Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) invited elected officials from across Suffolk County and from all levels of government to join him Monday, Sept. 14, on the front steps of Town Hall to send a plea for help to the capital as Congress members prepare to negotiate the next federal COVID-19 package.
On hand was U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who along with Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY19) introduced the Direct Support for Communities Act in the House of Representatives. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by New York Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D).
Wehrheim said the legislators are calling on Congress for direct coronavirus funding while their municipalities face historic financial shortfalls. He thanked Zeldin for working across the aisle and advocating for a bipartisan proposal for the funding that local governments could use for essential services and to offset lost revenues during the ongoing pandemic.
Zeldin said while there has been legislation to provide relief for families, small businesses and for state and local governments under the CARES Act, there was still more that needed to be done.
He gave the example of the Town of Brookhaven, which was excluded from the last relief package. The congressman said for a town to receive CARES Act funding directly it needed a population of more than 500,000. Brookhaven has just under that number. The town had requested $12 million from the federal government, according to Zeldin.
“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here.”
— Lee Zeldin
“The formula of how that CARES Act money was distributed was very strict to ensure that the money could only be used for COVID-19 related expenses,” he said. “It’s important for there not only to be more funding for state and local governments, but also more flexibility in how that money is spent.”
The legislation introduced recently by Zeldin would allow a new formula to disperse relief funding based on population. Under the new guidelines, if the act is passed, Brookhaven could potentially receive the $12 million.
Zeldin said with the new formula half the money would go to the counties based on population and the other half to towns, cities and villages.
“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here,” the congressman said.
During his speech, four protesters jeered Zeldin as he spoke and held up signs, one of which read, “Lazy Lee Must Go! CD1 Deserves Better!”
Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also spoke at the press conference. He said the pandemic has shut down the economy and the effects will reverberate for the next 100 years. He thanked Zeldin for his help with what he called “a rescue bill.”
“Government is no different than the average family,” he said. “Our revenues are down, and we still must provide services. We need some help. We need some leadership.”
Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said since the middle of March towns have provided much needed essential services such as senior centers providing meals for those in need, garbage pickup and public safety agencies patrolling the beaches and parks, which he said may have seen more visitors in the last few months than in the last 15 years. He added that the continuity of services continued without federal assistance and it’s important to remember that the future is unknown with COVID-19.
Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) said the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on every aspect of county and local government functions.
“We are on the verge of utter collapse, and without intervention and swift intervention from the federal government, our county government and local governments will no longer exist as we know them here,” the comptroller said. “And guess what? We deserve better. We deserve better from Washington. We deserve a government that is going to actually be receptive to this crisis.”
New York State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Suffolk County Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Rob Trotta (R- Fort Salonga), plus Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter (R), Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar (R), Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman (D) and New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) also spoke at the event to show their support for the bipartisan bill.