By Frank Rizzo
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran signed the Household Assistance Program (HAP) into law on Oct. 6, ending months of political gridlock caused by criticism of the plan by the Republican Majority. After the bill had been modified with some Republican requirements, it passed the full Legislature by an 18-1 vote on Oct. 4. Howard Kopel (R–Lawrence) was the lone vote against.
The HAP will make use of $100 million of federal stimulus funds allotted to the county. It will, according to a press release, “provide direct one-time payments of $375 to up to 400,000 Nassau County homeowners and renters. Households currently receiving enhanced STAR, disability and limited income, and/or senior property tax exemptions will receive checks by mail automatically and do not need to file an application. All other households must file an application in order to receive a HAP check.”
“As county executive, I’ve been committed to delivering relief to Nassau residents and businesses as we continue to recover from the impact of the pandemic,” Curran said.
“Nassau County’s finances are in the best shape they have been in decades thanks to fiscal discipline by my administration. This has allowed us to push funding from the American Rescue Plan back to our residents and businesses. These direct payments will not only help those who continue to struggle, but also provide a meaningful boost to our local economy.”
President Joe Biden signed the federal stimulus bill back in March.
First introduced by Curran in May, the HAP was modified and reintroduced in July after questions were raised whether it met the Treasury Department guidelines.
According to a press release, the program was crafted by the administration after the Treasury authorized recipients to use funds to “provide assistance to households or populations facing negative economic impacts due to COVID–19, including cash assistance. In doing so, Nassau County may consider negative economic impacts to households such as those who have experienced unemployment, food insecurity, housing insecurity, or are low- to moderate-income.”
Further, “Households making below $168,900 need only verify income and residency eligibility in their applications with a 2020 tax return. Households making between $168,900 and $500,000 will be required to submit an application with documentation verifying income and a negative economic impact from the pandemic, such as unemployment (e.g., receipt of unemployment benefits during 2020), food or housing insecurity (e.g., receipt of social services benefits, missed mortgage payments, utility arrears, eviction notices), unreimbursed medical bills (e.g., behavioral health costs brought on by the pandemic), increased child-care expenses, COVID 19-related death expenses or unreimbursed remote learning/work expenses including increased Internet costs.”
“Today’s action is a testament to County Executive Curran’s strong fiscal management through the pandemic, which positioned us to return $100 million directly to taxpayers,” said Legislature Minority Leader Kevan M. Abrahams (D–Freeport). “As Nassau families continue to struggle with economic hardships caused by the pandemic, I am glad that these checks will soon be in the hands of our residents.”
“Today marks the culmination of a months-long effort by County Executive Curran and the Minority Caucus to put money back in the hands of Nassau residents as they continue to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19. My only regret is that the Legislature took so long to approve this common-sense approach to aiding our seniors, our veterans, and so many more Nassau County residents,” Legislator Debra Mulé (D–Freeport) said.
“These checks are nothing to scoff at. They will help working- and middle-class families stock up on groceries, purchase school supplies for their children and pay bills they may have fallen behind on during the pandemic. From day one, County Executive Curran has been all about doing what’s right for people, and her tenacity in advocating for direct relief payments is yet another example of her exemplary and steady leadership throughout the COVID-19 crisis,” Legislator Arnold W. Drucker (D–Plainview) said.
In a statement, Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R–New Hyde Park) said, “The Majority has forced improvements to the county executive’s plan, including multiple changes to her original plan, which was an impermissible use of the federal funds. We made sure tax returns submitted to the county will be protected from disclosure, forced the administration to develop a comprehensive plan for distributing the payments, including enhanced assistance to residents and a dedicated county call line to answer questions.
After seeing how poorly the county executive ran her reassessment program, the Majority will do everything in our power to improve the distribution of these payments.”
Asked by Anton Media Group why the Republicans ultimately chose to back Curran’s plan, Legislator Steve Rhoads (R–Bellmore) replied, “We don’t want to stand in the way of relief being delivered to residents. So even though we questioned how many residents will actually be applying for it and we questioned the administration’s ability to deliver on that promise, if there is an opportunity to even help a handful of people, to provide relief to residents, we want to do that.”
He added, “To be honest, were it not for the fact that we asked questions, the original plan that the county executive came out with in May probably would have resulted in that $100 million having to be paid back to the federal government. We’re still not 100 percent positive that it meets Treasury guidelines. But at this point we need to deliver those resources, and we felt there was an obligation to at least provide something to families that were struggling.”
At the signing ceremony Curran said, “My hope is that the residents use this money in their communities and support their local businesses.”
Curran is seeking to become the first Democrat since Thomas Suozzi in 2005 to win reelection. She will face Republican Bruce Blakeman on Nov. 2.
The Household Assistance Program Portal can be viewed at NassauCountyNY.Gov/HAP.
According to a press release, “Those with technology issues or who need in-person support will be able to make an appointment through Nassau County’s HAP Call Center beginning Tuesday, Oct. 12 by calling 516-571-1555. HAP Support Centers will be located at the Boost Nassau Resource Center, Eisenhower Park; 60 Charles Lindberg Blvd, Uniondale; 40 Main St., Hempstead; and 1 West St., Mineola. Additional community outreach efforts will be initiated in the coming weeks to ensure eligible residents are aware of the program.”