Cassidy advises local officials to lobby Senate for coronavirus aid

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Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., is an original cosponsor of the SMART Act, which would provide an additional $500 billion federal aid to states and local governments.

Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana told members of the National League of Cities they need to advocate and knock on the doors of senators around the nation in order to ensure there’s additional federal aid for local and state governments.

“There's gonna be opposition to this,” Cassidy told the NLC members during a video conference call on Thursday, noting that the window to act will be next month before Congress begins its August recess.

Participants included the city manager of Grand Junction, Colorado, a council member from Lexington, South Carolina, and mayors of Pensacola, Florida, Clearfield, Utah, and Somerdale, New Jersey, who each gave examples of revenue shortfalls their communities experienced because of stay-at-home orders related to the pandemic.

Grand Junction City Manager Greg Caton said his city encouraged sick employees to stay home but had to open a new daycare operation for the children of firefighters, police officers, and other essential employees so they could continue working.

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson said his tourist-reliant city is estimating its revenues will decline by 25% this year.

“We don’t have the luxury of responding to three-quarters of our 911 calls,” Robinson said.

Cassidy is an original cosponsor with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., of the SMART Act, which would provide an additional $500 billion federal aid to states and local governments.

The SMART Act, which has two other Republicans and two other Democrats as cosponsors, is the only bipartisan bill in the Senate that would provide a new round of federal aid to state and local governments.

“Just to talk turkey, people speak of it as being a bailout, in order to misrepresent the bill and to defeat it,” Cassidy told the mayors, city managers, and council members on the call.

“That's the reason they call it a bailout,” he said. “To address that concern, by the way, we put a provision that the money cannot be used for pension obligations.

"Frankly, I don't think any state or city was going to do so.”

Cassidy told the local officials they need to open their books and “bring facts to the table” in their meetings with senators in order to prove the revenue shortfalls their communities have experienced are real.

The Louisiana Republican, who is also a physician, said he knew local governments and his state government were experiencing revenue shortfalls this spring because of the cancellation of cultural festivals and conventions that bring in tourist spending.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has said he may have to lay off up to 200,000 state employees because of revenue imbalances, said Menendez, who participated during a different part of the video conference.

“I am convinced there can be no COVID 4 bill that passes both houses without aid to states or municipalities,” Menendez said. “But what's the size of it, how robust it is, is critically important.”

As of June 10, the NLC estimates the total share of the $150 billion Congress set aside in the Coronavirus Relief Fund for state and local governments has been apportioned to municipalities and counties with populations under 500,000 is about $8.8 billion.

Four states have authorized distribution only to counties and 27 states have yet to announce if they plan to authorize the allocation of a portion to local governments.

As for state governments, they are expected to face a $765 billion shortfall over the next three years, according to an estimate by the liberal-leaning Center of Budget and Policy Priorities.

Those state shortfalls will mean less money for statehouses to share with local governments, said Irma Esparza Diggs, director of federal advocacy for the NLC.

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Coronavirus State and local finance NLC Washington DC