Several county leaders across the state stand eager to help with the influx of migrants to New York, but remain wary of joining forces with state officials amid leftover tension from the recent state budget fight.
State officials are exploring sending asylum seekers to SUNY campuses, closed prisons and shelters for veterans and homeless people, but facilities are stressed due to the ongoing rise in homelessness and overdose deaths since the COVID pandemic.
The final 2023-24 state budget adopted earlier this month started an immediate withholding of millions of dollars in federal aid for counties intended to help pay for Medicaid costs.
"There is some apprehension in partnering with the state on addressing this issue because of that," New York State Association of Counties Executive Director Stephen Acquario said Wednesday. "There is ongoing tension between the counties and the governor on the executive action to take the county's Medicaid money. It was unnecessary. It really did not have to happen."
The state will keep a gradually increased amount of federal assistance from counties over the next several years, swelling to nearly $800 million by 2026. The resulting gap in local government budgets makes it difficult for county leaders to have the services to house or help migrants who arrive in New York City.
"The state taking hundreds of millions of dollars away from counties leaves counties vulnerable for providing public assistance and services and having that cushion to serve in emergencies and address emergency situations," Acquario said. "There's a little less trust, if you will, with the state."
It's unclear how many people will unexpectedly arrive in the state with more than 40,000 migrants housed in the city and hundreds sent to other counties. States along the southern border have relied on sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants like New York City to send people seeking asylum.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, continues to ship busloads of migrants, who are under his jurisdiction, to other parts of the state. New buses full of people were expected to arrive at the Dutchess Red Roof Inn in the town of Poughkeepsie and Sullivan County on Wednesday night, county officials said.
"The coordination between the city, the state and the counties is very bad, and has been very bad for quite some time," Acquario said.
Republican lawmakers introduced various new legislation over the last several days to help New York City and localities preparing for thousands of migrants arriving from the southern border.
Assembly Republicans proposed bills to prohibit the use of schools or removing veterans from supportive shelters to house asylum-seekers, and to require migrants sent to the state to undergo background checks with state and local law enforcement.
"We deserve — taxpayers deserve — to know who these people are," said bill sponsor Assemblyman Matt Slater, a Republican form Yorktown. "And they deserve to know there's a system in place that they're not going to fall through the cracks and just be continuously a victim of a broken immigration system."
Senate Republicans proposed similar, but different legislation to prohibit hotels and homeless shelters from displacing vulnerable residents to make room to house asylum-seekers, and allowing a local government to override a declared state disaster emergency.
"New York is now a border state," Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt said Wednesday. "This is not an act of God. This is not a hurricane. This is a crisis of our own doing. This is the result of the failure of Democratic policies."
The Legislature included $1 billion to help with the migrant crisis in the state budget mainly focused on New York City. Acquario is pleading with the governor and Legislature to pass an emergency budget appropriation for an additional $1 billion to offset expenses related to the migrant crisis for local governments.
With two weeks of session remaining, Democratic lawmakers have not discussed the proposed legislation, or plans to adopt an emergency budget appropriation to assist localities' response.
Hochul and legislative leaders continue to wait for a plan or assistance from the federal government. Hochul visited Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to meet with members of the state's congressional delegation to form a plan to use federal property to shelter asylum seekers and other services.
"Obviously, there has to be more intervention and actually more interaction and more cooperation, and more collaboration from the federal level," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said on the matter Tuesday.
President Joe Biden and White House officials have not responded to Hochul's letter sent late last week requesting emergency disaster aid and a housing plan for migrants coming to New York.
Assemblywoman Phara Souffrant Forrest, who chairs the state Task Force on New Americans, is also against asylum seekers being held in schools, prisons or other shelters
She says the Legislature must pass affordability reforms, like tenant protections and incentives to build housing, to reverse decades of inaction. Souffrant Forrest is a staunch supporter of passing Good Cause Eviction legislation.
"Do we choose compassion, or do we choose currency?" said the assemblywoman, who is a Brooklyn Democrat. "Do we choose fear, or do we choose care? And so I think there's a challenge there and we can definitely meet that challenge. It's just a matter of willpower."