BOSTON – One mayor in U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark’s district rented a truck and drove it with his son to a distribution center, loading up with groceries to ensure a local food pantry could stock its shelves.
Another, Clark said, walks the beach in his community, breaking up groups and reminding them to isolate because it’s dangerous to be in a crowd.
While local officials are taking on new roles to meet the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clark said they’re also dealing with a “devastating drop in revenue” as people stay home and economic activity is curtailed.
“Our state and local governments are absorbing the shock that the coronavirus has sent through our communities,” Clark said on a video conference call Wednesday with other Congressional Democrats from New England. “From food assistance to unemployment benefits to emergency medical care, our local governments are implementing the very services that are keeping working families alive and healthy.”
The members of Congress on the call — Clark, U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Annie Kuster of New Hampshire — said one of their priorities in the next federal COVID-19 response package will be securing more aid for state and local governments.
Cicilline said House Democrats tried to include such aid in a recent interim relief package, and that the money would go “not to the bureaucracies of state and local governments” but to public employees like police officers, firefighters and sanitation workers who “face the real prospect of layoffs” if governments aren’t able to backfill lost revenue.
On Sunday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, the chair of the National Governors Association, said a state aid provision had been “very close to happening” in the most recent federal relief bill, but it was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Hogan said there has been a “commitment from the president and vice president” for additional state aid.
State budgets, like many personal and business ones, have been hammered by the public health crisis. Along with pandemic-related spending, the business closures, lost jobs and stay-at-home advisories mean fewer opportunities to collect revenue through income, meals, sales and other taxes.
At a recent hearing before Massachusetts state budget writers, which Clark cited on the call, economic experts projected state tax collections could fall $4 billion to $6 billion below initial estimates for fiscal 2021.
Kuster said New Hampshire is “very dependent” on rooms and meals taxes, and the key economic sector of hospitality is essentially shut down. Granite State municipalities, she said, rely on real property tax payments, which will be difficult for families to make if they’re not working.
Like Massachusetts, New Hampshire has a Republican governor and a Democratic Congressional delegation. Kuster said her state is fortunate “that this has not yet become partisan” and Gov. Chris Sununu has joined the lawmakers “in advocating for the state and local aid in this next legislative package.”
Kennedy referenced recent comments from McConnell, who last week suggested states could declare bankruptcy and said that Republicans had no desire to “bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations.”
Kennedy, who said he’d recently been dropping off meals to first responders, said front line workers will bear the brunt of the public health crisis itself as well as the response.
“These are the folks that all of a sudden, Mitch Mcconnell says, ‘Hey, this time your pensions are expendable,'” Kennedy said.
Kennedy, who is in challenging U.S. Sen. Ed Markey in September’s Democratic primary, said consumers need to have confidence that “they can go out and engage in society and not get sick” before the economy can successfully reopen.
“What is critically important, though, is that members of this administration are willing to abide by the science,” he said.
Clark said support for the child care industry should also be part of long-term reopening plans.
“We have to make sure we are shoring up that whole sector of early education and care so that when we’re able to safely reopen our workplaces, that we have a place for our children to go that is high-quality and safe and nurturing,” she said.
Original story here.