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Without federal aid to states, cities and towns, communities of color will suffer the most

By AFSCME Staff ·

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, public services in communities across the country have suffered deeply. Altogether, the nation has shed some 1.6 million public service jobs, more than three times the total lost during the Great Recession – and those being hurt the most are African Americans, according to speakers on an AFSCME-organized press call today.

And the pain isn’t over. Unless the federal government approves a robust aid package to states, cities and towns, millions more public service workers will be laid off. Communities across America will be forced to confront life without essential public services as we know them, including public safety, emergency services, sanitation and more.

“With the economy in a state of collapse and the tax base crumbling, the same everyday heroes who have risked their lives to fight this pandemic are being thanked with pink slips,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said. “This is not a red or blue state issue. It’s a nonpartisan issue, and providing this aid is the right thing to do. Our communities have suffered enough. Now is the time to invest in making our communities stronger and more equitable, not to abandon them.”

Saunders was joined on the press call by New York U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus; Sandra Herbert, a certified nursing assistant in New Jersey and president of AFSCME Local 3354; and Gbenga Ajilore, senior economist at the Center for American Progress (CAP).

The public sector has always been one of the nation’s most dependable employers of African Americans, lifting generations of black families into the middle class. Without at least $1 trillion of federal aid to states, cities and towns to support essential public services, communities of color will suffer the most, the speakers said.

Mayors, governors and legislators from both political parties overwhelmingly back federal support for public services – as does 84% of the public.

Jeffries, the child of two public service workers, said the issue was personal for him.

“Public employees are to be respected, not ignored,” he said. “They are to be lifted up, not torn down. They are to be embraced and not ostracized, because of what public employees and the work they do mean to the heart and soul of our country and our economy.”

Jeffries said the Senate must act to approve the HEROES Act, which provides at least $1 trillion in federal aid to states, cities and towns.

“If we don’t step in as a Congress to provide assistance … then communities of color, who are the most vulnerable, particularly the African American community, will suffer the most,” he added. “When budgets are cut, that adversely impacts public health, public transportation, public sanitation, public education, public safety and the provision of the public good in every single aspect of American life. And those who will be hurt the most are the people … who have been systematically victimized.”

Herbert, the certified nursing assistant, said COVID-19 has hit her workplace hard. Three hundred staff and residents tested positive for the virus, she said, and about 80 residents and one staff member have died from it.

“With so many staff members out sick and so many residents fighting the coronavirus, every day was devastating,” she added.

Herbert also said she worries about how potential cuts to public services will disproportionately hurt the African American community, which has been especially hit hard by COVID-19.

“For any leaders listening right now, I ask that you act NOW to pass funding for state and local aid,” she said. “Our governor has made it clear, without your help essential workers that we need to beat this pandemic and safely reopen the economy will suffer.”

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