‘You will see compliance’: Gov. Cuomo threatens to withhold funding to governments and schools
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says state funds will be withheld from local governments and schools that do not enforce red zone COVID-19 orders.
Cuomo specifically called out Rockland and Orange counties, the Village of Spring Valley, Palm Tree, and the Town of Ramapo.
Cuomo says state money will be withheld from those areas if the enforcement of public health laws continues to be an issue as COVID-19 cases rise. “We could impound all funds,” says Gov. Cuomo. He says he would rather local enforcement enforce the rules. “I guarantee a yeshiva gets closed down, and they lose funding, you will see compliance,” the governor says.
Yeshivas in Orange County's red zone were seemingly still open Wednesday, despite stepped up enforcement action there this week.
News 12 went to those yeshivas Wednesday afternoon and instead of being shut down, there were dozens of buses picking up kids at dismissal and students inside crowded buildings as if it were a normal school day.
United Talmudical Academy and Congregation Bnai Yoel in Kiryas Joel both remained open Wednesday, despite executive orders to close and cease-and-desist orders.
County inspectors found a third school, Sheri Torah Goldberger, open in the red zone this week but it appeared closed as of Wednesday when News 12 was there.
The crackdown promises fines up to $15,000 for schools and local governments that aren't complying with efforts to lower soaring infection rates in hot spot communities.
Yeshivas receive millions in state funding each year for various programs but state officials say that money will be pulled if the schools don't cease and desist. Leaders in the Hasidic community say they are being targeted. "The governor's obsession with Orthodox Jews is a sad joke when you consider that multiple counties across the state with no Orthodox Jews in it have worse infection rates than Rockland County and Orange County," says Yossi Gestetner, the co-founder of Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council.
Gestetner says Gov. Cuomo keeps changing the rules and targeting his community. He says the governor in July said schools would close if a region's infection rate goes over 9% using a 7-day rolling average. According to the state Department of Health, the Mid-Hudson region's 7-day average is currently 2%.
According to YAFFED, a Jewish Education activism group, yeshivas receive millions in state funding each year for various programs. Many yeshivas in New York also operate as child care for younger children and receive $120 million in separate subsidies for that service.
Ramapo Town Supervisor Michael Specht says he is anticipating a letter from the governor that will outline further details about the potential funding cuts.
Specht says the town receives about $400,000 from the state each year.
Rockland County Executive Ed Day called out the Town of Ramapo and the Village of Spring Valley for lacking enforcement.
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus says he spoke with the governor about compliance in Kiryas Joel.
"We discussed Orange County and New York state working together to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing in Kiryas Joel and the closure of mass gatherings," said Neuhaus.
Some local leaders tell News 12 they are making progress and have seen COVID-19 rates go down the past few days, and they will work with county and state leaders to the law.
People who have spoken to News 12 say it's maddening to see people not following safety measures. "It drives me mad because we're the ones who are getting hurt the most and it's not fair to any family and anyone in in this county," says Melissa Hoffman, of Stony Point. Like many people, Jonathan LaGuerre gets frustrated when he sees people not following COVID-19 safety guidelines. Especially since he works in the medical field and sees the consequences. "We have to take all the precautions we can because we're seeing a spike right now in Monsey and in Spring Valley, it kind of gets to me because I'm trying to do my best to ensure everyone's safety," says LaGuerre.
According to the state's latest numbers, Rockland's infection rate's 7-day rolling average is 4.2%.
Next highest is Chemung County at 5.1% and Steuben County at 4.5%. No clusters zones have been named there.