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Facing an ‘economic battering,’ Congress must fund the front lines

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An article in today’s New York Times describes the grim future ahead for states, cities, towns and schools if Congress fails to fund the front lines. It also echoes what AFSCME has been saying since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic: funding the front lines isn’t a red state or blue state issue. It’s a national imperative.

“The coronavirus pandemic has inflicted an economic battering on state and local governments, shrinking tax receipts by hundreds of billions of dollars,” the article begins. “Now devastating budget cuts loom, threatening to cripple public services and pare work forces far beyond the 1.3 million jobs lost in eight months.”

Some 24 million Americans – about 15% of the nation’s workforce – work in public service. These public service workers make every facet of American life run. They are public safety officers, EMS professionals, educators, nurses, public works employees, members of the armed forces, and much, much more.

AFSCME research shows state and local governments have shed at least 1.3 million jobs since February. As more and more of these workers are laid off or furloughed, the services they provide – services we rely on – will erode.

“These are folks that are providing essential public services every single day, risking their lives,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders, “and now there’s a good possibility that many are going to be faced with a pink slip.”

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SOURCE: National League of City analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data (2017 total own-source revenues for municipal and township governments), adjusted for inflation, with unemployment projections provided by the Congressional Budget Office and unemployment claims by the Department of Labor.

According to the Times, whose story was based on a new report by Moody’s Analytics, the scope of the economic crisis the pandemic has wrought is massive.

Quoting Dan White, director of fiscal policy research at Moody’s Analytics, the newspaper reported, “Even the most optimistic assumptions about the course of the pandemic point to fiscal consequences for states and local governments that ‘would be the worst since the Great Depression’ and take years to dig out of.”

The U.S. House, controlled by Democrats, has passed the AFSCME-backed Heroes Act, which contains some $1 trillion in aid for state and local governments. But the measure has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called robust aid to states, cities, towns and schools “blue state bailouts,” and suggested that states should simply declare bankruptcy to get out of their obligations. Congressional Republicans have followed McConnell’s lead in rejecting any such aid – even though the Times reported that six of the seven states likely to face the steepest revenue losses are “red” states led by Republican governors that President Donald Trump won this year.

The need to deliver fresh aid to states and localities – any aid – is urgent.

As the Times reported, “Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, and many economists have warned that reducing state and local spending will further drag down a weak recovery, as it did after the Great Recession.”

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