Congress Failed State and Local Governments. Here’s How They Can Fix It.

Andy Feliciotti | Unsplash

This marks the second week since the tumultuous negotiations between Congress and the White House over a fourth COVID-19 stimulus package fell apart. With the Senate on vacation, there is no end to the stalemate in sight. 

We need a bill now. The $600 unemployment boost and a litany of renter protections expired last month, leaving between 30 to 40 million people on a financial precipice, and President Trump’s executive orders did almost nothing to stop the ongoing disaster. 

But it’s worth taking a look at why the negotiations have stalled. According to most reports, the key sticking point holding up negotiations is House Democrats’ demand for more than a trillion dollars to help state and local governments weather the crisis. Senate Republicans and the White House, on the other hand, want no additional money to help these struggling entities. That’s quite a wide negotiating gap already, but given the fact that state and local aid barely made it into the first COVID stimulus package back in March and was first on the chopping block for subsequent bills, it’s no small wonder that Democrats have taken a hard line on this aid right now when the stakes are seemingly much higher.

So it begs the question: was it worth it to hold up an entire package over state and local aid? The answer is a resounding yes.

We can’t afford to lose this aid. State and local governments employ millions of people, and the massive revenue shortfall facing all 50 states and thousands of localities means that governments either need to bring in new money or make drastic cuts all across the board—and that means jobs. 1.5 million of these public sector jobs have already been lost since the pandemic began in March, but without aid from the federal government, there won’t be any way to stem the bleeding. 5.3 million more jobs are at risk.

Without state and local funding from Congress, these jobs could be lost for years to come, decimating the public sector and making economic recovery that much slower and further out of our reach. These aren’t just ordinary jobs on the line—they are jobs that help keep governments and the essential public services they provide running smoothly. State and local governments are often the first point of contact for citizens who need aid, and that’s never been more important than in this pandemic. These entities are responsible for making sure folks get Medicaid, unemployment insurance, food assistance, voting materials, and a slew of other essential services that millions are depending on right now. 

The virus will be with us for months to come, and it’s ridiculous to think that the need for public services will do anything but increase the longer this crisis drags on. If you have state and local governments that are understaffed, underfunded, and underprepared for the next however-many months it takes until we can get this virus under control, then more people will lose their only lifeline right now, more people will fall into poverty, and more people will die. It’s as simple as that. 

When so many things seem essential right now, it’s hard to see where there might be room for negotiation when one side seems hell-bent on doing nothing to actually help people—but we can assure you, ceding ground on state and local aid just isn’t it. 

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