How high is the hill we have yet to climb? For the last several months we followed the guidelines: We stayed home, we wore masks when we needed to go out and we maintained social distancing, and it worked — we flattened the curve. The economy is reopening, and we’re all looking forward to resuming our lives, but from a health perspective and economically, it may be a long road back.
Suffolk is a populous county and has been severely affected by this virus, and the region’s ability to recover from the costs incurred by the pandemic depends on what happens next. As I understand it, Suffolk County is requesting $1 billion in federal aid, a fraction of what we send to Washington in taxes. In addition, Long Island sends more dollars to Washington than it receives in return. According to the Suffolk County COVID-19 Fiscal Impact Force Final Report, for most years sales tax collections account for approximately half of county revenues while an additional quarter comes from property taxes. The task force is currently projecting a $329 million shortfall in sales tax collections and a 4.9 percent shortfall in property tax collections. And, although the county is budgeted to receive $314 million in state aid, the State of New York has announced that, without federal reimbursements for the COVID-19 expenses it has incurred, there will be potential cuts of 20 to 30 percent. According to this report, the full impact of the lockdown is expected to bring steeper decline in the economy, the GDP and sales tax revenues. Again, as I understand it, without federal aid, the recovery could be extended out for a decade if not longer.
We did what we were told — we shut down the economy — and we hope that now what we hear from the federal government isn’t, “Thank you for following the guidelines; now you pay the cost of the response.” The pandemic is no different than any other natural disaster, and the federal government must provide the relief it would provide during any natural disaster. The state and county budgets are hurting, yet the message we’re getting from Washington is that there’s nothing to worry about and local governments should solve “their own problems.”
This is a pivotal moment for the region. We need to recover as soon as possible. The financial impact should not be borne primarily by taxpayers nor should we accept cuts to services provided by our first responders, police and other essential workers, but this is exactly what will happen: An already fragile economy will tank without help from the federal government.
To this end, the Sound Beach Civic Association is spearheading a letter-writing campaign reaching out to our federal representatives without whose support the taxpayers of Suffolk County will suffer — both financially and in reduction of services. We encourage everyone to join us and contact Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1), Thomas Suozzi (D-NY-3) and Peter King (R-NY-2) and U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D). If you don’t want to write your own letter, you can download one at www.soundbeachcivic.org.
Bea Ruberto is the president of the Sound Beach Civic Association.