Consensus is Growing: More Emergency Funding is Essential for Local Governments

On Thursday, June 11, the National League of Cities (NLC) hosted local and federal elected officials for an audience of hundreds of local leaders and Congressional staff in a virtual briefing on America’s economic recovery. After opening remarks and an overview of the Cities Are Essential campaign from Clarence E. Anthony, NLC CEO and Executive Director, and Irma Esparza Diggs, NLC’s Director of Federal Advocacy, attendees heard from those leaders on the frontlines.  

As communities seek to stabilize local government operations, keep workers on the job, and maintain essential services to grow the economy, the key feature of the conversation was the local-federal partnership needed for the national economic recovery. 

Here are a few key takeaways from the briefing: 

Federal Relief to Cities, Towns and Villages is Needed Now 

All elected officials in attendance agreed: cities are essential, and no matter the size, America’s communities need federal support to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’m convinced there can be no COVID four bill that passes both Houses without aid to states and municipalities.” – U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)  

“Once these workers are laid off, there is no one to provide essential services to support employers and homeowners. The economy stops.” – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) 

“We’ve looked for relief and hoped for that relief in that first [federal] package. It went to large cities and not to small cities. Even if money comes from the state right now, it can’t be used for revenue recovery, so that’s been a challenge.” – Mark Shepherd, Mayor, Clearfield, UT 

“Guidance and direction are the best things that can help us in public policy – from other states and the federal government.”– Grover C. Robinson, IV, Mayor, Pensacola, FL  

New Jersey and Louisiana Senators Talk Revenue and Local Demand 

What communities are facing is unemployment, loss in revenues, strapped budgets and continued challenges. Supporting local economies will translate into supporting America’s economic recovery overall. The briefing featured two Congressional updates – the first from Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), in conversation with Gary Passanante, Mayor, Somerdale, New Jersey. 

All the streams of revenue that a municipality may use to meet the need for the services they provide have largely dried up. And yet, the demand on our communities and its leaders has never been greater.” – U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) 

Somerdale is a small borough of about 5,500 people… Somerdale knows what it means to overcome adversity. But in my over 24 years as mayor, we have never faced the public health, the public safety, the impact on local businesses, the community social stress, and the local finance issues that we are facing this year, and that we expect to be facing, on into next year.” – Gary PassananteMayor, Somerdale, New Jersey 

Later in the program, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) spoke with John Gallagher, Executive Director, Louisiana Municipal Association. 

“What can you do? We need you to lobby. Whatever state you’re in, go knock on the door of a Senator or Congressperson. Say: We’re going to need these dollars and let me show you why.” – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) 

Mayors in the rural areas and larger urban areas have the pulse of their communities, and if you give them the tools, they can make a difference in what money comes down for the better of the community.” – John Gallagher, Executive Director, Louisiana Municipal Association 

Local Officials Acted Fast, and Are Ready For Recovery 

Councilmember Kathy Maness, Lexington, South Carolina and 1st Vice President of NLC led a panel of local leaders to share community stories and the fast-acting and far-reaching response and recovery efforts of local government 

We did jump on this immediately. We stopped capital projects. All of our stuff is essential. That $16 million shortfall is real, and we are looking at reducing expenditures. – Greg CatonCity Manager, Grand Junction, CO 

We promptly sent as many employees to work from home as we possibly could and then soon, we had to start shutting down some of our facilities and programs. About a month into the crisis, we furloughed nearly all of our part time employees, which represent about 65% of our workforce at the city level, and then we implemented a freeze on discretionary spending. – Mark Shepherd, Mayor, Clearfield, UT 

Support for Federal Aid to Local Governments is Bipartisan 

“This isn’t a blue state, red state issue. We are part of the United States… And after COVID-19, if we do the right things, like give aid to states and municipalities, we can ultimately be more resilient and more prepared for whatever the next health challenge might come our way.” – U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)  

Cities are truly essential, and when it comes to America’s economy, it starts with municipalities. All cities have different needs, and our residents are looking for a federal plan to help the country safely start reopening and rebuilding our national economy.  That starts with supporting our cities and the workers that keep our cities functioning. 

For more resources, visit the Cities Are Essential campaign website. 

You can view a full recording of the briefing here. 

Read Mayor Mark Shepherd’s op-ed in The Hill, “Support for cities is essential to the national economic recovery”. 

About the authors: 

Irma Esparza Diggs smallIrma Esparza Diggs is a senior executive and director of federal advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow Irma on Twitter @iediggs.


Carolyn-Berndt-smallCarolyn Berndt is the legislative director for sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.



Angelina Panettieri is the Legislative Manager for Information Technology and Communications at the National League of Cities. Follow her on twitter at @AngelinainDC.