Local Leaders share their communities’ stories
COVID-19 is viewed as a global pandemic, but its effect on cities, towns, and villages has been significantly local. The National League of Cities (NLC) through its Share your COVID-19 Story feature allowed local leaders to voice the pandemic’s impact on their communities.
Research shows that local governments across the United States will experience up to 40% in revenue losses as a result of their efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19. The coronavirus has wielded an economic tsunami for many municipalities forcing many communities to drastically change their livelihoods.
“It is difficult to be told to stay in your home, cancel your graduations, cancel your vacations and now potentially look for a new job while trying to make sure bills are being paid and your family’s needs are being met.” – Pauline Russo Cutter, San Leandro’s Mayor, CA
In many cities, local leaders are assisting high-risk populations such as the elderly and homeless from the strikes of the pandemic.
“The City’s recreation and human services department, in conjunction with other City departments, have been identifying and assisting homeless residents at the highest risk of exposure/adverse health effects to transition to State-funded hotels where supportive services are being provided.” – Katherine Reading, Burleson’s Council Member, TX
With local businesses, such as restaurants, temporarily or permanently closed, residents have had to adapt to a new normal, including adopting social distancing measures. Adding to this new reality is the challenge that only 36 cities were eligible for direct federal aid through the CARES Act, leaving more than 15,000 cities, towns and villages struggling with unexpected expenses related to protecting their residents during COVID.
A recent survey of more than 1,100 municipalities found that more than 74% have already been forced to make unexpected cuts and adjustments. Twenty percent are making cuts across the board while 54% are making targeted cuts.
In their own voice, local leaders illustrate how cities, towns, and villages have been profoundly impacted by the disruption of social activities. Understandably as physical distancing is a common measure to control the spread of COVID, many recreational and summer programs have been called or temporarily suspended.
Local leaders in NLC’s Share Your Story survey point out that two groups most affected by the COVID-19 public safety plans have been the youth and the police. With the closure of parks and recreational centers, youth do not have places to gather.
“The cop who may have mentored a youth or helped to coach basketball, is now seen taking down nets, breaking up gatherings of youth for public health reasons, and because of social distancing, cannot spend the time with youth to fully explain what’s going on.” – Michael Walker, Director – Partnership for a Safer Cleveland
What Are Local Leaders Doing?
Local leaders have adopted several initiatives to keep their communities together during the pandemic. While some leaders inevitably had to suspend their recreational programs, others have started plans to turn recreational centers into community engagement or service centers.
Most are getting ready to make cuts and adjustments to their budgets. Amid these waves of prevention and discretion, Burleson’s Councilmember, Katherine Reading, shared her city’s strategic plan to uplift its economy and its residents’ spirits.
The creation of a task team of local business owners and the chamber of commerce to provide a virtual gift card program of up to $30,000 for local businesses.
The creation of sponsorship among 100 local businesses with its Economic 4A corporation fund to award $5,000 to these businesses.
In exchange, the awarded local businesses agreed to buy signed and advertising space (from locals) to display positive messages in the local streets and social media.
What Does the Future Hold for Cities, Towns, and Villages?
NLC through its Cities Are Essential campaign is fighting to get direct $500 billion in federal funding to help cities, towns, and villages’ economies recover. Cities, towns, and villages are facing a devastating projection of $360 billion in revenue loss over the next three years. Without a partnership with federal leaders, the nation’s recovery is at risk, a recent NLC survey found.
Local leaders know the pivotal role of keeping their residents’ welfare protected. They are aware of the mental and physical health issues that the closure of social and recreational activities or programs have on their residents.
Many responses in the Share Your Story survey revealed that local leaders are doing their best to meet their residents’ needs under coronavirus restrictions.
About the Author:
Maria Elena Silva is a Frank Karel Fellow in the Digital Engagement, Marketing & Communications department at the National League of Cities. She is a rising junior at Hood College, majoring in Economics.