Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin said he has a plan to spend by year's end the more than $100 million left in federal pandemic funding the town received, but has not publicly outlined how it will be used as local communities clamor for the money.
"We’re going to utilize these funds for what they’re intended: for Hempstead residents and based on the population and for the benefit for town residents," Clavin said in an interview Tuesday.
Clavin, a Republican, for months has heard from state, county and village officials and small businesses that want a share of the use-it-or-lose-it funds. He said he will continue to seek an extension and flexibility from the U.S. Department of Treasury on how to spend the money, including whether local governments can use it for lost revenue.
The funding has to be allocated by Dec. 30 and can only be spent on COVID-19-related expenses, according to Treasury guidelines.
"We’re identifying any expenses reimbursable and will utilize funds under the oversight of town council, and residents can rest assured these funds will be utilized," he said. "We have to operate under the premise we will not get an extension and hopefully they will grant one."
Hempstead received $133 million in May under the federal CARES Act and was the only town in the nation to get funding based on its population of more than 500,000. Hempstead Town — with a population of 800,000 — makes up more than half of the 1.3 million in Nassau County, which received $103 million in federal funding.
The Town Board has so far approved about $29 million to cover distributions to food banks, hospitals and universities. The most recent allocation was $450,000 to Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside to conduct a drive-thru testing site. Northwell Health has received a total of $3.8 million since May for coronavirus testing.
The town also has distributed $8 million to local colleges and universities, including $2 million each to Hofstra University and Nassau Community College.
The town, which is keeping the money in escrow, has $20 million in anticipated expenses for retrofitting 82 buildings for bathrooms and air systems during the pandemic.
Criticism has emerged from representatives from multiple layers of government, who accuse Clavin of dragging his feet on helping municipalities that have suffered sizable economic losses and incurred expenses.
Three Democratic congressional representatives and four state senators in May asked Clavin to give funding to the county and assist the town’s 22 villages with rising expenses in emergency services, police, water services and sanitation.
Clavin argued he was saving funding for an increase in cases this fall, and has helped villages with cleaning expenses and equipment, such as $221,000 given this month to Garden City, and funding for fire departments.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, in a letter last week requested $50 million from Clavin to fund Nassau County police response within the Town of Hempstead. She said she used Nassau's funding for county expenses and first responders.
"As Nassau County and New York State see an increase in COVID-19 cases, it is critical that local police departments, fire districts, schools, towns and cities have access to unused CARES funding to fight this pandemic," Curran said. "Without these resources, our local governments may be unable to buy the supplies and services they need as Nassau County faces a surge in cases."
Curran noted that Clavin has only allocated about 25% of the federal funding and asked Clavin to reveal his plan for using the rest. She accused Clavin of using the funding for a "public relations campaign" to bolster town officials.
Clavin told Curran that the town has allocated $7 million for the county's public hospital and college and to the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency to distribute PPE to small businesses. He said school districts, villages, fire departments, hospitals, colleges, community groups and others have asked why the county could not provide CARES assistance.
"Instead, it appears that Nassau’s Administration has chosen to utilize virtually every penny of its $103 million in federal CARES funding to plug holes in its budget," Clavin wrote.
"I take exception to you referring to the allocation of essential CARES resources for these heroic front-line workers and first responders, as 'funding to plug budget holes,' " Curran said.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said Clavin should assist Nassau because "the town doesn’t have the expenses the county is struggling with." She called the funding allocation to Hempstead a quirk in the CARES Act while the other Nassau towns of Oyster Bay and North Hempstead were left out. She said Congress will not be able to pass an extension.
"He shouldn’t desperately be trying to find things to spend money on," Rice said. "It’s going to go away and there will be no words, but to give $100 million back to the federal government. Shame on him."
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) helped the town apply for funding and has been negotiating with the Treasury for more flexibility and financial help. A bill in the U.S. House would have extended funding through next year, but Democrats fear gridlock in the Republican-controlled Senate and that the outgoing administration will stall any changes.
Where the money has gone
Food banks: $5.6 million
Hospitals: $9 million
Colleges: $8 million
Hempstead Town costs $2.7 million
Nassau County IDA: $2 million
Fire departments: $89,000
United Cerebral Palsy Association: $435,000
Marion & Gural JCC: $75,000
United Way: $358,000
Long Island Children’s Museum: $31,800
SOURCE: Hempstead Town