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August 14, 2020 - 8:03am

Cuomo spokesman says $3 billion in CARES Act money will be spent; Jacobs says it's not governor's 'piggybank'

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo advised Chris Jacobs to “take a course on basic math” after the freshman congressman on Thursday accused the governor of sitting on $3 billion of unspent federal stimulus money that is intended to help New York state counties, cities, towns and villages.

“I know he just got there, but clearly the congressman should take a course on basic math and budgeting because in about 120 days the state spent $2.2 billion on COVID-19 expenses, nearly half our allocation, and simple math would tell you we’ll spend it all by the end of year,” Deputy Communications Director Jason Conwall said.

Conwall said the money is going for personal protective equipment, food banks and coronavirus testing efforts.

“This is just misdirection by a congressman who knows Washington has yet to deliver and will ultimately determine the depth of the state’s spending reductions and how damaging they will be to the schools, hospitals and our most vulnerable neighbors that are supported by the state,” Cornwall added.

Earlier in the day, Jacobs issued a statement indicating that Cuomo is “hoarding” the CARES Act funding that was intended to help local governments, and wants to see stronger language in any additional stimulus legislation to demand greater accountability in the utilization of these funds.

“This is taxpayer’s money intended to help people during this crisis; it is not the governor’s personal ‘piggybank,’” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said he was “shocked” to learn that New York has spent only 42.3 percent of the $5.1 billion in CARES Act funding. An additional $2.1 billion was allocated to seven large municipalities, including Erie and Monroe counties, which received $160 million and $130 million, respectively.

According to Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell, the state’s 50 other counties did not qualify for any of the CARES Act money, other than funds to help offset Medicaid expenses and to reimburse specific agencies for COVID-19 costs.

The CARES Act was set up to compensate states and municipalities that had populations of at least 500,000 or that met Community Development Block Grant requirements.

“We got our FMAP (Federal Medical Assistance Percentages) money – reducing our Medicaid weekly shares by $24,000 well into next year – and about $100,000 for the Office for the Aging and health department,” he said.

Gsell continues to urge the federal government to pass another stimulus bill, this time with funding for local governments. Today is the final day of his 26-year, 364-day career as the county’s chief administrative officer.

He also said there’s no guarantee that the state will release any of the $3 billion that Jacobs says is in its coffers to local governments, so he is imploring the feds to step up with what looks like a final federal stimulus package to support counties, cities, towns and villages. Gov. Cuomo also has warned that the state may reduce its aid to municipalities by 20 percent or more.

“We have been arguing that if there is going to be a Fed Stim 4-5 that part needs to change,” he said. “The HEALS Act that (Sen. Mitch) McConnell put together brings us nothing – it only suggests that the state still has some money and they might be able to give some of it to other jurisdictions in the state.”

Gsell said if Congress passes one last stimulus bill, they need to do it quickly.

“This is the time and this is now. Not after November; not two and a half months from now, before the election. Address it now, before you go home and start doing the hand shaking and baby kissing at the legislative levels,” he said.

In a related development, John F. Marren, president of New York State Association of Counties, reinforced the need for assistance to counties as he commented on the quarterly state budget update for 2021. The financial plan projects a $14.5 billion revenue decline in the general fund and a 15.3 percent decrease in “all funds” tax receipts.

“This quarterly state budget update is bad news for New York, and bad news for every local government, service agency and local taxpayer in the state,” Marren said. “The loss in revenue and budget gaps will decimate every local health, safety and human service program, construction project, and job in their path.”

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