Gov. Cuomo issued an ultimatum Wednesday, threatening to withhold state money from New York City and schools in coronavirus hot spots if COVID-19 safety regulations aren’t enforced.
The governor, frustrated by yeshivas in parts of Brooklyn and upstate that have remained open in defiance of state shutdown orders, said he sent a letter to local governments saying they must enforce or lose funding.
“I don’t know how else to get them to do the enforcement that they need to do, so hopefully that will motivate them, because nothing else I have done has motivated them," Cuomo said during a call with reporters.
While he didn’t specify how much money could be denied to the Big Apple, the governor indicated it could be a significant number.
“We have the authority to impound all funds to a locality,” he said. “How much will we penalize them? It depends, and it will be to our discretion.”
The ultimatum comes a week after the state issued a temporary limit on gatherings and closed schools and businesses in nine hot spot zones, including the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Borough Park, which has one of the highest infection rates in the city.
And yet, dozens of private yeshivas in the neighborhood have ignored the shutdown order, leading Cuomo to insinuate Mayor de Blasio is afraid of the political fallout associated with enforcing lockdown orders in the area.
“They don’t want to do the enforcement. Why? Because it’s politically sensitive,” the governor said without mentioning the mayor by name. “The community we’re talking about today is a politically powerful community... so I understand they don’t want to incur the wrath and the political downside."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a ceremony to unveil the statue of the patron saint of immigrants, Mother Frances Cabrini, in Battery Park on Oct. 12, 2020, in New York. (Frank Franklin II/)
Borough Park, along with part of Queens and communities in Orange and Rockland Counties, have seen COVID-19 outbreaks in recent weeks amid large religious gatherings and a lack of social distancing and mask-wearing.
After the governor announced strict safety measures in the so-called “cluster” sites, hundreds of Hasidic protesters took to the streets in Brooklyn, burning masks and carrying signs slamming Cuomo.
“This is no longer a question of public education — it’s enforcement,” the governor said. “I’ve made it very clear to members of this community what the rules are, what the science is.”
Cuomo has railed for months against what he describes as the city’s laisse faire attitude toward executing statewide COVID-19 precautions and safety measures, arguing last week that the recent surges are a direct result of a lack of enforcement.
De Blasio, meanwhile, said stemming the spread of coronavirus is a communal effort and touted “progress” being made in hot spot neighborhoods.
“This is a decisive week, truly decisive. We have to stop a second wave from hitting New York City and we have the power to do it. But everyone has to be a part of this,” he said. "Folks who are not doing the right thing — of course, there will be enforcement.
“We have a chance this week to turn the tide and we all have to do that together,” he added.
Statewide, New York’s infection rate was 1.1% as of Tuesday, according to Cuomo. The rate in the “red zones” was at 6.2%.
In addition to notifying local governments, the governor said a letter will be sent to all schools in the hot spots, letting them know about the potential loss of funding.
Schools that have already violated the closure will be served with a notice Wednesday mandating they close or state aid will be withheld until “the matter is resolved to our satisfaction.”