Like most elected officials these days, Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and his staff are busier than they’ve ever been.
Mr. Thiele said his offices in Albany and Sag Harbor are receiving an unprecedented amount of calls and emails from constituents seeking information and help during the pandemic concerning health, jobs and small businesses.
“People are calling about testing for the virus, how to apply for benefits if they’ve been laid off, and how a business can get loans to stay afloat,” Mr. Thiele said.
The assemblyman said the state’s Department of Labor “is overwhelmed,” by requests to get information and to file for benefits. The spike in people out of work in his district — which includes Shelter Island, East Hampton, Southampton and portions of Brookhaven — has gone straight up since mid-March, and his office is directing constituents to the proper offices and trying to help those who are not computer literate or don’t have access to computers.
As the pandemic was rapidly spreading, Mr. Thiele and his colleagues were negotiating and voting on a $177 billion state budget, passing it at 3:40 a.m. on April 3. One issue he said he fought for was the restoration of funding for the 2019-2020 state fiscal year from the Aid and Incentive to Municipalities Program (AIM), which will go to towns and villages. According to Mr. Thiele, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s original proposal was to cut funding from last year’s level of $715 million to $656 million.
With municipalities mobilizing to protect their residents from the virus, the money will be another resource, Mr. Thiele said.
On the health front, more testing for the virus is one of the highest priorities, he said. “The Long Island state delegation meets every afternoon,” he noted, and all members are pulling in the same direction, along with Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). One priority is to get another testing facility for the East End, he said. Presently there are testing locations in Riverhead and Stony Brook University.
“We’re all working on getting another one closer to home,” he said.”
Bipartisanship is the order of the day now, but Mr. Thiele said that even in less perilous times, elected officials across Long Island have found common ground on almost all issues. The pandemic has just made that incentive more urgent.
“Politics has no place these days,” he said.