By Delia DeRiggi-Whitton
To date, Nassau County has received approximately $385 million in COVID relief money through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and $85.2 million more in settlements from opioid manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. Of that combined sum of approximately $470 million, Nassau County has to date only committed approximately $86 million and disbursed $7 million, respectively.
While many have wondered about the palpable lack of urgency from the administration of Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman in getting these life-enriching and life-saving funds into the community, a recent budget hearing potentially exposed the callous reason his administration continues to sit on these funds.
During the October 10, 2023 hearing, administration officials confirmed that the approximately $378 million in remaining proceeds from both the ARPA funding and various opioid settlements are being used to bolster Nassau County’s reserves, which in turn is helping to boost and maintain the County’s credit score with rating agencies such as Moody’s, S&P Global and Fitch. Furthermore, every penny in interest that has and may be generated in the future by holding these opioid funds back was earned at the expense of a person who is struggling with the disease of addiction. All of this is simply appalling.
It is only marginally less infuriating when you consider that Nassau’s ARPA funds could be applied toward fighting hunger, combating homelessness, bolstering mental health programs, supporting small businesses, enhancing youth services, and so much more. For months, my Minority Caucus colleagues and I have been advocating for approximately $12 million in itemized ARPA requests in support of organizations that provide vital community services.
While those requests have languished within the Blakeman administration, the transfer of $10 million in COVID relief funds, done under the facade of “tourism” to fund lavish 125th anniversary galas, parades, and marketing, flew through the Legislature on Monday, Dec. 18. The Minority Caucus is unified in its outrage and opposition to this latest lapse in judgment, which serves as yet another example of how County Executive Blakeman and his administration are badly out of touch with the needs of our constituents.
Federal COVID relief and opioid settlement funds were not meant to gather dust on ledger sheets, serve as an investment strategy, be used to butter up ratings agencies, or soothe the ego of a self-inflating elected official. They are meant to get into the community so that they could be applied toward addressing the challenges our constituents grapple with.
With so many people struggling and so many families facing the unthinkable crisis of losing beloved family members to addiction, the thought of spending $10 million on publicizing a 125th anniversary celebration before releasing these opioid settlement funds is unconscionable. Let’s hope in the new year these lifesaving funds as well as our federal relief funds reach their intended destinations – and at least as swiftly County Executive Blakeman’s celebration funds certainly did.
Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, of Glen Cove, is the Legislature’s Minority Leader-elect and represents Nassau County’s 11th Legislative District.