Less than 24 hours after the Senate released the HEALS Act, the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors hosted a joint virtual press conference with mayors from across the country to share their ongoing reality in the wake of the draft coronavirus relief package, which included no direct aid for state and local governments.
The mayors of Dayton, Ohio, Arlington, Texas, Savannah, Georgia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania reacted to the draft legislative package. Participating local leaders provided their perspectives on the disastrous economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis on their cities and why Congress must prioritize direct federal aid to local governments to ensure that cities, towns and villages across the country remain essential to the national economic recovery.
Here are three key takeaways:
America’s Communities Will Help America Recover
Providing new, robust aid directly to cities, towns and villages will make the greatest difference for America’s economic recovery. Participating mayors described the worsening economic situation as one that was once urgent and is now extremely dire. After repeatedly being told to wait for future relief packages for direct aid, America’s 19,000 hometowns are running out of time.
“We are at a critical junction. As we look into the future of economic recovery, there will not be a recovery if cities are left to die.” – Bill Peduto, Mayor, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
“Cities are the backbone of the American economy.” – Nan Whaley, Mayor, Dayton, Ohio
“Our home towns are at risk, we cannot keep fighting Congress and the Administration for funding while we are too busy fighting economic ruin.” – Van Johnson, Mayor, Savannah, Georgia
“It’s just like any other national disaster – we need money for essential services and we also need money for economic recovery.” – Jeff Williams, Mayor, Arlington, Texas
CARES Act Flexibility is Not Nearly Enough
70% of America’s cities did not receive CARES Act funding, and even those that did, the funding allocated wasn’t enough to help offset crippled local revenue, lost jobs and halted infrastructure projects. The HEALS Act does not provide any additional funding to state and local governments, instead opting to try and improve flexibility of previous funding. The four mayors were unanimous in their agreement that this method is woefully insufficient to address the worsening economic situation in America’s communities.
“Flexibility for previously allocated CARES Act funding is a drop in the bucket – we’re looking for a full pail of water.” – Mayor Johnson
“Flexibility is not enough. We need Congress to not leave cities behind.” – Mayor Williams
“This legislation [The HEALS Act] turned its back on the very elected officials that have been asked to manage this public health crisis.” – Mayor Whaley
There is Still Local Optimism That Direct Aid Will Make Final Bill
The ongoing economic and public health crisis extends far beyond the importance of political parties and demographics. While local and state governments were neglected in the HEALS Act, there is still expectation and optimism that Congress and the Administration will provide additional direct funding in the final relief package that reaches the President’s desk.
“I choose to believe there is no way the Senate will move forward without funding our cities. So many of them [Senators] realize the importance of cities’ economies. We are a major economic engine of our nation. Congress wants to be able to support local governments.” – Mayor Jeff Williams
“We are in a situation that knows no politics. The coronavirus does not choose red states, blue states, big cities or small cities.” – Mayor Peduto
NLC launched the Cities Are Essential campaign in May, calling on the federal government to ensure there is flexible, direct funding relief provided to America’s municipalities in response to the coronavirus pandemic. For more information, visit the Cities Are Essential website.
About the author:
Angelina Panettieri is the Legislative Manager for Information Technology and Communications at the National League of Cities. Follow her on twitter at @AngelinainDC.