Blumenauer: Congress needs to act on pandemic aid to state and local governments
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer has added his voice to a growing chorus of lawmakers supporting more help for state and local governments as part of the next federal aid plan for the coronavirus pandemic.
As big as that price tag may be, Blumenauer said Thursday, May 7, "it is going to end up saving money in the long term."
Blumenauer is a former Portland city commissioner, Multnomah County commissioner and state representative who has been in the 3rd District seat in the U.S. House for 24 years. He spoke during a video conference with two public-sector workers and Stacy Chamberlain, executive director of Council 75 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The workers were Kasey Zimmer-Stucky, an ultrasound technician at Oregon Health & Science University, and Raymond De Silva, a program specialist with Multnomah County Human Services.
"It matters a great deal to have people who have these skills to provide these services to clients and patients who rely on them, and those of us in the general public who rely on the orderly provision of services," he said. "The federal government needs to step up."
Chamberlain, on behalf of AFSCME, called on Congress to approve a big plan that includes $300 billion more for state and local governments and $200 billion more for education, plus more for Medicaid, the joint federal-state program of health insurance for low-income people. She also said that front-line workers in health care and public safety should get assurances for adequate protective gear and paid sick leave.
Though Congress included $150 billion for state and local aid as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, and $31 billion for education, governments can spend the money only on coronavirus-related expenses.
"We are disappointed that the bill (CARES Act) did not address priorities for state and local public-service workers," Chamberlain said. "We are already seeing the effects of stressed state and local budgets and hearing about anticipated cuts to public services at the same time that demands for these services increase."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had made more state and local aid a priority in follow-up legislation to replenish a federal fund for small businesses. The House's majority Democrats did secure more money for hospitals and a national framework for virus testing, but Blumenauer said opposition by the Senate's majority Republicans led to Democrats shelving the extra aid.
But Blumenauer said such aid is the top priority in the next federal legislation, plus provisions to allow more flexibility for the aid already approved.
"Let's allow flexibility for the billions of dollars already in the pipeline to be spent in the way that is most cost-effective at the moment, and add resources for education, state and local governments," he said.
Blumenauer said the nation's governors, led by Maryland Republican Larry Hogan and New York Democrat Andrew Cuomo, support $500 billion on a bipartisan basis. So has Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who also filed a public protest against a draft rule by the U.S. Treasury to restrict how states can use the money they already have.
In the earlier round, Oregon got an initial payment of $871 million, Portland, $114 million, and Washington County, $104 million. Multnomah County also gets a share. The law limited payments to local governments with 500,000 population; some cities and counties have petitioned Gov. Brown to give them money.
Blumenauer also derided a suggestion by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky., that states consider bankruptcy as an alternative. Although cities have gone through bankruptcy proceedings — Detroit, back in 2013, is the most prominent example — Congress would have to pass a law to enable states to do so.
"Bankruptcy is not a simple, cheap and easy solution," Blumenauer said. "It is disruptive and unfair."
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