Earlier this month, The Batavian asked Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell a series of questions pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York State budget and state aid, and federal stimulus proposals.
With the Finger Lakes Region (which the county is part of) poised to enter Phase Two of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reopening plan, we caught up the Gsell again today to update our readers about issues that will have and are having a direct effect on county operations.
No. 1 – New York’s $13 Billion Budget Gap
The state’s $13 billion gap, which probably is growing, is tied to the Fed Stim (Stimulus) 4.0 proposal, and we’re also waiting for his (Cuomo’s) first 30-day hit with regard to the state budget and state and county aid reimbursement, or lack thereof. There are three “measurement” periods – the month of April, May through June, and July through December, and we haven’t heard anything yet.
Under the Fed Stim 4 -- the compromised legislation that we hope will get enacted in June, if it doesn’t slip away entirely because of what is going on in Washington right now and the very partisan wrangling that’s going on -- there’s going to be a “Maintenance of Effort” clause in there. That says money can not be reduced or diverted from, in this case, the state down to the other governments if we are part of Fed Stim 4 – with regard to the governor replacing state money with federal money and then still making cuts to local governments.
No. 2 – County Waits for Medicaid Funding
To the best of my knowledge – getting information from the New York State Association of Counties -- there’s already about $2.2 billion that the Fed Stim 1 / 2 provided to the State of New York for Medicaid – for our adjustment of weekly shares of Medicaid. We have not seen hide nor hair of that yet.
In Fed Stim 1, this money went to the states and that’s why we haven’t seen it yet. By the same token, the new Fed 4.0, that may or may not happen, there would be actually no pass-throughs in some cases or limited pass-throughs from state governments to the locals. It would actually be based on population and one or two other metrics, particularly COVID-19 expenses and some other destitution loss of revenue. Remember this is nationwide, not just New York State.
We’re talking now almost two months. I know that there’s a process called reconciliation that is slightly connected to this. Three years recouping of the money that was spent in the Medicaid program on a county-by-county basis. In Genesee County, we would be owed some money. Until they refine that reconciliation process, they’ve been sitting on this Medicaid weekly share money. That is something that Congress recognizes and (saying) "so if that’s the case, why is it that they are asking for money?"
About $450,000 would be adjusted out of our weekly shares over the balance of this calendar year for us at this point. There are 52 weekly shares – do the math, that’s what it represents. But it would obviously be savings to us in our general fund budget. It would help us reduce our $9.6 million (annual mandated Medicaid) payment to something closer to maybe just under $9 million as far as calendar year 2020.
No. 3 – Sales Tax Money to Aid Distressed Facilities
In this new state budget, there is a distressed $250 million fund that was set up that is going to be funded from county sales tax shares … so they can put this distressed hospital fund together. There is also federal money for distressed hospitals since COVID-19 started. Then the question will be, "How are states balancing that or not and adhering to these new federal cautions regarding Maintenance of Effort?"
I am seeing in terms of the more recent back-and-forth with Fed Stim 4 that as long as it is not something like the $3 trillion Christmas package that the House voted on – that barely passed two Fridays ago – (there’s a chance it could pass). There’s still some other loan programs and other benefits that they would like to be able to re-up and continue, and the Fed Stim 4 would be an opportunity to do that.
The piece that is connected to aid to counties, cities, towns and villages across the country, still has a decent chance of getting enacted. It was supposed to happen right after Fed Stim 3.5, then it got pushed back to this month which is almost over, so it looks like sometime maybe mid-June if we’re lucky,
No. 4 -- Genesee County’s Operational Status
All of the departments are putting together their reopening plans. We’re still on pause, at least until Friday. Some of our departments that are connected to state agencies like the courts and DMV may be into June before they can remotely think about some kind of general public reopening, and even that will be on a gradual basis.
Our highway crews are back – doing roadwork. We’ve never changed the operations as far as the jail, communications and the sheriff’s department; same thing with the county health department that has been working on full cylinder right from the get-go. Same with county emergency management.
We’ll start preparing at the very end of this month or early June, presuming that NY Pause is not part of our future.
If our seven metrics in the metric calculator that the state uses all stay in the green, we should be able to open on Friday for Phase Two. Again, there’s no absolutes as far as that’s concerned. Again, we’re talking about a (Finger Lakes) regional basis, so we may not be able to start Phase Two on Friday.
No. 5 – Six Furloughed Employees Return to Work
We are bringing a few people back. From our perspective and the departments’ perspective, they need to bring people back to help meet the demand and pick up the slack. But, again, we are using it also as a budget-saving tool in case the state comes in with its 20 percent reduction right out of the gate – which could be about three-and-a-half million dollars. Plus, whatever happens with our next quarter sales tax (revenue) report.
Currently, 42 employees are on furlough – (down from 48) – and we also froze another 40 positions that are staying that way. If your buildings and operations are not at full service, there’s no point in trying to bring people in to fill vacancies when you can’t send them off to training, can’t send them to the schools, can’t get them oriented, and even can’t have them work with colleagues to learn on-the-job training stuff.
No. 6 – The Importance of the 2020 U.S. Census
People need to fill out their U.S. Census forms. A lot of what’s coming with this state and federal aid is connected to the population of our communities. We need to have the U.S. Census filled out and achieve a better than 72 percent (rate). We need to be as close to 100 percent as we can. A significant number of the dollars are connected to the population of the communities across the country, so we do not want to be on the short end of that equation.