The Clinton administration reversed its decision to deny New York state funding to combat the costs of the West Nile virus last week, offering the state $5 million in emergency funding that was welcomed by local congressmen and denounced by the governor.
Gov. George Pataki criticized the Clinton administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for having "shortchanged" the state on reimbursement for the cost of fighting the West Nile virus. In a statement last week, Pataki said the virus cost the state and the city $14 million in 1999 and $17 million so far this year.
"Unfortunately, the Clinton administration has once again shortchanged New Yorkers, who already send billions more to Washington than we ge t back," Pataki said. "In effect, this assistance is nothing more than a drop in the bucket."
U.S. Reps. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) praised the Clinton administration's move, which Crowley called "a good step" toward paying the state and city's West Nile costs.
"This may not pay the full bill," Crowley said. "But it is a good step in our fight in Washington to secure more federal funding to combat this virus and help local communities."
The West Nile virus appeared in New York in August 1999 in an outbreak which may have originated in College Point, killing four borough residents and sickening dozens throughout the city. So far in 2000, 14 city residents - including one St. Albans woman - have been infected with the virus. A New Jersey man died from West Nile last month.
Ackerman said "these resources help ensure that the New York Metropolitan area has enough ammunition to fight the West Nile virus. The health and safety of New Yorkers must be protected against this deadly disease."
Pataki acknowledged the effort of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and other members of congress, but said "once again the Clinton administration has failed to be a true partner with New York state in protecting American citizens from a major public health threat."
The governor said in a statement FEMA's funds would reimburse localities that had to fight the virus on a cost-sharing basis. Nearly every county in the state, according to the state Health Department's website, has had to deal with West Nile.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Antonia Novello called the offer of 5 million federal dollars "unconscionable."
In September, Pataki expressed outrage when the federal government denied his request for $20 million in emergency financial assistance to cover the costs of the West Nile virus.
Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.