State, local groups want another round of aid before June 30

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Seven leading state and local government groups are urging Congress to complete work on another emergency coronavirus aid bill before the June 30 budget deadline that almost all of them face.

The groups released a joint statement Wednesday asking Congress “to approve an aid package that would sustain vital services to Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic,” noting, “state and local governments employ nearly 15 million Americans.”

The statement was released by the National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, the International City/County Management Association and the National Governors Association.

A growing number of Senate Republicans have announced their support for enactment of another round of emergency aid prior to July 4, after initially deferring to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's insistence on a pause.

“As U.S. senators go back to talk to their city and county leaders and even their states, they are starting to see that the pain is real,” said Matthew Chase, executive director of the National Association of Counties.

“As U.S. senators go back to talk to their city and county leaders and even their states, they are starting to see that the pain is real,” said Matthew Chase, executive director of the National Association of Counties.

Americans favor passage of another economic stimulus package to address the economic impact of coronavirus by 62% to 30%, according to a Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters conducted May 14 to 18 and released Wednesday.

Three Republican senators are cosponsoring the $500 billion Smart Act that would give money to all state and local governments. Others are supporting efforts to amend the already enacted CARES Act that established a $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund to expand its use or force states to share the money with localities.

Still others favor focusing on infrastructure to kick-start the economy.

"I want to do infrastructure," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on CNN.

Several bills have been introduced that would allow the money in the CARES Act to be used to cover revenue shortfalls or require part of the Coronavirus Relief Fund to be distributed to local governments.

A bill proposed by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, would “allow Coronavirus Relief Fund payments to be used to replace revenue shortfalls resulting from COVID-19.”

Republican cosponsors are Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Angus King, Ind-Maine, also cosponsored.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., on Tuesday introduced another bill, S.3767, requiring 45% of the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund be distributed by states to local governments.

The $915 billion HEROES Act approved by the House does not have any GOP support in the Senate or from the Trump administration.

Only one House Republican, Rep. Peter King of New York, voted for the HEROES Act when it passed the House 208-199 on May 15. Fourteen Democrats joined 184 Republicans in opposition.

Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who is the lead Republican sponsor of the smaller SMART Act, said Wednesday this alternative proposal “can pass on a bipartisan basis and in both chambers.”

Two other Senate Republicans — Sens. Cindy Hyde Smith of Mississippi and Susan Collins of Maine — are cosponsors.

Cassidy said the SMART Act in retrospect should have been named “the thin blue line act, because this is about helping cities and states preserve essential services such as police, fire education, for the reopening of our economy.”

Cassidy’s state has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus and the aid formula under the SMART Act would direct one-third of the funds to states and localities based on the number of COVID-19 cases they have. Another third would be based on population and the last third would be based on revenue shortfalls.

One-sixth of the $500 billion would go to counties and another sixth would go to local governments.

“The Senate Republicans endorsing the SMART Act is a step in the right direction,” said Emily Brock, director of the federal liaison center for the Government Finance Officers Association. “I think that is significant progress toward acknowledging that there is bipartisan support for state and local governments. And you know, the HEROES Act, for what it’s worth, is not quite bipartisan yet.”

Congress needs to acknowledge that there are smaller jurisdictions that need financial help, said Brock.

About 40% of Americans, a total of 124.8 million people, lived in cities and towns with populations under 50,000 as of 2017, according to the Census Bureau.

“We would love to see the highest level [of assistance] we can get,” said Mike Wallace, program director for community and economic development at the National League of Cities.

Wallace said the $915 billion for state and local governments in the HEROES Act was a starting point.

“The funding will probably shift down from what it was in HEROES,” said Wallace. “We’ll see where that lands. The most important thing for us is that there’s a sufficient amount of funding that gets to each and every local government. That it doesn’t get so small that it becomes ineffective.”

Chase said NACo is still actively supporting the aid package in the HEROES Act.

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