For the Sunday Gazette.
For over a year, local governments have worked around the clock to keep our communities safe without a dime of direct federal COVID-19 relief.
Finally, help is here.
Until the American Rescue Plan, COVID funding for states and local governments had only benefited communities with populations of 500,000 or more, a threshold that leaves less populated, more rural communities behind,
Last May, after conversations with local leaders — from Democrats to Republicans to independents — serving throughout New York’s 19th Congressional District,
Congressman Antonio Delgado introduced the bipartisan Direct Support for Communities Act.
His bill was the first legislation to provide relief to local governments, irrespective of population size.
Now, Rep. Delgado’s Direct Support for Communities Act, signed into law as part of the American Rescue plan, is delivering $130.2 billion to cities, counties, towns and villages across the United States.
For too long, Washington has ignored rural communities and overburdened municipalities with impossible-to-achieve funding parameters.
This relief is different.
It’s a revolutionary investment that will reach the smallest towns and villages. Perhaps most important, it establishes a first-of-its-kind mechanism to get federal funding to rural localities, which we can build on in the future.
In New York’s 19th Congressional District, we will receive an estimated $400 million in direct federal COVID-19 relief.
The costs of responding to this pandemic, increased emergency services, testing, contact tracing, overtime pay and personal protective equipment have fallen mostly on local governments. Coupled with declining economic activity and sales taxes, along with other revenue generators, communities like ours were at a crossroads. Without access to robust and flexible federal funding, we would be forced to continue making cuts to critical public services like schools, police and fire departments.
We would be forced to abandon crucial projects like upgrading water treatment systems or expanding access to broadband.
With American Rescue Plan funding, we can recover from COVID-19 and begin to rebuild our communities.
As local leaders, we know what our counties, towns and villages need. Day in and day out, we speak with struggling small business owners, farmers, veterans and families. Direct COVID-19 relief — not mandates from the state — allows us to prioritize local issues and put funding to good use.
Take broadband access, for example.
The pandemic has only deepened the digital divide between those with access to quality internet and those without.
The Federal Communications Commission reports that more than 21 million rural Americans are still without high-speed internet access.
It is unacceptable.
Our kids need the internet to learn, our small businesses need the internet to sell products online and now, residents need the internet to access vaccine registration portals and virtual health care services.
Broadband service is not a luxury; it is a necessity.
Even before COVID-19, we made broadband projects a priority in our budgets. However, with dwindling tax revenue and increased essential-services costs, we did not have the dollars necessary to start or finish these projects.
Thanks to Rep. Delgado’s Direct Support for Communities Act funding formula, we can use American Rescue Plan funding to invest in broadband.
From funding our fire departments to building broadband to fixing critical infrastructure, direct COVID-19 dollars will help upstate communities. This funding will directly improve the lives of New Yorkers by strengthening the services our families and small businesses need.
For many counties, funding from the U.S. Treasury has already reached our accounts. Soon, dollars will be distributed to every municipality. In the coming weeks and months, we will be deliberate and collaborative in our decisions to utilize this relief. As local leaders from across the political spectrum, we thank Rep. Delgado for his work to get his bill signed into law and deliver for upstate New York.
Together, we remain committed to serving our constituents and strengthening our communities.
This column was signed by Rep. Antonio Delgado and 35 other state and local officials from the 11 counties within the 19th Congressional District.