ALBANY — A Long Island assemblywoman is attempting to hold up a $1.5 million anti-poverty grant in an attempt to control what social-service agency will distribute the money in the Village of Hempstead, according to a coalition of ministers, officials and nonprofit groups.
In a flurry of letters to the Cuomo administration, critics accused Assemb. Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead) of putting “politics over process,” “continuing interference” and “malicious disparagement” in trying to persuade the state to block the village’s decision to partner with the United Way of Long Island to implement the grant, which was awarded in August. The ministers urged the state to move forward with the grant as quickly as possible.
“The concern is that we have grown weary of putting politics over purpose,” the Rev. Malcolm Byrd, a member of the “100 Coalition,” the ministers’ group, told Newsday in an interview. “The assemblywoman is attempting to wage a war over process while there are children growing hungry.”
“She’s interfering. She’s delaying this,” Hempstead Mayor Wayne J. Hall said in a separate interview. “She’s trying to use her influence to hold up the program. It’s unfair to residents.”
Hooper, in a Jan. 13 letter to the agency distributing the grants, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, urged to “sequester the $1.5 million” grant “until the vetting and approval process is completed and reviewed by OTADA and me in accordance with my understanding and agreement with the governor’s office.”
Hooper didn’t return a call for comment.
The 29-year veteran of the Assembly referred erroneously in the letter to the United Way as the Suffolk County United Way, contended that the nonprofit wasn’t qualified to administer poverty programs and advocated for the selection of the Economic Opportunity Commission Inc. of Nassau County instead. She also accused the United Way of promising to pay grant money to the local school district and make rent payments for a “select group of so-called ‘poor people.’ ”
The Nassau Inter-Agency Council, a Hooper ally in the skirmish, asked the state to consider allowing the Economic Opportunity Commission Inc. of Nassau County to participate in the grant.
The issue is, critics noted, that Mayor Hall and the village board — not the assemblywoman — were given the authority to choose a partner to facilitate the grant. In August, Hall announced Hempstead would partner with the United Way of Long Island. Hempstead was the lone Long Island community to receive a grant through the Empire State Anti-Poverty Initiative, which was created by state lawmakers in 2016.
Further, Hall said he sits on the EOC board and awarding it the work would be an obvious conflict of interest to select it.
The ministers’ coalition and the United Way wrote in response to Hooper’s letter, saying it contained numerous errors and misrepresentations. Theresa Regnante, president and CEO of the United Way of Long Island, outlined the work the agency and the mayor have done over several months to begin implementing the grant, including putting together a task force, in advance of receiving any funds.
“I encourage your office to intervene and put an end to the continuing interference and malicious disparagement by those attempting to derail the progress of the task force to the detriment of the people of Hempstead Village,” Regnante and the UWLI executive committee wrote to OTADA Commissioner Sam Roberts.
“The concern really is that political infighting is really hampering this grant and preventing it from helping people who need it the most,” the Rev. Patrick Daymond of the Memorial Presbyterian Church told Newsday.
The Rev. Sedgwick Easley of the Union Baptist Church added that he “doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with Hall” and that the 100 Coalition letter isn’t an endorsement of the mayor, but a show of support for the anti-poverty grant and its timely implementation.
Byrd, pastor at the Jackson Memorial AME Zion church in Hempstead, said, “This is a never-ending story of what comes our way never really gets to where it’s needed because of so much red tape.”