Congress is set to address a proposed $350 billion relief package — the state and local piece of the overall $1.9 billion stimulus package — that could bring millions of dollars to local governments.
According to the tentative distribution proposed by the House, as listed by the Committee on Oversight and Reform, New York state would get $12.7 billion, short of the $15 billion requested by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and municipalities across the state would get $10.6 million.
Albany County could see $60 million, the Town of Colonie: $8 million, Guilderland: $7.9 million and Bethlehem: $7.8 million. U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko said municipalities in his 20th Congressional District will receive $440 million, including $174 million in Albany County.
The proposed allocations, which are based loosely on population, will likely change depending on negotiations between the House and the Senate.
“Capital Region communities have showed incredible strength and resilience in the face of this dangerous pandemic, but this fight has weighed on our spirits and depleted our family, municipal, county and state budgets; our local communities may not all survive long months of further economic hardship without federal help,” Tonko said in a statement. “This plan puts money in the pockets of millions of Americans, scales up vaccination production and distribution and delivers a lifeline to state teachers, firefighters, police officers, nurses and other essential workers are supported while they work to keep our communities going.”
Under the House plan, municipalities in Rensselaer County would receive $82.7 million, those in Saratoga County would see a total of $49.9 million, Schenectady County, $117 million and Montgomery County $17 million.
All told, according to Tonko, $130.2 billion is earmarked for local governments under the House plan. The majority, $65.1 billion is slated for cities using a modified Community Development Block Grant formula, $45.57 billion for municipalities with populations of at least 50,000, 19.53 for municipalities with populations less than that and $65.1 billion for counties distributed based on population.
The money, long clamored for by states and municipalities across the country, is to help offset the impact of COVID-19. Locally, it was felt most with a decrease in sales tax revenue, but projections were not as bad as initially anticipated. In March, 2020, Albany County was projecting a $34 million drop in sales tax but it was closer to an $18 million drop at the end of the year.
Few municipalities raised taxes, and Albany County’s 2021 budget includes a modest tax decrease for the third year in a row.
Colonie was forced to furlough nearly 50 employees, mostly part timers, in 2020, to close a projected $7 million shortfall due mostly to a projected sharp decline in sales tax revenue. But, the 2021 budget increases taxes by under $10 for the owner of a median value home and increases spending by only about a half a percent over 2020.
Supervisor Paula Mahan said as the pandemic took hold in March and there was more not known than known she directed all department heads to cut their respective 2020 budgets by 10 percent. Some of those cuts, in large part and where possible, were carried through in the 2021 budget and will be restored as the town gets its financial footing back.
“I’ve been advocating with our representatives for assistance for local government because we all have been hit so hard so this would be helpful,” she said. “I’m hoping it will keep going in that direction but That’s all I know at this point. It would be a huge help for everyone. The cost of the pandemic, what we have to put out and what we lost and what we had to put on hold, it is very, very significant. Everything had to be adjusted to get through it, there is not a municipality around that has not been hit hard. It is clear, the states and municipalities need help and the effects will be positive on all the communities.”
In Bethlehem, the town was able to make up for sales tax shortcomings by using approximately $1 million from the reserve fund and it froze step-up raises for non-union employees. Supervisor David VanLeuven was not confident a bailout was the size proposed by the House is coming.
“I’ll have to dig into the details, but I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said.
While municipalities were champing at the bit for the windfall, EJ McMahan, founder of the conservative leading think tank the Empire Center for Public Policy, said at least at the state level it is putting off the inevitable.
“By contrast, earlier COVID-19 relief and stimulus bills awarded funding through increased Medicaid reimbursements or aid to education, which has tied the state’;s hands to some extent,” he said in statement. “In either situation — strings or no strings — federal largesse will only create bigger holes to be filled once this (likely) last and largest hunk of federal aid is spent. But an amount as large as the House is considering would allow him (Cuomo) to put off tough decisions until fiscal year 2024, the first budget of his hoped-for fourth term.”
In December, the relief package passed by Congress did not include direct aid to municipalities with many Republicans are still hesitant to bail out states, like New York, that were struggling prior to the crippling COVID-19.
In addition to allocating $350 billion in funding to states, localities, tribes, and territories, the Committee’s Fiscal Year 2021 Reconciliation Act include $570 million for emergency leave for federal and postal workers, and $117 million for oversight entities to promote transparency and accountability of all federal coronavirus relief funds. It also includes a payment of $1,400 to qualifying individuals, an extension to the child tax credit and federal unemployment benefits and possibly a $15 minimum wage. It also includes aid to help schools pay for costs associated with the pandemic but the breakdown was not readily available.
The House is slated to vote before the end of February and depending on how negotiations go with the Senate, which, like the House, is now controlled by Democrats, it could be passed by the middle of next month.
Proposed Capital District allocations:
• Albany County: $60 million
• Village of Altamont: $373,817
• Town of Bethlehem: $7.8 million
• Town of Berne: $615,477
• Town of Coeymans: $1.6 million
• Town of Colonie: $8 million
• Village of Colonie: $1.7 million
• Village of Green Island: $572,165
• Town of Guilderland: $7.9 million
• Town of Knox: $595,487
• Village of Menands: $865,577
• Town of New Scotland: $1.9 million
• Village of Ravena: $710,097
• Town of Rensselearville: $405,580
• City of Watervliet: $2.2 million
• Town of Westerlo: $734,752
• Village of Voorheesville: $619,253
• City of Albany: $79 million
• City of Schenectady: $54 million
• City of Troy: $42 million
• Rensselaer County: $31 million
• Schenectady County: $45 million
Source: The House Committee on Oversight and Reform The above amounts include money from “all overlap.”