Boone: Oregon cities, frontline of COVID response, need support
We are in the midst of a crisis that's delivered a one-two punch.
The coronavirus pandemic is first and foremost a public health emergency, but also an economic crisis of epic proportions. How we handle this crisis on both fronts will be defining not only for the state of Oregon but also its 241 cities.
Cities are the lifeblood of the state and where about 80% of our 4.3 million residents live. Knowing that, it is important to consider that only one city in our state — Portland — received any direct federal aid. As the part of local government that provides essential services for more than 200 million residents across the country, including police, fire and sanitation, relief for all cities translates directly into quality of life for residents.
Cities, towns and villages nationwide are calling for $500 billion in direct federal aid and economic relief over the next two years to support those communities that are on the frontline of America's response to COVID-19, and in short, this money can save lives.
Since local governments are being charged with executing the COVID-19 response, that should mean all cities receive federal support to get through the crisis. Yet the first federal coronavirus legislation was passed in mid-March — and to date, there has been no direct aid provided to the majority of America's cities, towns and villages.
Consider: cities are the engine of the American economy. They create an environment where businesses can thrive while allowing residents to earn a good living. Investing in local governments, therefore, has a stimulating effect on the entire American economy.
As it stands now, our cities here in Oregon are bracing for a 20% to 25% revenue reduction in the coming years. This may not be felt immediately because cities are a lagging performance indicator of the economy in general. Make no mistake, though — there are tough decisions ahead for Oregon's municipalities.
Local governments are not looking for a handout or a bailout. They are looking for partners at both the state and federal levels to help them reopen and recover. In the end, if local governments are not empowered to reopen and are not federally supported in recovery efforts, it will be a painfully long time before our country is truly back in business.
It is the duty and charge of the League of Oregon Cities to advocate for all of the states' 241 cities to preserve the quality of life we all expect and enjoy.
Right now, two dozen cities statewide have dug deep and dedicated funds to prop up our sagging economy by working to support local business. The other 218 are barely hanging on, and do not have the resources to finance a program to offer any aid to local business.
We can and need to do better, but that cannot happen without a strong, inclusive partnership on the state and federal level. As we are flattening the curve related to the health care side of this crisis, we need to have the same sense of urgency addressing the economic side, or the outlook for Oregon cities is, at best, uncertain.
Jake Boone is a Cottage Grove city councilor and president of the League of Oregon Cities.
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