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Stories and information in our region on the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Congress Back In Session, Zeldin Seeks 'Compromise' On Municipal COVID-19 Relief

Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York
J.D. Allen/WSHU News
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U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY)

Congress returned to Washington this week to negotiate with the White House on the next federal coronavirus package. New York Congressman Lee Zeldin, a close ally of President Trump, said it’s time for Congress to compromise to fund state and local governments hard hit by COVID-19.

The House and Senate only have several weeks left in session before the November election. The short session is jam-packed with high priority items to handle a global pandemic and a presidential election.

Zeldin introduced bipartisan legislation that would create a funding formula to dole out coronavirus relief based on population size. It’s sponsored by Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY) of the Hudson Valley, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Zeldin said it would allow Long Island communities to get a larger share of the next federal stimulus package.

“The way it would work is that half the pot goes for counties and a half the pot goes to towns, cities and villages,” Zeldin said. “For the pot of money that goes to the counties, it would be distributed based on population.”

For instance, $50 billion of a national pot for counties would give up to $240 million to Suffolk County because of its population, under Zeldin’s formula.

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Credit J.D. Allen/WSHU News
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Ed Romaine, Brookhaven Town Supervisor

“We are on the verge of 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,” said John Kennedy, Suffolk County Comptroller. “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.”

Brookhaven, the largest town on Long Island, was exluded from previous federal coronavirus relief because of its size. It has just under 500,000 people — the threshold for CARES Act funding.

Brookhaven Town had asked for about $12 million. Under the formula, $25 billion of a national pot to towns would give Brookhaven $12 million.

“Government is no different than the average family. All revenues are down,” said Ed Romaine, Brookhaven Town Supervisor. “And we still must provide services. We need some help. We need some leadership.”

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Credit J.D. Allen/WSHU News
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Angie Carpenter, Islip Town Supervisor

Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said a perfect storm is brewing that could leave her town gutted without federal assistance.

“It is not something I'm proud of that our town, the town of Islip, was hit the hardest [on Long Island]. There are hamlets in the town of Islip, collectively three of them, that had more COVID cases than in 22 states across the country,” Carpenter said. “And we are struggling.”

For example, Brentwood has the highest rate of COVID-19 on Long Island per capita. The densely populated minority community had only one coronavirus testing location, and it closed in June.

Carpenter said Islip faces a budget deficit in the millions of dollars due to COVID-19. Services, like testing locations, will be difficult to afford as the town puts together its budget before the November deadline.

On top of that, expenses from Tropical Storm Isaias have put her in an “impossible” position. The town is underwater because of expenses, including cleaning debris and infrastructure repairs due to flooding.

“It's very important that if and when Congress passes additional support for state local governments, that the money that is sent from DC to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents,” Zeldin said.

Negotiations for the next federal coronavirus package are ongoing.

In May, the House approved legislation that would give $900 billion to help municipalities overcome massive budget deficits due to COVID-19.

The White House pitched $150 billion as enough to cover state and local governments. The Senate failed to pass a bill Friday that included zero dollars because of Democratic opposition.

Zeldin said a compromise is in order.