GUEST PILLAR: Direct Help for Communities Act delivers

For the Sunday paper.

For over a year, local governments have been working around the clock to protect our communities without a cent of direct federal COVID-19 aid.

Help is finally here.

Until the US rescue plan, state and local government COVID funding only went to communities with populations of 500,000 or more, a threshold that leaves less populated, more rural communities behind.

Last May, after talks with local leaders – from Democrats to Republicans to independents – who took part in the 19th

Congressman Antonio Delgado introduced the bipartisan Direct Support for Communities Act.

His bill was the first to provide relief to local governments regardless of population size.

Now, Rep. Delgado's Direct Support for Communities Act, signed as part of the American Rescue Plan, delivers $ 130.2 billion to cities, counties, towns and villages in the United States.

For too long Washington has ignored rural communities and overwhelmed communities with impossible funding parameters.

This relief is different.

It is a revolutionary investment that reaches the smallest towns and villages. Perhaps most importantly, it creates a unique mechanism to provide federal funding to rural communities that 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 aid.

The cost of responding to this pandemic, increased emergency services, testing, contact tracing, overtime pay and personal protective equipment have mostly fallen on local governments. Coupled with declining economic activity and sales taxes and other sources of income, communities like ours were at a crossroads. Without access to robust and flexible federal funding, we would be forced to continue cutting key public services such as schools, police and fire services.

We would be forced to abandon important projects such as modernizing water treatment systems or expanding broadband access.

With funding from the American Rescue Plan, we can recover from COVID-19 and begin rebuilding our communities.

As local leaders, we know what our counties, cities and villages need. Day after day we speak to struggling small business owners, farmers, veterans and families. Direct COVID-19 aid – not government mandates – enables us to prioritize local problems and use the funding sensibly.

Take broadband access, for example.

The pandemic has only widened the digital divide between those with access to quality internet and those without it.

The Federal Communications Commission reports that more than 21 million rural Americans still lack high-speed internet access.

It's unacceptable.

Our children 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 services.

Broadband services are not a luxury; it's a necessity.

Even before COVID-19, we made broadband projects a priority in our budgets. However, with dwindling tax revenues and rising costs for essential services, we didn't have the dollars to start or complete these projects.

Thanks to Rep. Delgado's Direct Support for Communities Act funding formula, we can use funding from the American Rescue Plan to invest in broadband.

From financing our fire brigades to building broadband to repairing critical infrastructure, direct COVID-19 dollars will help the communities in the hinterland. This funding will directly improve the lives of New Yorkers by empowering the services our families and small businesses need.

For many counties, US Treasury funds have already been deposited into our accounts. Soon, dollars will be distributed to every church. In the coming weeks and months we will be conscious and cooperative in our decisions to use these facilities. As local leaders across the political spectrum, we thank Rep. Delgado for his work in getting his bill into effect and delivering it to New York State.

Together, we continue to work to serve our voters and empower our communities.

This column was signed by Rep. Antonio Delgado and 35 other state and local officials from the 11 districts of the 19th Congressional District.

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