“Cities are the economic engines of the nation and home to the workers who make those engines run. The result of the growing pandemic is that most of these engines, which account for 91 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product and wage income, have slowed, and many have stopped. Reliable economic forecasters are reporting that the nation will experience economic contraction during 2020, with income and consumer sales down significantly in real terms. This means that cities will suffer significant revenue loss at the same time their expenditures are increasing in response to the crisis – clearly an untenable situation.” – U.S. Conference of Mayors
Garbage strewn in the streets. Buses and trains at a standstill. Overflowing emergency rooms. Unanswered 911 calls.
This is what post-shutdown America will look like without a Rescue Plan for state and local governments.
While much of America is working from home and sheltering in place, “essential” workers – many of them state and municipal employees – literally are risking their lives to keep everyone else safe. But unless the federal government honors its responsibility to support the men and women on the front lines, more Americans will die and the nation will sink ever faster into a recession or even a depression.
Over the last seven weeks, a staggering 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits, and states are already running out of money to pay unemployment claims. Nine states have requested to borrow a collective $38 billion from the federal government. That’s almost as much as the total amount states borrowed for unemployment claims during the Great Recession.
Now, despite the desperate need for their efforts, state and municipal workers are joining the ranks of the unemployed.
More than 400 city employees will be impacted by a “personnel reduction” just announced in Rochester, New York. More than 3,000 people who work for the City of Rochester and others could be laid off or furloughed in the coming weeks.
Louisville, Kentucky, has furloughed 380 workers and is within weeks of slashing its police force. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1,000 city employees are seeing their hours and their pay reduced. Dayton, Ohio, has furloughed a quarter of its staff, including some who manage the city’s water system. Further layoffs could affect police officers.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, of which I am a past president, has called for an investment of $250 billion, which includes resources for public health departments, displaced workers, small business support, food insecurity and substance abuse programs, as well as existing federal programs such as the Community Development Block Grant and Head Start.
The National League of Cities is requesting the same, plus an additional $250 billion for the following fiscal year.
Since the first Coronavirus Rescue Plan passed Congress in mid-March, there has been no direct aid made available to the vast majority of municipalities.
Unfortunately, instead of seizing the opportunity to stimulate the nation’s economy by investing in the cities that are its engines, politicians in Washington are exploiting the crisis for partisan gain. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested he would rather see states fall into bankruptcy than authorize relief. He also said that sustainability funding for state and local governments should be tied to liability protections for businesses.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, sees an opportunity to inflame xenophobia by trading relief for regressive, anti-immigrant policies in the cities.
Make no mistake: politicizing aid for states and cities is life-threatening. More than 75,000 Americans have died, and denying resources for first responders and front line workers will lead to more unnecessary deaths.
As Clarence Anthony, the leader of the National League of Cities, said: “This is not about bailing out local governments that have done something wrong, because we’ve not, we’ve stepped up. Playing with the lives of people over a narrative that is not accurate is just not right.”