have the kind of amenities that people in this community expect.”

He gave the example of the East Setauket Pond Park area, which once was a traditional waterfront where residents could see boats.

“But now it’s all overgrown with weeds, and in that park, you can’t really see out,” he said. “There’s buildings there that are vacant and have been vacant for years, and that’s an area that really needs to be redeveloped. And, I don’t mean to build buildings, I mean that’s a good place for public spaces, for parks, for preservation.”

He said Upper Port, with access to Route 347 and having a Long Island Rail Road station, is an example of where a vibrant, walkable downtown area can be developed.

“That’s a place where it’s OK to build buildings and have a nice walkable downtown area with affordable housing,” he said. “A place where young people can live and seniors, and have shops and that feeling of being in a place. There’s a lot of opportunities for that in the Upper Port Jefferson Station area.”

If elected, Kornreich — as with Cartright — will be the only Democrat on the Town Board, but he said with his work with the civic and school district, he has worked with elected officials from different parties.

“I think that a lot of the issues that we face in the town, there’s no Republican or Democrat way to conduct town business,” he said. “And I think that a lot of those national issues don’t really come into play — they don’t apply.”

He said he’s worked frequently with town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), and he admires Romaine’s respect for the environment.

“From what I’ve seen of the other people on the Town Council, their hearts are in the right place,” the candidate said.

In addition to working with those on the town level through the years, Kornreich has worked with elected officials on the county, state and federal levels, and said he has a good working relationship with many of them. He said when residents come into an elected official’s office, many don’t know if the issue falls under town, county or state jurisdiction.

“They don’t need to, because as an elected official, if someone has a problem with their road or with this or that, they don’t care,” Kornreich said. … “They want to know: ‘Who do I talk to, how do I get this problem fixed?’ … So, having those relationships — I just want to be able to help people solve problems.”

K9 Agar

The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office recently welcomed two new canines to its Deputy Sheriff K9 Unit. K9 Agar and K9 Reis began their service with the Sheriff’s Office in the fall of 2020.

The Sheriff’s Office has a total of six canine teams; three for the police division and three for the correction division. The mission of these New York State certified canine teams is to support the daily operations of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office as well as other law enforcement agencies upon request.

The Sheriff’s Office Police Division canines are bred in Europe before being purchased by a third-party vendor and flown to the United States. The police dogs may receive some preliminary protection dog training in Europe but receive their police-specific training in the United States with our trainers.

K9 Reis

Both the dogs and their handlers spend 6 to 10 weeks in Columbus, Ohio for their basic certifications. K9 Agar and K9 Reis are certified in scent detection, narcotics detection, criminal apprehension, and handler protection. The canine teams are ready to serve the people of Suffolk County upon their return from Ohio and will conduct weekly in-service training for the length of their service to maintain New York State standards.

Sheriff’s Office canines have an average service length of about eight years. Considering that they are usually 1 to 2 years of age when entering service, they retire around the age of 9 or 10. Once canines are retired, they live out the remainder of their lives at home with their handlers and family.

K9 Agar is a 22-month-old sable colored German Shepherd from the Netherlands. K9 Agar is handled by Deputy Sheriff Kevin Tracy, a four-time experienced canine handler. Agar is a high drive, soft tempered dog with a sharp focus for his work.

K9 Reis is a 19-month-old dark brindle colored Dutch Shepherd also from the Netherlands. K9 Reis is handled by Deputy Sheriff Jason Korte, a second-time canine handler. Reis is named for Fallen Correction Officer Andrew P. Reister. Reis is a high drive, strong willed dog that exhibits a uniquely high level of courage.

Sheriff Errol Toulon was pleased to welcome these new canines. “The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office is proud to have these highly trained K9 Teams join our ranks. These dogs will work tirelessly to help fight crime, detect drugs, and keep Suffolk County safe,” he said in a statement.

For more information on Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, visit www.SuffolkSheriff.com.

METRO photo

Scammers are using a variety of methods tied to COVID-19 economic impact payments to target consumers

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) is alerting consumers on Jan. 6 about scammers taking advantage of COVID-19 economic stimulus payments. With another round of economic stimulus payments approved by Congress, scammers will be sending phishing emails, texts and phone calls and using social media to try to steal economic impact payments and your personal information. Consumers are reminded that it’s important to stay vigilant and aware of unsolicited communications asking for your personal or private information.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers have been hard at work trying to steal money from unsuspecting New Yorkers,” said Secretary of State Rossana Rosado. “With this latest round of stimulus funding on its way, I urge all New Yorkers to be extra diligent and follow simple steps to keep your money and personal identity safe.”

New York State Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Michael Schmidt said, “We all must remain especially vigilant against scam artists trying to steal this latest round of stimulus funding from New Yorkers. We’re sharing valuable information so you can learn how to spot red flags and where to find reliable information so you won’t be caught off guard by con artists.”

New York State Office of Information Technology Services Chief Information Officer Angelo “Tony” Riddick said, “New Yorkers are being challenged like never before by a global pandemic, and to make matters worse, we’ve seen unscrupulous individuals use technology in a desperate and dishonest attempt to scam them out of their own money. Fortunately, New Yorkers can protect themselves against these COVID-related scams if they are armed with the right information. Always be wary of unsolicited phone calls, texts, emails, links or attachments, even if the sender appears to be known. And, never send your personal information via email or text.”

What You Need to Know about Economic Impact Payments
On December 27, 2020, the federal government passed a pandemic relief package. An important component of individual relief, Economic Impact Payments, will be issued to New Yorkers from the IRS.

You don’t need to take any action to automatically receive your stimulus payment if you:

  • filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return and are eligible; or
  • received one of these benefits (unless claiming a qualifying child under age 17):
      • – Social Security retirement benefits and survivor benefits
      • – Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and survivor benefits
      • – Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits
      • – Railroad Retirement and survivor benefits
      – Veterans Administration compensation (disability, death benefits etc.) or retirement benefits

While most people will receive their payment automatically, if you otherwise have not filed taxes recently, you may need to submit a simple Federal tax return to get your check. For more information on the Economic Impact Payments, New Yorkers should visit the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance at Economic Impact Payment information: what you need to know or the IRS at Economic Impact Payments.

Below are tips to help keep your economic impact payment and personal information safe from scammers:

  • Rely on trusted sites for information. Visit legitimate, government websites—for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19. Visit the IRS website directly for the latest information on the economic impact payments. Remember, the government will never call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number.
  • Delete emails asking you for personal information to receive an economic stimulus check. Government agencies are not sending unsolicited emails seeking your private information in order to send you money.
  • Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and be wary of email attachments. See Using Caution with Email Attachments and Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Scams for more information.
  • Don’t provide personal or banking information. Scammers may ask by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information saying that the information is needed to receive or speed up your economic impact payment.
  • Do not agree to sign over your economic impact payment check. Scammers may ask you to sign over your stimulus payment check to them.
  • Be wary of bogus checks. Scammers may mail you a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.
  • Do not cash unsolicited checks. Scammers use this tactic to get your bank account information, and you will incur fees when the check is found to be insufficient.
  • Be aware that scammers are also able to replicate a government agency’s name and phone number on caller ID. It’s important to remember that the IRS will never ask you for your personal information or threaten your benefits by phone call, email, text or social media.
  • Hang up on illegal robocallers. If you receive a call about economic impact payment scams, hang up. Don’t press any numbers. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
  • Notify the IRS if you are contacted by a potential scammer. If you receive an unsolicited email, text or social media attempt that appears to be from the IRS or an organization associated with the IRS, like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, notify the IRS at [email protected].
  • Verify a charity’s authenticity before making donations. Review the Federal Trade Commission’s page on Charity Scams for more information.
  • Review CISA Insights on Risk Management for COVID-19 for more information.

With assistance from ITS, the Department of Health continues to maintain up-to-date “Stay Cyber Safe” tips and active warnings at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/stay-cyber-safe.

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection serves to educate, assist and empower the State’s consumers. For more consumer protection information, call the DCP Helpline at 800-697-1220, Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm or visit the DCP website at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.

-Information provided by the New York State Division of Consumer Protection

File photo

On a call with reporters Jan. 6, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) said he was in the chambers of the Capitol when it was breached by Trump supporters who stormed the building. He said he and others were ushered to a safe place.

The congressman said he was more saddened than scared by the siege.

Suozzi said there was a Republican congress member objecting to the certification of the electoral results, when the representatives were notified the building had been breached. They were told to reach under their chairs and get the gas masks that were under them. According to the congressman, tear gas at the point already had been used in areas of the building.

“And then there started to be some people banging at the doors,” he said. “Capitol Police drew their weapons.”

Suozzi added that something broke through the main door, and he heard a popping noise.

He said he was up in the gallery with other members of Congress. At one point, there were concerns they couldn’t exit and 30 were still remaining, waiting to see if protesters would break through the doors. After determining what door to use to leave, they finally were able to exit the chambers.

He said when he left the room, there were several protesters on the floor surrounded by Capitol Police.

“I feel very strongly that we have to get back to the chambers, and we have to certify this election,” he said. “And we have to deem Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, President, Vice President, of the United States of America.

Suozzi said he disagreed with his colleagues who are objecting.

“But it was a debate on the floor and that’s what we do in our country — we debate,” he said. “Outside there were protests and protests are okay, too, but not violent protests and this violence that we’re seeing is completely unacceptable.”

He said the president and others fomented the protests.

“This is completely lawless, irresponsible,” Suozzi said. “We must get back to the chambers, and we must certify this election as fast as possible, and show the country and the world that our democracy will continue to thrive and survive and thrive. Even in the midst of this lawlessness, we can always rely on our values, and we have to stick with our values.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) released a statement denouncing the protesters’ actions.

“This should never be the scene at the US Capitol,” Zeldin said in the statement. “This is not the America we all love. We can debate and we can disagree, even on a Jan. 6 following a presidential election. We can all passionately love our country, but in our republic we elect people to represent us to voice our objections in the House and Senate on this day. Additionally, there must be zero tolerance for violence in any form! It is very important now for everyone to please cooperate with Capitol Police who need to gain control of this situation immediately.”

The Town of Brookhaven and Suffolk County Sheriff Department honored frontline workers, including the town’s Health and Human Services Department and its contracted food workers from Florian Foods. Photo from TOB

It would be impossible to commemorate every government worker in a single article, but the massive number of people busting their back in the midst of the pandemic helped an immeasurable number of residents when the worst was underway, whether they were custodial staff cleaning buildings for people to work in, or post office workers delivering mail, there are innumerable people the community owes their thanks to. 

In this case, it was a collective of government workers from the federal government on down whose job it was to keep those of us in pandemic hot zones up to date. For that, local municipalities depended on small communication offices to relay the most up-to-date and accurate information to both government and citizens, while residents were aided by public safety and food programs for homebound seniors. 

Communications

In any battle or crisis, those on the ground will tell you what helps most is having the latest information possible.

Lisa Santeramo, assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs under Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), was at the lead in getting the information from New York State on down to the local governments on Long Island. Her office included Theresa Santoro, a Miller Place native who was in charge of reaching out to Suffolk, and Andrew Mulvey, who was in charge of Nassau.

Lisa Santeramo, assistant secretary for the state intergovernmental affairs office, worked alongside Theresa Santoro and Andrew Mulvey to get up-to-date info about the pandemic out to local municipalities. Photo from Santeramo

Santeramo was just coming back from maternity leave at the end of March but suddenly, as infections grew and places started to shut down, the small intergovernmental office was a focal point for every county, town, village, as well as the dozens of civic and chamber of commerce organizations for learning about new regulations, protocols, closings and reopenings. For months, Santeramo said her office was performing multiple daily calls with different groups from town supervisors to village leadership. They were also sending out constant email updates to inform what changes were happening, even during the middle of the day.

“On Long Island, we have these nuances we have to work through, such as all the different layers of government,” she said. “I joked with electeds that we were spamming their inboxes, but more information is better.”

It was a constant rush of sending information up and down the chain of government. Down the line was Nicole Amendola, the director of intergovernmental affairs for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Amendola rose through the ranks to become director in April, and where she and others in the executive’s office worked long hours to supply local government with the latest information.

Amendola, who reiterated it was a team effort, said that along with her communication work, she was also on the side of making sure different bodies such as fire departments or hospitals were getting the PPE or resources they needed.

“Things were changing so rapidly, not even from the state but even from the federal level, so we had to make sure that we were able to communicate properly and efficiently to all levels of government,” she said. “The work, definitely, was very, very top heavy in terms of hours in the beginning of everything because there was just so much we didn’t know and understand, and things were literally constantly changing.”

Once new regulations and lockdowns were underway, any new information coming in from the governor’s office was immediately poured through. Both state and county offices watched every one of the governor’s daily press conferences to make sure they could get that info to local government. 

Even with such things as trick-or-treating for Halloween, Amendola said they made it their jobs to let people know what was permitted and what was not. When people complained about what was or wasn’t allowed to open and which businesses were included in which reopening phases, their office also sent those complaints back up the chain as well.

Others in local governing offices made consistent remarks to TBR News Media on the good job both Santeramo and Amendola’s offices did during this hectic time. Their near-daily updates on COVID-19, what regulations and what restrictions may have changed, was a huge boon for people struggling to make heads or tails of what they needed to do. 

Now that numbers are spiking, both offices are on constant calls about what may or may not be coming down the pike. And with vaccines also in play, a new kind of communications blitz is incoming.

“I never thought I’d have to deal with people’s safety,” Santeramo said. “But this year and the work we did, it will be the most important work I think I’ll ever do in my life.” 

Public Safety

The year 2020 is going to go down in the record books locally not just because of the pandemic but because of other major events throughout the year. The May killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd sparked waves of protests throughout the country, including several largely peaceful demonstrations on Long Island. Interactions between law enforcement and protesters in Suffolk were mostly harmonious, but in a few places the reaction to those protests grew into a hotbed of misinformation and rumor, especially in the Town of Smithtown. While officials tried to quash those rumors, it was the Smithtown Department of Public Safety that was in the middle of the storm, both figuratively — and it turned out later in 2020 — quite literally.

The Town of Smithtown Public Safety Department made several water rescues during the summer 2020; just one of a few complications to a complicated year. Photo from Thomas Lohmann Jr.

Thomas Lohmann Jr., director of the town public safety office, said when the pandemic first hit, their office was in charge of restricting who could and could not enter town buildings, as well as handling the distribution of PPE throughout Smithtown. While other offices were being cut or shut down, Lohmann’s, with his 55 or so sworn officers and 50 additional civilian staff, was seeing a rapid need for more assistance.

“Everybody here really had to step up and work,” he said. “The communications section, which not only do they dispatch — we also serve three fire departments in the township — and they were extremely busy handling alarms for COVID-19 calls.”

Once things started to reopen, they were there in the local community enforcing restrictions on beaches and in parks. This year, with more boaters out on the water, they completed several water rescues. In enforcing compliance, Lohmann said it was not so much about shutting down businesses as much as talking with owners face-to-face to get them to meet restrictions.

“We recognize the businesses were faced with challenges, and from early onset what we focused on was voluntary compliance,” he said.

During Tropical Storm Isaias in August, the town safety office also became engaged in the work of checking up on people who lacked power. The year 2020 has been fraught with challenges, but for many law enforcement out there, as COVID numbers have risen dramatically in the past two months, the work does not stop.

“We can’t hang a shingle and say we’re shutting down,” Lohmann said, “We’re doing everything we can.”

Government Meal Programs

When the pandemic was at its zenith in late March and early April, the thousands of people who relied on government meal programs found themselves at an even greater loss, unable to get out of the house to even go to the local deli. As senior centers and government offices closed, the many people responsible for getting people food did not back down.

The Suffolk County Office for the Aging works with towns throughout Suffolk in their weekly meal programs. Holly Rhodes-Teague, who heads up the office, is not only in charge of a network of meal programs throughout the 10 towns, she had to keep up with case management, home care, transportation and home repair to allow older adults to remain at home while the pandemic raged outside.

The Town of Brookhaven and Suffolk County Sheriff Department honored frontline workers, including the town’s Health and Human Services Department and its contracted food workers from Florian Foods. Photo from TOB

Before COVID hit, the office was helping to arrange meals for around 2,700 seniors in congregate programs and home deliveries. Once the shutdowns occurred, that jumped to 4,200 people. To this day, those numbers have only slightly dropped to a little over 4,000 folks who depend on these daily meals.

“We were able to transition overnight to adding onto home delivery — we took the current program and made it into a grab-and-go type program for meals,” Rhodes-Teague said. “It was amazing how fast they did that. They didn’t skip more than a day.”

And it wasn’t just food. Through the towns, Holly-Teague said they managed to give out items like hand sanitizer and toilet paper, especially when such items were vacant on store shelves. In between everything, her office was calling elders, some of whom are over 100 years old, to just check up and see how they were doing. In one instance, a caseworker could not get a hold of one of their clients after August’s tropical storm. After visiting the elder at home, the caseworker found the electricity was gone, and the person’s life support had gone out.

“All our people stepped up to the plate,” she said.

In the individual towns, the separate Meals on Wheels programs were suddenly inundated. Laura Greif, Smithtown’s senior citizens program director, said the number of seniors they service doubled during the beginning stages of the pandemic, to over 320 meals a day. What made the situation harder was they had half the staff on, and half off. Other staff within the town came through to help instead. With the Smithtown Senior Center closed to visitors, she said they were making over 2,000 calls to elder folk within the town to check up on them regularly.

Once things calmed down, she said her crew even started taking some seniors food shopping. She thanked everyone who worked with her.

“In the beginning it was difficult as we were half-staffed,” Greif said. “Without such an amazing staff and town, it would have been difficult to get it all done. We’re very happy to do this much-needed service.”

Alison Karppi, commissioner of Housing & Human Services at the Town of Brookhaven, said before the pandemic they were supplying meals to 130 homebound seniors, plus those in their congregate program. Once the senior centers closed, that number jumped to over 500 seniors a day. Additionally, the town’s senior citizen division delivered 208 boxes of food to residents in need through Suffolk County’s food insecurity program.

It would take a whole host of Brookhaven employees to reach every single one of those who needed food every day, and not just those from HHS. Workers from other town offices such as the parks department would become drivers to get meals out to seniors spread throughout over 500 square miles. Karppi said unlike other municipalities that were forced to make meals cold, thanks to the town’s cafeteria in Town Hall and its food contractor, Florian Food Service, Brookhaven was regularly sending out warm meals to its seniors. 

Making sure the food stayed warm took a whole lot of effort on the part of multiple employees, and Karppi wanted to thank all those drivers whose constant work provided such a necessary service, as well as Dawn Marcasia, who created the route list for drivers every day of the week. Delivering meals also served as a way to check up on seniors, and when there was no response at the door, that information was passed onto the senior citizen division.

Through all of that, the town workers helped deliver over 75,000 meals to seniors at their homes from March through December. 

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) expressed how this service has been critical, even as we’re still not out of the woods yet.

“This pandemic is far from over, we’re at least another year anywhere back to where we were before,” he said. “This has been a lifeline to so many of these people.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued a press release Tuesday, Dec. 29 announcing that unemployed New Yorkers will begin receiving extended and expanded federal unemployment benefits next week — the first week these benefits can be paid under federal law. New York is able to provide these benefits immediately due to proactive work by the State Department of Labor to prepare for the federal government finally enacting a bill to extend unemployment programs originally included in the CARES Act that were set to expire at the end of 2020.

The programs extended include Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides benefits for those not covered by traditional state unemployment insurance; Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides additional weeks of benefits after an individual exhausts the 26 weeks of state unemployment insurance; and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides all New Yorkers receiving unemployment benefits an additional $300 weekly payment.

“This pandemic has created an unprecedented economic crisis, and New Yorkers have waited in uncertainty for far too long. I have repeatedly called on the federal government to do the right thing by renewing critical benefits to support millions of unemployed families through to the end of this pandemic – and now that Washington has finally acted, New York is immediately delivering those funds,” Governor Cuomo said. “In the spring, New York led the nation in implementing federal unemployment programs, and this winter we will once again act swiftly to get money in the hands of New Yorkers who need it most.”

The federal government has extended federal unemployment benefits for an additional eleven weeks through March 14, 2021. New Yorkers currently receiving benefits do not need to call the Department of Labor to receive these extended benefits — they should continue to certify for unemployment benefits in their usual manner and will automatically receive extended benefits. Those whose unemployment benefit year has ended should reapply online. Details of how New York will implement these extensions follows:

  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – New Yorkers can now receive up to 57 weeks of PUA benefits, with the program extended from the week ending January 3, 2021 through March 14, 2021. New Yorkers currently receiving PUA should continue to certify as usual and will continue to receive their benefits. According to the Federal government, additional eligibility documentation will be required beginning January 31, 2021. The Department of Labor will directly contact claimants who need to provide additional documentation.
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation – New Yorkers can now receive up to 24 weeks of PEUC (up from the 13 weeks originally authorized in the spring) with the program extended through March 14, 2021. New Yorkers who have exhausted the 26 weeks of state unemployment insurance should continue to certify as normal and will automatically receive up to 24 weeks of PEUC. Individuals who previously exhausted the original 13 weeks of PEUC and transitioned to the Extended Benefits program will begin receiving extended PEUC benefits after they exhaust their EB benefits. The Department of Labor will automatically handle these program transfers.
  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation – New Yorkers’ FPUC benefits will resume the week ending January 3, 2021 and will last for eleven weeks. During that time, all New Yorkers who are receiving unemployment benefits — including traditional state UI, Shared Work Benefits, PEUC, EB, or PUA — will receive an additional $300 payment per week. Per federal guidelines, FPUC benefits will not be backdated, and can only be provided starting the week ending January 3, 2021.

New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said, “The extension of these federal unemployment benefits is a lifeline for many New Yorkers, and we will continue to do everything we can to bring relief to those who remain unemployed due to this unprecedented pandemic. We have paid out more than $59 billion in benefits to over 3.9 million unemployed New Yorkers during this crisis — nearly 28 typical years’ worth of benefits paid in ten months — and we will continue to move heaven and earth to serve our neighbors.”

New Yorkers may be eligible for an additional $100 per week through the Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation program. MEUC benefits are provided for individuals who earned at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income but are disqualified from receiving more substantial PUA benefits because they may be eligible for traditional state UI. New York has signed an agreement with the US DOL to offer MEUC benefits and is currently awaiting additional guidance from the Federal government on implementing the program. The Department of Labor will provide more details as they become available.

Additional updates, including answers to Frequently Asked Questions, will be posted to the NYS Department of Labor website at www.labor.ny.gov.

New Yorkers who are unemployed are also encouraged to take advantage of the State’s Career Services resource page, view more than 112,000 jobs postings from all regions in the state and across all industries on New York’s Jobs Express website at labor.ny.gov/jobs, increase their skills through the State’s online learning platform in partnership with Coursera, and utilize the State University of New York’s SUNY FOR ALL free Online Training Center.

— content provided by press office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo