My city Mesa is the 35th largest city in the United States. That means my community was lucky enough to get CARES Act funding from the federal government fairly early on. Smaller municipalities – in Arizona and across the country – were not as lucky.
Since the start of this devastating pandemic, America’s local elected officials have stepped up to meet the pressing needs of our residents. States and localities acted quickly and effectively to allocate and expend the overwhelming majority of funds provided through the CARES Act. However, the pandemic rages on – and our businesses and communities need new and immediate fiscal relief aid from Congress. Throughout the country, at every level, decision-makers are considering drastic cost-cutting measures with new federal support.
This week, I joined a national briefing as a proud Councilmember from the great city of Mesa and a long-time member of the National League of Cities, to talk about what must come next on our path to economic recovery as a nation. In partnership with the National Governor’s Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the National Association of Counties, the briefing provided a platform for leaders from states, territories and localities – like mine – to share how we have utilized CARES Act funds and most importantly, why further support is needed urgently.
In Mesa, we looked at how we could help small businesses recover through meaningful assistance. 550 local businesses applied for and received up to 90 days in rent, utilities, and mortgage payment relief. We provided technical assistance, helping businesses to recover, evaluate necessary changes, stimulate new business strategies and boost resiliency. As of today, I’m proud to say Mesa has provided about 6,200 households and businesses with utility assistance.
The City Council created ‘Mesa Al Fresco’ – which expedited permitting process for dining and restaurant establishments. Our city provided $1,000 per establishment to help offset costs of adding new tables, lighting, outdoor seating, and other retrofitting to meet current pandemic needs.
It is not just our businesses – America’s families and residents are struggling too. In Mesa, we provided rent/mortgage assistance to as many residents as possible. We paid rent for 912 households, and are aiming to provide for 1,500 households by end of the year. We cannot forget that the crises that preceded COVID-19 have not just gone away – like our nation’s housing instability and homelessness crisis. Through the ‘Feeding Mesa’ program, we have worked in conjunction with food banks to provide food to residents and over 1,300 food boxes to our community’s homeless population.
If Congress fails to act soon, millions of American jobs will be lost, small businesses will be permanently closed, and government services will be permanently cut.Councilmember Kevin Thompson, Mesa, AZ
All this to say, we have allocated CARES Act funds toward health and safety at every turn – but for as many problems as we look to solve, many more go yet unsolved. Unemployment numbers remain high, a few pandemic assistance programs are set to expire at the end of the year, and every day we seem to hit new record numbers of COVID-19 cases across the country. It has never been more important for the federal government to make an investment in America’s cities, towns and villages.
Other speakers at this week’s briefing included Tennessee State Senator Bo Watson and Commissioner MaryAnn Borgeson from Douglas County, Nebraska. Senator Watson discussed challenges in getting funds to smaller entities and the need for greater clarity in federal guidance on how funds can be used from the outset of allocation. Commissioner Borgeson urged Congress to extend the CRF deadline, and emphasized how public health infrastructure has been underfunded for years, adding to the financial strains accentuated by the pandemic. The throughline between all three of us speakers was clear: if Congress fails to act soon, millions of American jobs will be lost, small businesses will be permanently closed, and government services will be permanently cut.
We need additional federal support to combat the pandemic and economic crisis, and we need it now.