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New round of federal aid is on its way to Valley Stream businesses, schools

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With the recent signing of the $1.9 trillion federal coronavirus stimulus package — the third round of economic stimulus since the coronavirus pandemic began last March — New York is due around $100 billion, to be apportioned between direct payments to residents and funding for state and local governments, businesses and schools.

The aid will offer a lifeline to local restaurants and bars, which have struggled with state capacity restrictions and customers who have stayed away for fear of infection.

In Valley Stream, Anthony DiStefano, co-owner of the Valbrook Diner on Merrick Road, said the Small Business Administration was still reviewing his application for aid from the second round of federal stimulus, which was signed into law Dec. 27. Once that has been approved, DiStefano said, he would apply for funding from the latest package, noting that “every little bit helps.”

“We’re trying to hold our own,” he said, “and thank God we’ve got a good community and customers to help us through this hard time, but we’re still just trying to pay our bills.”

Some $28.6 billion will go to New York restaurants in grants administered by the SBA, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. An additional $1.25 billion is slated for performing arts venues and movie theaters, which have spent much of the last year shuttered.

The package also includes $825 million for the state’s villages, to be distributed based on population. While details are still vague, Valley Stream Village Treasurer Mike Fox said he anticipated around $109 per resident, in two installments. The money, he said, would help fill gaps in the current budget year, which ends on May 31, and he does not anticipate the aid affecting the upcoming village budget, which is to be voted on in April. 

Additionally, the funding will shore up the  state’s finances, which until passage of the American Rescue Plan faced a roughly $4 billion hole in the upcoming fiscal year. According to the executive budget submitted to the Legislature on Jan. 19, the state needed at least $15 billion in aid to stave off major cuts. With $12.6 billion going directly to the state and billions more going to local counties and towns, it would appear those cuts have been averted.

Perhaps most significantly for Valley Stream, the executive budget contained a roughly $1.1 million cut in school aid to the Central High School District. With the cuts restored, and an additional $9 billion earmarked in the package for kindergarten-though-12 public schools in the state to reopen and address losses in learning during the pandemic, local schools are poised for a potential windfall in funding.

With the influx of money, State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, said his caucus was taking an aggressive approach to school funding in current budget talks. “We’ve come up with a plan that really treats school funding as essential, and something that hasn’t been given enough attention in recent years,” he said. The state budget is due April 1.

In addition to seeking to expand state aid to schools to what he called “record levels” using a combination of federal aid and state funds, Kaminsky said the Senate is looking to earmark $500 million for statewide universal pre-kindergarten. “The lack of universal pre-K, especially for working parents, has been highlighted by the pandemic,” he said, noting the childcare dilemma for parents of young children who must leave home to work.

While he said he was open to addressing restored state aid cuts and additional aid in the high school district’s upcoming $129 million 2021-22 budget, Dr. Wayne Loper, assistant superintendent of business for the district, cautioned against relying on the money to fund additional services. At the same time, with the state budget yet to be finalized, he said there was still no word on what, exactly, the district would receive.

“Starting programs with one-time money is never a good idea because there’s no funding for the following year,” he said. “It’s better to hold onto it to fill the deficit that will follow.” Already the district has received more than $1 million in stimulus aid from the first two federal packages, he said, which is funding not guaranteed for upcoming years. Loper recommended holding on to any new aid for the 2022-23 school year to fill any gaps left after the stimulus dries up.

“When we build programs and opportunities for children, we want them to be able to continue year after year,” he said. Despite anticipating the loss of state aid in the original executive budget, the upcoming high school district budget is largely status quo, Loper said, maintaining existing programs while bolstering technology initiatives and providing evening hours for school mental and emotional support services so parents and their children are better able to take advantage of them.