WASHINGTON—Some Democratic and Republican lawmakers pushing to secure more state and local aid in the next stimulus package said the unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd has magnified the need to fill holes in local public-safety budgets.
“The case is being built for our bill by the events that we’re currently witnessing,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R., La.), who has sponsored legislation that would provide $500 billion in emergency funding to state and local governments to cover revenues lost by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting partial economic shutdown.
He said he believed the anxiety tied to the coronavirus and rising unemployment was further fueling tensions around the killing of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, which has sparked nationwide protests over racism and policing tactics in the country.
“The urgency of what we’ve been discussing is even clearer,” said Mr. Cassidy, adding that this isn’t the time to be laying off police officers.
States and cities facing budget shortfalls have warned they might need to pare back spending on public safety, including police officers and fire protection. Amid drops in sales taxes and other revenues, nearly 90% of cities expect revenue shortfalls, according to a survey by two advocacy groups, the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
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A National League of Cities report estimated that as many as one million public-sector employees, including police, could face layoffs due to falling revenues.
Ever since Congress passed an $150 billion infusion of state and local aid in late March for coronavirus-related expenses, lawmakers have largely divided along partisan and geographic lines over whether to quickly send in more.
The Democratic-led House has already passed a $3.5 trillion bill that would send about $1 trillion in direct aid to states and localities, among a slew of other aid and benefits. Most congressional Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), have said they want to see which previously passed aid programs are successful before authorizing more, though they agree another package will likely be necessary.
Complicating matters is how the impact of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is distributed across the country. Of the 44 congressional districts with the most Covid-19 deaths, 41 are represented by Democrats, according to data released in late May by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, largely because they represent more urban, higher-density areas where the virus initially spread most quickly.
By contrast, about two-thirds of the 44 congressional districts least affected by the virus are represented by Republicans.
“It’s fair to say that we are as divided geographically as we are politically or ideologically,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D., Minn.), who was at the center of recent negotiations over changes to a small-business relief program. People who come from areas that haven’t been as affected by the pandemic “aren’t seeing the same evidence” as those who have had to respond to it in their district, he said.
Some lawmakers say that geographical divide could start to crumble, as states that weren’t as hard hit initially have seen a recent rise in cases as they lift restrictions.
“Where this virus is hitting disproportionately today may not be the same tomorrow,” said Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, a member of House Democratic leadership. “There is no way you can put this in a Democratic box and say you don’t care about it because you represent a Republican district that may not as of yet been so impacted.”
States are expected to lose more than $200 billion in tax revenue compared to budget expectations before the pandemic, Moody’s Investors Service estimated in a report this month, noting that the social unrest over policing posed an additional source of credit risk.
GOP lawmakers from hard-hit states said they see signs that other Republicans are warming to the idea of approving more state and local aid, in part because they view this as the wrong time to curb spending on police and public safety.
“In the wake of everything that’s happened with George Floyd’s murder, we can’t afford not to have EMTs, we can’t afford to not have police officers on the street,” said Rep. John Katko (R., N.Y.).
The call for more aid for first responders comes amid a fight over “defunding the police,” a rallying cry of some activists to shift spending away from policing and toward measures that will help underserved communities. Republicans have pushed back vigorously against these calls and cast Democrats as supporting them, though the current Democratic bill on policing doesn’t include such a provision.
“While Democrats talk about defunding the police, Republicans talk about solutions that will defend Americans,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) told reporters Thursday, referring to the House GOP’s plan to unveil a policing bill of its own.
But Democrats, particularly those in the most competitive districts, are countering that the GOP-led Senate’s refusal to consider the House’s latest proposal for state and local governments will hurt police departments.
“Who’s really defunding police?” asked Rep. Joe Cunningham (D., S.C.). “We’re all concerned about reforming the police so that black lives are not in danger. It’s going to require investing in law enforcement and the public well-being.”
Original story here.