Pay your bill

Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

It’s unfortunate that the novel coronavirus pandemic has resulted in financial problems for so many individuals.

But it’s shameful that our state government has compelled one group to consider closing its doors for good. Albany owes ACR Health more than $1 million, and the organization will soon deplete what revenue it has left on hand.

“ACR Health is at risk of laying off its 156 workers and closing when it runs out of money at the end of July because the state owes the nonprofit more than $1 million, Executive Director Wil Murtaugh said. The state owes money for the contract it has with the nonprofit, which provides health-related services in nine counties, for work done between Jan. 1 and April 30, according to ACR Health,” a story published Saturday by the Observer-Dispatch in Utica reported. “At immediate risk are rental and food assistance programs. The agency hasn’t been able to pay rental subsidies for people who are HIV positive this month, Murtaugh said. That includes 27 individuals in Oneida and Herkimer counties, he said. And ACR Health isn’t the only agency facing the same problem, Murtaugh said. It’s one of several Regional Community Service Providers that the state pays to provide support services to underserved populations. They were originally set up by the late Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1984 during the AIDS crisis. Now ACR Health serves individuals with HIV, hepatitis C, sexually transmitted infections, substance use disorder and other chronic medical conditions. It also provides helps people enroll in government or state exchange health plans, runs programs for LGBTQ and runaway youth, works with former inmates and conducts prevention programs, including a syringe exchange.”

With its headquarters in Syracuse, ACR Health oversees offices in Canton and Watertown. Mr. Murtaugh told the Observer-Dispatch that the group continues to receive money from state and federal governments for some of its programs, but this isn’t enough to maintain its operations.

Responding to the article, the state Department of Health said New York is facing its own money crunch. The federal government has delayed income tax payments from April to July, for example.

We understand that everyone’s budgets are being impaired by the economic downturn. But the thought of losing a vital public health organization in the midst of a pandemic is not comforting.

The state needs to find ways to increase its revenues and pay its bills. Albany made an obligation to ACR Health, and it must live up to its word.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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