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County leaders in New York state say they lack the resources to support migrants and need help

the port authority bus terminal
Migrants coming to New York have used the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City as an unofficial hub for resources and support.

Saying it’s a national security crisis, county leaders across New York state are sounding the alarm about a growing influx of migrants that they say the federal government is failing to address.

Meanwhile, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she’s awaiting answers from the Biden administration.

New York State Association of Counties Executive Director Stephen Acquario said the state’s counties are increasingly shouldering the burden of the influx of migrants over the southern border, a situation that’s likely to intensify now that pandemic-era restrictions on border crossings have been lifted.

And he said they need help now. They say the federal government should consider declaring a state of emergency and immediately release funds to states like New York that are bearing the brunt of the crisis.

“The current situation is failing. The federal government is failing to address this crisis,” Acquario said. “We should have the basic information about the asylum-seekers entering the state of New York so we can match housing needs, work needs, public assistance needs, mental health needs, legal concerns.”

Acquario said the counties are creating a new website that will include links to forms to apply for state social services, as well as frequently asked questions and answers. The organization will also try to coordinate between counties that are over capacity and counties that have room for migrants.

But they said they are not equipped to handle the crisis and are also asking the federal government to open military bases to house and feed the migrants.

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said the city of Utica, which is in his county, has a long history of welcoming refugees and helping them to settle. But he said smaller counties like his, which are already dealing with a growing homeless population, don’t have enough caseworkers or other support staff to handle any new influx.

“It's not an issue of being inhumane, it's not an issue of being insensitive, or regarding any other aspect, it is about we are at capacity as well,” Picente said.

The counties say state government leaders, including Hochul, need to step up and help resolve disputes that have arisen between New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, and two Republican-led Hudson Valley counties — Orange and Rockland — where Adams planned to bus migrants to hotels.

Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin, a Republican, is one of a handful of county leaders who are prohibiting any municipality, hotel or motel in the county from entering into a contract to house migrants.

“To say that there's a plan would be a complete falsehood, because the plan seems to be Eric Adams trying to dictate to the rest of the counties in New York how he's going to do things,” said McLaughlin, who called the mayor’s actions “unfair,” “arrogant” and “completely inhumane.”

Acquario, with the association of counties, said the group is not blaming Hochul. He said the governor has written a letter to President Joe Biden, with whom she has a close professional relationship, asking for more help. But he said she could do more.

“I think the governor is in the position to quarterback this issue now,” Acquario said.

Hochul, speaking Monday at an unrelated news conference, said Biden and his aides have not yet answered her letter, written last Friday afternoon, and she’s not concerned about that. But she said she’s not sitting patiently by because New York City is “at a breaking point.”

“If more time goes on, they'll certainly be hearing from me,” Hochul said. “I'll be paying a visit, I’ll continue my regular efforts to say, ‘Help us here.’ This is a humanitarian crisis.”

Hochul said she’s working to coordinate the response between New York City and the counties. She’s deployed 1,500 National Guard members to help. And she said she’s considering adding to the $1 billion that’s already in the state budget to help care for the migrants — but so far, no one knows what those costs will be.

The governor said the counties are not being asked to pay for anything, just to consent to allow hotels in their regions to contract with New York City to house the asylum-seekers.

Hochul said she’s also asking the federal government to waive the 180-day waiting period for work authorization. She said the migrants want jobs, and many upstate regions have a worker shortage. She said if they were able to become employed sooner, there would be far less blowback from some county leaders over their arrival.

“The upstate elected officials who you would normally say perhaps they're not as open to this idea, if you said these individuals were ready to work and could work and go out to the farms and the hotels and the restaurants, their arms would be wide open,” Hochul said.

County leaders have also asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to waive the 180-day waiting period, but they said they have not received an answer yet.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.