Local leaders call for direct federal funding for pandemic relief

SMITHTOWN, Long Island (WABC) -- Federal, state, county and local leaders from Suffolk County rallied on Monday morning calling for Congress to distribute directly to local municipalities federal funds for pandemic relief costs.

"In these unprecedented times, we need a line of relief that funnels directly to local governments," said Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim.

The elected officials called on Congress to pass Congressman Lee Zeldin's (R-Patchogue) Direct Support for Communities Act, which would allow local municipalities to get direct access to federal funds for essential services and to offset lost revenues and increased costs from the pandemic.
"Not only should money be used for COVID-19-related expenses. There are losses on the other side of the ledger as well," Zeldin said.

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, the federal government provided millions in economic relief to governments of populations with more than 500,000 people. Smaller municipal governments, like those in towns, villages and small cities, received no funding directly through the CARES Act.

ALSO READ | Jerry Seinfeld pushes for federal relief effort for live event venues in New York

"Seven months now we have been under a state of emergency," said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. "Seven months state of emergency without any federal help. That's unbelievable. We need some dollars out of Washington."

Supervisors point to increased expenses for local emergency service departments, fire departments, schools, senior centers and garbage collection. The pandemic has also brought decreased revenue in sales tax from the closures of movie theaters, malls and entertainment venues.

Local municipalities are also bracing for a 20 percent reduction in state aid.

"Government is no different than the average family. Our revenues are down and we still must provide services," said Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine.

Town of Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter said towns are now preparing their operating budgets for 2021 and if they do not receive federal funding soon it could mean an increase in taxes for residents.

"With all of this increased funding loss and all of the increased expenses that we had it is going to be impossible, impossible to deliver a budget that doesn't increase taxes," she said.

Zeldin's bill has bipartisan support in Congress, including from Senator Chuck Schumer, who was also on Long Island on Monday garnering support for his Save Our Stages Act.

The bill would create a $10 billion federal Small Business Administration program for local performance venues, producers and others in the entertainment industry.

ALSO READ | Long-standing event space closing for good due to COVID

According to a survey of the National Independent Venue Association, 90 percent of independent venue owners report that they will have to close permanently without federal funding.

"It's so important to provide dedicated federal assistance to independent venues so when it is safe, we can gather again for comedy, music, theater and other live performances in venues that have been around for generations," Schumer said at a press conference at Mulcahy's Pub in Wantagh on Monday.

Schumer was joined by singer Michael DelGuidice, Shaun Cooper of Taking Back Sunday and Alan Bouchard with Blue Oyster Cult.

Performers like Lady Gaga, Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Foo Fighters, Billie Eilish, Jimmy Buffett, Vampire Weekend and Coldplay have all expressed support for the Save Our Stages Act.

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