“We’ll take it,” Westchester County Executive George Latimer said when asked by the Business Journal about U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer revealing that Westchester County would be receiving about $168 million in aid as part of a $2 trillion COVID-19 economic package working its way through Congress.
“We’ll use it to make sure we are providing all of the different services we need to protect lives,” Latimer said. “Dealing with the Westchester County Center and turning it over to the state (for use as an overflow hospital), ditto the Glen Island parking lot (for use as a drive-thru testing center), there are some costs involved in that. We hope we’ll be reimbursed for those costs, but we’re more concerned about making sure that we keep our public health services, nurses, on duty, that we keep our police officers on duty.”
Latimer said that it’s too soon to tell just how bad the county’s financial situation is going to be because there are so many uncertainties regarding the course of the crisis.
“I suspect our finances and the state’s finances are in a free fall. You cannot start the process of figuring out how you’re going to dig out of this,” Latimer said. “What’s our projected sales tax revenue? How do you know what your revenue is going to be until you know when the stores are going to reopen?”
Latimer said you could do financial projections based on businesses reopening at some arbitrary date but it likely would be a meaningless exercise.
“You can model base on April 12,” Latimer said of the back-to-business-as-normal date being pushed by President Trump. “I think that’s a ridiculous model, but anybody can come up with a model they think is appropriate. We could project revenues and we could try to project expenses and then we could be made to look foolish once circumstances on the ground are different.”
Latimer is under no illusions that actually getting the county’s hands on money promised by the federal government in the recovery bill is going to be a snap.
“I assume they’re not just going to hand us cash. They’re going to ask and we’re going to file and we’re going to have to show documents,” Latimer said. “We’re going to have to show specific amounts of money spent. We certainly can show a host of different things as a county government that we’ve spent on and as long as we know that some of that money is going to go for individuals, some of that money is going to go for businesses, some of that money is going to go for hospitals, then we certainly appreciate that a portion is going to go to the county government to help us have stability as well.”
Latimer said he doesn’t believe state and local government will be solvent once the crisis is over without the help of the federal government.
“This is a moment analogous to 1933. I wasn’t alive in 1933; I read stories about what happened,” Latimer said. “We had been through three or four years of the depression and the philosophy of the federal government prior to 1933 was ‘We’ll do a little bit on the margins but you’re basically on your own.’ A different philosophy came in to play with Franklin Roosevelt and he said that we as a federal government have a responsibility to help these local governments.”
Latimer said that people living in states that have not yet been hit as hard by COVID-19 as New York need to realize that this is a national crisis.
“If you think you’re giving New York a bailout, just remember that New Yorkers supported the money necessary to rebuild New Orleans and Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. After Hurricane Harvey cut a swath through Texas, New Yorkers were prepared to support that. New Yorkers were prepared to support California’s response to the wildfires,” Latimer said.
“In due time, we’re going to see this disaster come to the shores and front doors all around the country. I’m not going to care what’s a red state. I’m not going to care what’s a blue state. They’re red, white and blue Americans that need help and we should help them.”