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New York State Association of Counties

October 16, 2020 - 5:13pm

New York State’s allocation of 400,000 COVID-19 testing kits provides a much-awaited boost to municipalities, but still doesn’t answer the question of who will be responsible for administering these tests to students and others in need of rapid coronavirus laboratory analysis.

A pair of executive directors of state organizations issued a joint statement to that effect earlier this week, and their thoughts were supported today by Paul Pettit, director of the Genesee & Orleans County Health Departments.

Sarah Ravenhall, executive director of the New York State Association of County Health Officials, and Stephen J. Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, applauded the distribution of the testing kits, calling it “a welcome step toward the goal of implementing a robust and successful school testing program in counties implementing the state’s Cluster Action Initiative.”

But the availability of these materials isn’t enough, they said, posing the unresolved question: “Who will provide the staff and resources necessary to administer the tests?”

Their statement asserted that many county health departments have numerous school districts in their jurisdictions and not enough licensed and trained staff to handle the workload.

“Test kits are just one part of a much larger array of essential resources that must be deployed to make this work,” they said. “Additionally, we have significant concerns about the capacity of our communities to implement this plan. Local health departments have been working in concert with community-based organizations since the pandemic began, and many of these organizations are at, or even beyond, full capacity.”

Pettit said he agrees with “the essence of the press release … as we are encouraged by the long overdue movement to provide rapid testing in our counties. As we have been sharing since the beginning of COVID in our communities, we have lacked adequate and affordable/free testing for our residents.”

The provision of these machines and kits solves part of the problem, Pettit said, “but leaves many unanswered questions around the capacity and ancillary support to provide them.”

“We again find ourselves with new testing requirements pushed upon us (20 percent of the school population testing if in a 'yellow zone’) without a full understanding of the details of the new requirements and a lack of support and capacity to meet them,” he said. “We have reached out to our community partners and health care providers to discuss the best approach to receiving and implementing a county testing program that will provide the free access points that we’ve been seeking.”

Pettit added that his agency is talking with school officials about coronavirus testing requirements.

“Ultimately, our goal is to have this free rapid testing available from many locations for county residents who need testing for any variety of reasons, including school-based symptom screening, state required testing to visit long-term care facilities, and symptomatic individuals.”

Ravenhall and Acquario are calling upon the state to provide financial support to carry out its directive.

“We cannot rely on local partnerships alone to meet our needs,” they stated. “Any plan to implement robust testing in our schools must include adequate state resources -- and withholding funds from localities will only make this monumental task even more difficult.”

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that schools in the state’s precautionary “yellow zones” will receive the rapid testing kits, with the 400,000 kits being the first batch.

Starting today, “yellow zone” schools must test a fifth of the student population, staff members and teachers on weekly basis. Schools in “orange” and “red” zones are required to teach students through remote learning only. Currently, none of the schools in Genesee and Orleans counties are in any of the aforementioned zones, Pettit said.

August 14, 2020 - 8:03am

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.”

June 29, 2020 - 6:50pm

Press release:

The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) and the New York State County Executive’s Association (NYS CEA) today announced they are joining with dozens of national and statewide organizations representing states, counties and cities to call on the United States Senate to act immediately to support a federal coronavirus relief package that provides funding to state and local governments.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our economies and without federal funding for states and local governments, that impact will go on for months and years,” said Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, president of the New York State County Executive’s Association and the National Association of Counties. “Between our employees, our contracts, and the purchases we make, counties, states, and local governments have a tremendous impact on the national economy. We need federal funding to keep these parts of our economy moving.”

According to the sign-on letter sent by the group to Senate Leaders, state and local governments employ “nearly 15 million Americans…and also purchase goods and services which add to the nation’s output,” accounting for 11 percent of the nation’s GDP in 2019.

“Counties are facing fiscal pressures worse than what we experienced in the great recession,” said NYSAC President John F. Marren, chair of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors. “The best way to help our economy right now and in the near future is to inject federal funds that will protect the jobs and services that we provide at the county and local government levels.”

The letter, which is being transmitted today to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, says that furloughs and job cuts are on the table for many states and localities, particularly as many local governments face new fiscal years on July 1st.

“Our budgets at that state and local governments have to be balanced and enacted on time. That means that our local leaders right now are closing substantial budget gaps. Now is the time for federal action on direct and flexible funding for states and local governments, before painful cuts to jobs and services have to be made,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario.

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