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Gov. Hochul's administration disputes claim that funds are slow to be released to veterans groups

New York state senators Jessica Scarcella-Spanton (D-23) and Jake Ashby (R-43) at the New York state Capitol in Albany on Tuesday, April 9, 2024.
New York state senators Jessica Scarcella-Spanton (D-23) and Jake Ashby (R-43) at the New York state Capitol in Albany on Tuesday, April 9, 2024.

New York state legislators are calling for the release of more than $3 million in funding for veterans’ organizations. But the governor’s administration says the money is already flowing.

According to a recent report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, the state has failed to distribute voluntary tax contributions, known as check-offs, for at least the past six years. Speaking Tuesday at the capitol, state Senator Jake Ashby, a Republican from the 43rd District, says it hurts those who gave the most.

“We're talking about veterans housing, we're talking about homeless veterans, we're talking about military families that are struggling financially, and military families who have soldiers, Marines, airmen who have been wounded or killed in action. That's where these funds go, and they haven't been disbursed,” Ashby said.

Other lawmakers calling for the release of the funds are Democratic state Senator Jessica Scarcella-Spanton of the 23rd District and 130th District Assemblyman Brian Manteklow, a Republican.

Scarcella-Spanton chairs the Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee and says, as a member of a military family herself, she understands the issues first-hand.

“We deal with veterans having homelessness issues all the time in our district, we have to beg, borrow and steal, talk to every organization across our district to make sure that they're able to get housing. It's unacceptable,” Scarcella-Spanton said.

Reached for comment, Governor Kathy Hochul’s office referred to an April 8th letter from state Department of Veterans’ Services Commissioner Viviana DeCohen and Executive Deputy Commissioner Joel Evans saying “funding has already begun to flow to important initiatives benefiting veterans and their families.”

Among the funds the assembled lawmakers want to see disbursed is more than $1.5 million for veterans’ remembrance, as well as cemetery maintenance and operations. In their letter, DeCohen and Evans say that money is already being used, saying it had not been previously because the state did not have its own veterans’ cemetery until buying what is now the New York State Veterans Cemetery – Finger Lakes in February 2023.

Scarcella-Spanton says that’s still not enough.

“We host a monthly meeting with DVS. We are on top of these issues on a regular basis, both myself and Senator Ashby. We're working together to try to get this done, to right this wrong and to make sure that not another day, not another month, not another year goes by that these funds that New Yorkers have generously donated are not dispersed again,” Scarcella-Spanton said.

The lawmakers say in addition to the funding for the cemetery and remembrance, over $1.3 million for assistance to homeless veterans, more than $360,000 for the veterans’ home assistance fund, and more than $230,000 for military family relief also need to be parceled out.

Manteklow says thanking veterans can’t be solely performative.

“How on earth can we do a $240 billion budget, if we cannot take care of our veterans? One of the things I was taught as a child was you always take care of the pennies in order to get the dollars. We have a state here that seems to not want to take care of our veterans,” Manteklow said.

Tuesday was also West Point Day at the capitol, where cadets from the military academy are honored.

Here’s Ashby:

“What kind of message are we sending to them today? What kind of message do we send to them each and every day, this administration telling them that this may not matter? I think it's kind of hard to distinguish how veterans matter, we bring them up to the capitol, we put them on display. And then we let their funding sit, or we don't increase it,” Ashby said.

Ashby says now is the perfect time to be expanding the veterans’ services department.

Scarcella-Spanton says she’s experienced shortfalls in the system herself.

“When my own husband got out of the military, we had a 1-year-old, no job prospects upon returning back to New York. And it would have been great to have New York state welcome us back. And let us know what was available to us whether that's housing, job opportunities, school benefits, you name it,” Scarcella-Spanton said.

She adds the need to support military families is one place where the two parties can agree.

“We have a piece of legislation that will create a registry in New York state of jobs who want to hire veterans, housing opportunities for veterans, we actually have a wonderful organization in the Brooklyn side of my district, Serve Vets, it’s basically supportive housing, so they have the VA come in, they help them get disability claims. I watch it change their lives- have a roof over their head, and money in their pocket,” Scarcella-Spanton said.

That bill is in committee.

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Alexander Babbie