Majority seeks clarity on Curran’s proposal for $375 direct payments to homeowners

Majority seeks clarity on Curran’s proposal for $375 direct payments to homeowners
Presiding Officer Rich Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) sought clarity on the legality of a proposal for direct payments to homeowners put forward by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. (Photo by Jed Hendrixson)

Nassau County Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) has sought further advice on County Executive Laura Curran’s proposal to provide eligible homeowners with direct payments of $375.

On Friday, Nicolello sent a letter to acting Nassau County Attorney John B. Chiara seeking clarity on whether the proposal would comply with U.S. Department of Treasury rules and if further work needs to be done before the County Legislature potentially approves the measure at its next meeting Sept. 27.

“Prior to this meeting, on behalf of the Majority, I ask that your office solicit a legal opinion from outside legal counsel as to whether the direct cash assistance program as proposed by the county executive is consistent with and allowable by the United States Department of Treasury,” Nicolello said in the letter.

Efforts to reach Chiara’s office for comment were unavailing.

Curran’s proposal, also known as the Household Assistance Program, would provide direct payments to upwards of 400,000 homeowners with an income of up to $168,900 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Households with a total income no greater than $500,000 that have proof of suffering a negative economic impact from the coronavirus pandemic will also be eligible for the payment, Curran said.

Documents such as receipts of unemployment benefits, food or housing insecurity, increased child-care expenses, coronavirus-related death expenses or unreimbursed remote work/learning expenses can be submitted through the Boost Nassau online portal.

The payments will only be sent to homeowners who already receive the state’s STAR or enhanced STAR exemptions, officials announced.

Curran’s proposal to provide homeowners with direct payments has been in the works since late spring. Curran presented modified plans to the Republican-controlled Legislature in late July that would send the one-time payments to households with a total income of up to $168,900, a revision from initial plans to dispense payments to households with a total income no larger than $500,000 proposed in May.

During the summer, Nicolello and other members of the legislative majority asked representatives from the Curran administration to provide more clarity on the legality of the proposed measure during a hearing.

Nicolello’s inquiry whether anyone in the administration had sought guidance from Treasury consultants or legal counsel on whether the payments would be feasible was met with silence.

“In my 25 years here, I have never seen this before,” Nicolello said regarding the lack of answers from administration officials. “The problem is, in case you’re not able to issue those checks as the county executive told people on May 17, at some point we’re going to have to explain that to the residents of Nassau County.”

Earlier in September, Curran called on members of the Legislature to “cut their summer vacations short” so they could return to vote on her proposal for the direct payments.

“Instead of waiting another few weeks and stalling the process even further, let’s take action now,” Curran said. “The Household Assistance Plan will not only help those who continue to struggle but also provide a meaningful boost to our local economy.”

Representatives from the Curran administration said they would seek further clarity from the Treasury Department on whether direct payments were permissible, but did not say if further guidance has been provided.

Majority spokesperson Chris Boyle said the Legislature will ensure everything is in order before any approval is made.

“After the county executive had to change her initial plan because she failed to get guidance, and after the failures in the assessment rollout, the Majority is going to do its due diligence to make sure that this is not just another botched initiative,” Boyle said in an email to Blank Slate Media.

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