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Erie County spends $2 million on hotels for homeless isolation during COVID pandemic

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Posted at 3:00 AM, Apr 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-05 06:31:09-04

The 7 News I-Team is following the money, learning just how much was spent on hotels — for those who couldn't isolate from COVID — during the pandemic.

This is an issue, first uncovered by the I-Team in January. We discovered Erie County was spending about $5,000 each week, to house these folks in a Buffalo hotel.

After a Freedom of Information Law request, the I-Team has discovered, that $5,000 was a drop in the bucket.

Between two hotels and over about two years, the 7 News I-Team discovered, Erie County spent more than $2 million, to house people who needed to isolate, because of COVID and didn't have stable housing.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz wouldn't speak with the I-Team, but a spokesman for the County Executive told us in a statement:

"Erie County is legally obligated to provide housing to homeless individuals and in this case (a global pandemic) to individuals who could not safely isolate."

"Wow. I mean we're looking at $45,000 a week," questioned Erie County's minority leader Joe Lorigo.

Purchase order after purchase order and line by line, Lorigo questions how the money was spent.

"I don't know if it is really the responsibility of taxpayers to pay for the housing of COVID-19 positive people at these high rates," Lorigo said.

The Poloncarz administration explains:

"ALL spending on this came from the federal CARES Act funds"

and goes on to explain:

"...no Erie County tax dollars were spent..."

"I hate that talking point that it was federal CARES Act money," Lorigo said. "It's still tax payer money. It's still money that you and I and everyone in Erie County put something towards and it should be treated with respect." Lorigo continued, "anytime that we refuse to look at it as our own people's money, you start to squander it and I think that's exactly what happened here."

Erie County purchase orders, for the Best Western Galleria on Dingens Street in Buffalo, show the county was paying $50 per room, per day.

Each room was to have a working:

  • microwave
  • refrigerator
  • WiFi.

According to these purchase orders, guests put out their trash at night. There was a pick up fee of $3. A hotel breakfast was delivered to guests' doors for a cost of $9 per day, per room. Lunch and dinner were also delivered, but by the county. In some cases, the hotel charged the county $250 for smoking or damage.
At the Fairfield Inn and Suites on Rensch Road in Amherst — which was used for isolation until April 2021-- purchase orders show the cost per room was $60 each day. Breakfast was served at $8 per meal and was cleaned up at $3 per meal. In some cases, laundry done at $35 per guest. Some guest rooms disinfected at $10 each.

Lorigo said, "I think the next step is to have a conversation at the Legislature with representatives from the administration and the comptroller's office and find out how this all occurred, why they thought it was prudent to spend this type of money and whether or not everything was done on the up and up."

The Poloncarz administration insists everything was done by the book, adding "employing this isolation process for individuals and families who had no other alternatives helped greatly in responding to the pandemic."

How exactly these hotels were chosen for isolation is unclear. The Poloncarz administration says it followed spending recommendations and guidelines, set forward by the US Treasury.

A spokesman also says the county's budget department provided updates to lawmakers throughout the pandemic.