SARATOGA COUNTY — Saratoga County has received a $6.8 million federal grant to help renters whose lives have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic pay back rent, county officials announced on Friday.
The grant is coming from $25 billion included in the December federal COVID relief legislation, and is available only to counties with more than 200,000 residents — a category that includes only Saratoga and Albany counties in the Capital Region. Albany County is receiving $9 million.
In all, New York state is receiving $1.3 billion in funding, according to an earlier announcement from U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
County officials are trying to determine how many renters may be eligible for the help, but the pool of potential applicants will be large, extending well beyond those who already receive social services assistance. “It’s going to be working people who have been negatively impacted, not necessarily those on public assistance,” said county Social Services Commissioner Tina Potter.
There are potentially thousands of people living in communities like Saratoga Springs, Mechanicville and Ballston Spa that are behind on their rent, but can’t be evicted under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s moratorium on pandemic-related financial evictions. The moratorium has now been in place for nearly a year.
The grant “will assist those most in need,” said county Treasurer Andrew Jarosh.
Landlords and tenants should not rush to apply, though. The application process is still being worked out.
The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance is setting up the system for how people will apply the money. Jarosh said it is expected to be six to eight weeks before the online application portal is ready, but once it is, the money is expected to go quickly. Federal rules require that 65 percent of the money be spent by Sept. 30, and all of it by the end of the year.
County officials announced the grant at a press conference in Ballston Spa where they also outlined a plan for safe resumption of high school sports, and updated the county’s efforts to get residents vaccinated.
To date, nearly 19,593 county residents have received a first shot of vaccine, county Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Kusnierz said — about 8.5 percent of the county population. Some 4,464 residents have received their second dose.
The state is receiving about 250,000 doses per week for the entire state, leaving it far short of what’s needed to immunize the 7.1 million people who are eligible — and leaving many senior citizens frustrated.
“Saratoga County has maintained its ongoing efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while also preparing for a large-scale effort to vaccinate all residents in the coming weeks and months,” Kusnierz said.
By Cuomo’s executive order, county Public Health Services is focused on vaccinating non-medical “essential workers,” including police, fire and public safety workers, teachers, child care providers, public transit workers and grocery store workers. But this week, the county received 400 vaccine doses intended for homebound or medically frail senior citizens.
The small size of the allotment compared to the need created a stir among county supervisors this week after each was asked to recommend residents in their own towns, but Kusnierz argued asking his colleagues was the right approach. “The individuals who know their communities best are the supervisors,” he said.
A list was developed, and the vaccine will be distributed on Saturday. Sheriff Michael Zurlo said he provided a list kept by his department of homebound seniors, many of them living in remote areas. Other seniors on the list will be coming to the county Public Health Services office in Milton on Saturday to get vaccinated.
The county is actively investigating ways to develop a geographically balanced vaccination waitlist, which would be used when the county is authorized to vaccine more categories of people, such as senior citizens.
The statewide test positivity rate has fallen 4.65 percent, the lowest since Dec. 11, according to Cuomo. “The post-holiday surge reduction continues,” he said at a Friday press briefing.
Also on Friday:
— Cuomo said New York’s health care distribution sites have received 1,387,840 first doses in recent weeks and already administered 95 percent of those doses. It has also administered 244,644 second doses.
“New York has operationalized a vast vaccine distribution network across the state, and as of today we continue to get shots into arms as quickly and fairly as possible,” Cuomo said. “We have thousands of distributors, and even more can be brought online, but the reality is vaccine administration is subject to the production capacity of private drug companies and the United States’ ability to procure them. The bottom line is the vaccine is scarce.”
— Schenectady County reported the COVID death of a man in his 30s — a reminder not all pandemic victims are older. The county has now had at least 121 deaths since the pandemic started last March. The county also reported 73 new cases.
— Saratoga County reported three additional deaths, and Fulton County one additional death. Other Capital Region counties did not report any additional deaths. All local counties reported dozens of new cases, but the numbers per day have dropped by half or more since the post-holiday surge of a few weeks ago.
— Statewide, Cuomo reported that there were 151 COVID deaths — the lowest daily total since the first week of January.
— Cuomo announced that the state will allow wedding receptions to resume starting March 15. There can be only 150 people present or 50 percent of venue capacity, whichever is less, he said — and everyone must be tested as they arrive, and the local health department must approve the event.