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Coronavirus disrupts state, federal and local services on Long Island

A Nassau County worker takes precautions while working

A Nassau County worker takes precautions while working at Eisenhower Memorial Park in East Meadow Tuesday, March 31. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

This story was reported by Michael Gormley, Laura Figueroa-Hernandez, Candice Ferrette, Rachelle Blidner, Denise Bonilla, Vera Chinese, Deborah Morris, Jesse Coburn, Carl MacGowan, Ted Phillips, Jean-Paul Salamanca, Nicholas Spangler and Dandan Zou.

The spread of the coronavirus has disrupted many state, federal and local municipal services as government workers are shuttered at home and staffing and funding priorities focus on emergency and essential services.

Many government offices are closed to the public or have reduced hours. 

However, many agencies are taking measures to provide public services while protecting staff.

Following is a partial survey of services available to Long Islanders at the state, federal, county and town levels:

NEW YORK STATE

Department of Labor

The department is working to handle a surge in applications and questions about unemployment benefits.

Under a new system, people with last names beginning in A to F should file claims on Mondays; G to N, file Tuesdays; and O to Z, Wednesdays.

Applicants who miss their day must file on Thursdays, Fridays or Saturdays. All claims, regardless of the date submitted, are effective on the Monday of the week in which they were filed.

Hours for telephone contacts also are extended: Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Fridays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturdays, 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

All in-person appointments at career centers are canceled until further notice.

The state also has waived the seven-day waiting period to collect unemployment checks for those out of work because of the COVID-19 virus.

Department of Motor Vehicles

DMV offices are closed through April 17, but online transactions continue.

Cases scheduled to be heard by the Traffic Violations Bureau are adjourned until April 17.

Anyone whose license or automobile registration expires will be extended until April 17.

All road tests for driver's licenses are canceled.

Courts

State courts are consolidated into single buildings for essential and emergency matters. Locally, these facilities are in court buildings in Mineola and Central Islip. The state is seeking to slowly expand operations in New York City and in counties outside the city.

Department of Taxation and Finance

The deadline for filing personal income tax and corporation tax returns that originally were due April 15 is extended until July 15.

Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites

State parks, trails and grounds of historic sites are open for outdoor recreation.

All state park playgrounds, athletic courts and fields are closed.

State campgrounds, cabins and cottages are closed through April 30. Individuals with reservations will receive full refunds. Reservations beginning May 1 will be honored if the campground is deemed safe to open. Reservations may be canceled without penalty.

Department of Corrections

Visitation at all 52 state prisons is suspended, including family reunion programs. Meetings between prisoners and their attorneys will continue as noncontact visits.

NYS Comptroller
The office is open, and officials are calculating the cost and actions necessary to address revenue losses to the state and the state pension system due to the pandemic. The office continues review state contracts, some of which have been expedited because of the virus.

State Police

State police are on the job. The spring 2020 Basic School Session is postponed; candidates for the academy will be contacted.

Division of Human Rights

Offices have limited staffing to handle complaints of sexual harassment and other rights violations. Public hearings are adjourned.

Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Department offices are closed.

Developmental Disabilities

The Office for People with Developmental Disabilities is operating, but sites for day use and prevocational day training services are suspended.

Hearings will be conducted online at wcb.ny.gov/virtual-hearings, or by telephone.

FEDERAL

The White House Office of Budget Management says federal agencies should “maximize telework” opportunities for the government’s workforce of 2.1 million.

Employees required to be in the field — such as law enforcement agents — are encouraged to follow federal guidelines for social distancing.

There are some 5,200 federal employees working in Nassau County, and 11,200 in Suffolk, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

U.S. Postal Service

The agency continues to deliver mail and packages and post offices are open. Postal workers are considered essential employees and are exempt from orders to remain home.

However, USPS has adopted new measures for delivery and signing for packages to minimize contact between postal workers and customers.

“While maintaining a safe, appropriate distance,   employees will request the customer’s first initial and last name so the employee can enter the information on the electronic screen or hard copy items such as return receipts,” USPS said in a statement.

 “For increased safety, employees will politely ask the customer to step back a safe distance or close the … door so that they may leave the item in the mail receptacle or appropriate location by the customer door,” USPS said.

National Park Service

Facilities such as visitor centers and bathrooms are closed at some New York sites. In some cases, grounds are open to visitors, who are urged to follow federal social distancing guidelines.

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Oyster Bay temporarily has closed Theodore Roosevelt’s home, the Old Orchard Museum and Visitor Center, park offices and all restrooms.

But grounds including parking lots, roads, trails and the beach remain open, according to the Park Service website.

On Fire Island, the Fire Island Lighthouse, Wilderness Visitor Center, Keeper’s Quarters and Patchogue office are closed until further notice. All restrooms are closed.

The National Park Service "encourages people who choose to visit Fire Island National Seashore during this pandemic to adhere to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local public health authorities to protect visitors and employees,” the agency said in an online statement. 

Internal Revenue Service

All local Taxpayer Assistance Centers, including the Hauppauge location, are closed. The IRS will continue, “to process tax returns, issue refunds and help taxpayers to the greatest extent possible.”

The tax-filing deadline is extended until July 15.

Veterans Affairs 

The Northport VA Medical Center has implemented restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Patients must call ahead to determine if they need an in-person visit or can receive services by phone or telemedical appointments. The hospital also has suspended access to visitors.

NASSAU, SUFFOLK COUNTIES

About 60 percent of the county’s workforce is considered essential. Law enforcement agencies and first responders are working at full capacity, county spokesman Michael Fricchione said. Nonessential staff can process their work at home. 

County clerk

The office is closed to the public. Document requests may be made online and questions are being answered over the phone.

Recording of property deeds or mortgage satisfaction is occurring. However, court filings are not being accepted unless emergency hearings are required, said deputy county clerk Eileen O'Donnell. 

"There's limited staffing so there are going to be delays in everything we do," O'Donnell said. 

NICE bus

Service is fully operational, but riders are asked to board using the rear doors and fares are not being collected. 

Social services

Homeless shelters and domestic violence services are fully operational and have increased capacity. 

Traffic and Parking Violations Agency

Offices are closed to the public, and scheduled hearings are adjourned until later dates, according to the agency's website. Payment of parking violations is being accepted. Residents seeking information about red light camera violations may call 1-855-571-5134.

In Suffolk County, some 4,500 nonessential employees and essential employees are working from home or are on leave, county officials said, while about the same number are in the office or in the field.

Changes to Suffolk County services include:

Parks

Camping reservations through April 15 are canceled, and refunds will be issued.

New camping reservations for April 15-30 are on hold. Campers with pending reservations for the period are not affected.

Questions or concerns can be emailed to SCParks@suffolkcountyny.gov.

Probation

Office reports at all locations are canceled.

Social Services Department

Temporary assistance applications and recertifications should be mailed. Eligibility and recertification interviews are being conducted by phone.

The department is contacting individuals with scheduled appointments; interviews will be conducted on the same date and time by telephone.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) applications and recertifications may be submitted online at mybenefits.ny.gov or by mail. SNAP

application and recertification interviews will be done by phone.

SNAP benefits may be used for online grocery purchases. Participating retailers include Amazon, Walmart and ShopRite. Amazon is available statewide; Walmart and ShopRite participate in specific ZIP codes.

TOWNS

Huntington

Smithtown

Islip

Babylon

Brookhaven

Southampton

East Hampton

Shelter Island

Southold

Riverhead

North Hempstead

Hempstead

Oyster Bay

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