$1B to Buffalo under House stimulus bill

Democratic bill, termed "dead on arrival" by GOP leaders, would provide local governments with huge windfall

The disaster relief package House Democrats expect to pass on Friday includes $375 billion in aid for local governments across the country. 

About $1 billion of that would be earmarked for the City of Buffalo over two years, according to a breakdown provided to Investigative Post by U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins.

If the House bill were adopted as is by the Senate — a nearly insurmountable if, according to Higgins — Buffalo would receive $671.6 million in 2020, within 30 days of the HEROES Act being adopted. The city would receive an additional $335.8 million in 2021.

That’s nearly two years’ worth of city revenues. And it is far more than the $65.1 million in federal relief Mayor Byron Brown counts on to balance his proposed 2020-2021 budget, submitted to the Common Council on May 1.

Other large recipients in Higgins’ Congressional district include Erie County ($344 million this year), Niagara Falls ($114 million) and the Town of Tonawanda ($81 million.)

Kelly discusses his story on WBEN

“It’s a one-house bill right now,” Higgins told Investigative Post. “So it’s a start, not the end, of a negotiation.”

Republican leaders in the Senate immediately rejected the plan, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declaring it “dead on arrival.” McConnell told reporters Republicans would “insist on narrowly targeted legislation.”

Higgins told Investigative Post local governments in his district are struggling to balance their budgets as the COVID-19 crisis diminishes revenues and jacks up expenses.

Proposed payouts under House bill

Government 2020 allocation 2021 allocation
Buffalo 671.6 million 335.8 million
Erie County 344.4M 172.2M
Niagara Falls 114.1M 57.1M
Town of Tonawanda 81.4M 40.7M
Niagara County 78.5M 39.2M
Cheektowaga 50.2M 25.1M
Amherst 29.8M 14.9M
West Seneca 14.9M 7.5M
North Tonawanda 10M 5M
Grand Island 7M 3.5M
Lackawanna 5.8M 2.9M
Kenmore 5M 2.5M
Williamsville 1.7M $861,500
Sloan 1.2M $585,000

Source: U.S. House of Representatives

To allocate aid to local governments, the House proposal uses the same formula the federal government uses to dispense Community Development Block Grant money. That’s why the City of Buffalo’s proposed share is so big, according to Higgins: Buffalo is a poor city.

The measure also includes $500 billion in aid to state governments, to be allocated according to population. That formula has drawn criticism from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who argues the formula shortchanges New York State, which has been much more heavily impacted by the pandemic than other states. Under the Democratic proposal, New York would receive $22.3 billion this year and $12.1 billion next year.

The Democratic plan also includes $10 million for food stamps, $16 billion for mass transit agencies and $4 billion to provide more Section 8 housing vouchers. The bill also set aside $200 million in hazardous duty pay for essential workers.

And it provides a second round of direct payments to individuals — $1,200 per family member, up to $6,000 per household.

Our Weekly Newsletter

Although he is realistic about the bill’s chances of passing the Senate, Higgins told Investigative Post he would fight to preserve its measures, particularly the $5 billion it directs to the National Institutes of Health to fund vaccine research. A vaccine, he said, is the end goal. Without a vaccine, he said, the cost measured in lives and dollars will continue to mount.

“Eighty thousand Americans are dead because of COVID-19. That number is expected to double by August,” he said. “We’ve lost time and money, and we’ve lost people in this fight.”