Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been missing in action as the state failed to release the vast majority of $2.6 billion in federal funds for tenants on the brink of eviction, the head of the emergency rental relief program testified Tuesday, just before the accused sexual harasser announced his resignation.
“I have not had conversations with the governor about this,” Michael Hein, commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, admitted to lawmakers at an Assembly hearing in Lower Manhattan.
Assemblyman Mike Lawler (R-Rockland County) had asked Hein when was the last time he’d spoken with Cuomo about the Emergency Rental Assistance Program passed by Congress in January.
That’s when Hein answered that he’d never spoken to the governor about the program. Instead he communicates with Cuomo’s deputies, Hein testified.
While Hein’s office has paid out $140 million to contractors to administer the program that’s beset with tech problems and only recently added a “save and resume” button to the lengthy online application, only $100 million has been distributed to tenants and landlords since June 1.
That’s just 3.7 percent of the $2.6 billion pot. The state risks forfeiting the federal funds if 65% of the money isn’t paid out by Sept. 30.
“I think what this shows is that the administration is incapable of administering this program,” Lawler fumed.
“It’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable the tenants, the landlords, and I’m disgusted by the way the state has handled this,” Lawler said.
His remarks came shortly before the governor announced his resignation amidst claims that Cuomo sexually harassed several female staffers. The unexpected announcement caused the room to erupt into applause.
A spokesman for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment on rent relief.
The program provides up to a year of back rent and utility costs to tenants at risk of eviction because of the coronavirus pandemic.
On July 21, New York was the only state in the nation that hadn’t released any of the funds allocated to it by Congress in April.
New York’s eviction moratorium expires at the end of the month.
Late last month Cuomo vowed to fix the program by hiring more employees to help administer the dollars.
But Jesenia Ponce, an attorney with the nonprofit group Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, said there are still many flaws with the process.
“We properly need a working system,” she testified Tuesday.
“We need an application system that works, proper funding for legal services, and an extension to the moratorium that will prevent the deeper state of housing instability in New York City,” Ponce said.