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Saunders to Congress: Helping States, Localities Must Be Next on Your Agenda

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By Raju Chebium ·

Congress has passed – and the president on Friday quickly signed – a $484 billion relief bill for small businesses and hospitals hurting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to ramp up coronavirus testing. But the measure fails to provide another critical piece of aid – assistance to state and local governments whose ability to provide basic services will collapse absent federal intervention.

This glaring omission drew a rebuke from AFSCME President Lee Saunders, who said in a statement, “Nurses, corrections officers, paramedics, sanitation workers and others are putting their health and safety on the line. Are we really going to thank them by issuing them pink slips? Congress needs to get right back to work and pass a new bill that includes $700 billion in aid to state and local governments. We can’t abandon public service workers.”

The $700 billion AFSCME seeks must include $300 billion in unrestricted aid to help state and local governments rebuild public services, and $200 billion each in education and health care funding.

AFSCME and the three other large public service unions – the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union – sent a letter to Congress making the case for more aid.

The national organizations representing the nation’s governors, state legislators, mayors, county executives and other state and local elected officials have also expressed strong support for immediate aid.

Standing in the way is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who opposes giving state and local governments any aid at all. His solution? States should just declare bankruptcy. McConnell is getting bipartisan pushback as he should.

Saunders said McConnell’s solution is flat-out wrong for states.

“They are suffering unprecedented revenue loss due to the shutdown of our economy just like so many businesses in the private sector,” he told Bloomberg News. “The money they need now is to maintain vital life-saving services provided by front-line workers in the face of the most dire public health emergency in a century.”

If McConnell’s idea becomes reality, state and local governments would be forced to fire legions of workers and slash services, further eviscerating our economy and putting millions more people on the unemployment line. As it is, a record 26 million workers have filed claims in just the past month. Congress must do everything it can to not needlessly add any more.

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