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AFSCME Members Keep Maine Moving Forward

AFSCME Members Keep Maine Moving Forward
By AFSCME Staff ·

Maine lawmakers and AFSCME leaders are urging Congress to send urgently needed federal assistance to states, cities and towns.

Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, Maine Senate President Troy Jackson and Portland City Manager Jon Jennings joined AFSCME Council 93 Executive Director Mark Bernard and AFSCME President Lee Saunders on a media call on Tuesday to discuss how public service workers are fighting the coronavirus outbreak and to stress that states, cities and towns need congressional help as soon as possible.

Later Tuesday, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives unveiled an aid bill that includes an aid package for states and localities. The measure is unlikely to advance in Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, heightening the urgency for grassroots pressure on the Senate.

Unless the Senate acts, “people are going to see more trash in their streets, more broken street lights, fewer cops on the beat, dirtier tap water and longer 911 response times,” Saunders said. “And people will know the reason why these things are happening in their communities: because the U.S. Senate decided not to fund the front lines and laid off millions of public service workers, while corporations made out like bandits.”

Without additional unrestricted federal aid, state and local leaders will need to make deep cuts in essential public services and let go of workers who provide them. These cuts are already happening. Just in April, 980,000 state and local workers lost their jobs, federal data show.

“We’re right in the middle of the most challenging times that we have ever witnessed for public-sector workers. But I also believe it’s their finest moment,” said Bernard. “But now, due to drastic and unprecedented reductions in revenue, these workers could be rewarded for their courage and dedication with a layoff notice.”

As the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., members of the Maine legislature worked across party lines to quickly pass COVID-19 relief legislation, Gideon said. As a result, Maine invested heavily in public health and made improvements health care delivery – by expanding access to telehealth and increasing the role of physician assistants in treating patients.

Now Congress needs to do its part, said Gideon, who’s running for the U.S. Senate against the incumbent, Republican Susan Collins.

“What we need right now is a comprehensive and cohesive federal action, on a number of levels, in order to increase the economic health of Americans – and that absolutely includes our front-line public service workers,” she said. “The first two bills Congress passed had important initial steps in them, but the truth is, that we need to think bigger and we need to act more boldly.”

Front-line public service workers who risked their lives for their communities could be thanked with layoffs and furloughs because of declining tax revenues. State and local aid from Congress could make the difference between a recession and a depression.

“As a working-class person, I think of those things often. And it’s time for us as legislators … to make sure that … people are not laid off because Congress has failed to act and do their job,” Jackson said.

Jennings was blunt about the looming problems facing cities like Portland.

“We are facing a crisis in city and town government across this country,” he said, “and we need direct federal support that is unrestricted – particularly for the revenue shortfalls.”

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