Nassau officials said they have asked the U.S. Treasury Department whether the county can spend $100 million in federal pandemic aid to provide cash payments of $375 to individual households with incomes of up to $500,000.
County officials disclosed their request during a legislative hearing Monday, a month after County Executive Laura Curran proposed the cash payments during a news conference in Mineola.
Curran, a Democrat who is running for reelection in November, disclosed a plan to devote $100 million in aid from the American Rescue Plan Act for direct payments to some 300,000 property owners who qualify for New York's School Tax Refund exemptions, known as STAR.
Katie Horst, Nassau County's legislative director, told county lawmakers Monday the administration was, "seeking clarification around the incomes that are eligible."
Horst said administration officials expect to meet this week with representatives of the Treasury Department, which administers American Rescue Plan Act funding.
"It is absolutely clear, according to the Treasury's interim guidance, that direct cash payments to homeowners are permitted, and we want clarification of the allowable universe," Horst said. "The cost of living in Nassau County is higher than in the rest of the country."
Evlyn Tsimis, Deputy Nassau County Executive for Economic Development, told lawmakers at the hearing: "We are seeking clarification around the incomes that are eligible to confirm our plan … So we're looking for some clarification in order to get to some higher income levels."
But Tsimis said, "We're very optimistic we'll get to where we want to be."
Legislative Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said during the hearing that counsel for majority Republicans "were told last week that plan, as currently proposed, cannot go forward, and is a violation of guidance from the federal government."
Nicolello continued: "So we need to get that out, if in fact we cannot give those checks to 300,000 Nassau residents, they need to know."
A spokesman for Nicolello, Chris Boyle, said Nicolello was referring to Conal Denion, special counsel for Nassau, who Boyle said relayed the message to the GOP caucus last Friday.
Mike Fricchione, a Curran spokesman, said Boyle was incorrect and that Denion was referring to an entirely different matter.
In interim guidance published June 17, the Treasury Department said recipients of American Rescue Plan funding may use the money for cash payments to individuals, "provided the recipient considers whether, and the extent to which, the household has experienced a negative economic impact from the pandemic."
In addition, "cash transfers must be reasonably proportional to the negative economic impact they are intended to address," Treasury said. "Cash transfers grossly in excess of the amount needed to address the negative economic impact identified by the recipient would not be considered to be a response to the COVID-19 public health emergency or its negative impacts."
A Treasury spokeswoman said the department's final rule "permits a broad range of responses to the negative economic impacts of COVID-19, including many types of assistance to households. This can include cash transfers that are reasonably proportional to the negative economic impacts they intend to address."
Horst told Legis. John Ferretti Jr. (R-Levittown) at the hearing Monday: "The guidance is clear that we can provide direct assistance to homeowners."
But Ferretti asked Horst, "can middle class Nassau County residents still count on this check to come their way?"
"We are meeting with the U.S. Department of Treasury this week on clarification. We want as wide a universe as possible," to be eligible for cash payments, Horst said.
"Do you think it would have been beneficial to have these meetings prior to making an announcement … ?" Ferretti asked.
Horst said she could not say whether the Curran administration had had prior discussions with Treasury.
Tsimis said the administration had "no further comment."
The county legislature will have to approve Curran's plan for direct cash payments.
In a statement, Fricchione said Curran was, "confident we will be able to lessen the burden on the middle class as details go through the Treasury Department for further clarification before a final proposal is filed and presented to the Legislature for approval."
Democratic President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion aid package in March after it passed Congress with no Republican votes.