Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced on Feb. 26 that he would appropriate $40 million in emergency funding to support the New York State Department of Health’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The funds will be used to help the New York State Department of Health hire additional staff, procure equipment and any other resources necessary to respond to the crisis, now declared a state of emergency in New York.
With this declaration, the bill also “permits the governor to issue by executive order any directive necessary to respond to a state disaster emergency.”
But the bill drew criticism for expanding the governor’s emergency powers.
Assembly member Richard Gottfried (D-N.Y.) said that the bill’s amendment of executive law gives the governor “extensive and almost unlimited affirmative legislative power to … waive existing laws and provisions of existing laws.”
Still, the emergency funding bill, which will cease to have effect after its April 30, 2021 sunset date, passed the State Senate by a margin of 53-4 on March 2.
Although the bill was initially presented and signed as a precautionary measure, COVID-19 cases have since proliferated in New York. As of Monday evening, there are 142 positive cases statewide. Ninety-eight of those cases are in Westchester County and two are upstate.
Cuomo unveiled one precautionary tool on Monday, announcing that New York will produce and distribute up to 100,000 gallons of alcohol-based hand sanitizer each week. The move drew swift criticism after it was revealed that the liquid would be produced by Corcraft, a state-owned company that relies on prison labor.
“The State is working with the Department of Health and other state agencies on how the [$40 million] will be allocated to address the response efforts,” a New York State Department of Health representative wrote in an email to The Sun.
Counties in New York state have also called for additional funds to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. A press release from the New York State Association of Counties on Feb. 27 requested the federal government to provide $3.1 billion in emergency supplemental funding, with at least $500 million directed to local and state health departments.
“Local county health departments are already stretched thin addressing existing public health issues,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario. “Without additional funding, they won’t be able to adequately prepare for the potential spread of this virus.”
NYSAC stated that it strongly supported Cuomo’s emergency appropriation, and that it would work with the governor to ensure that local health departments have adequate resources.
Jason Molino, the Tompkins County Administrator, confirmed at a Monday press conference that the county had not received any direct aid from this funding.
“Right now, we have not received direct aid from the state to address this issue, but we suspect that as this evolves, they will provide additional resources to us,” Molino said at the press conference.
New York state is expected to receive $35 million in funding from the federal government’s $8.3 billion spending bill to combat COVID-19. It is unclear whether local health organizations will see much of that money.
“The COVID-19 virus is a significant threat, but it is only one of many,” the New York State Association of County Health Officials said in a statement. “For many years, local health departments have been subject to stagnant state aid and categorical funding reductions, even as their mission has grown substantially with each passing year.”