government money (Florence-Joseph McGinn/Shutterstock.com)

Dems plan COVID relief for state, local government

Democratic lawmakers want the next stimulus package to provide state and local governments with as much as $700 billion in block aid grants and increased funding for Medicaid to help them retain workers and avoid layoffs.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said they were most concerned with preventing states and municipalities from having to enact austerity measures that would force them to lay off workers such as public-school custodians, emergency medical technicians and unemployment insurance analysts, all of whom are needed to ensure the health and safety of the public during COVID-19.

"Bankruptcy is not an abstract concept for local and state governments," Schumer told reporters during a press call with Pelosi and Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees on April 28. "Hundreds of thousands of local and state workers being fired or furloughed. Congress should not abandon any workers, especially public service workers."

"We need to keep local and state governments solvent to keep workers employed," Saunders said on the call.

“Public service workers -- including health care workers, corrections officers, sanitation workers and custodians who maintain our schools and keep them disinfected -- are essential to fighting this pandemic and reopening our economy. We can do neither if we lay them off,” the union added in a statement.

Pelosi and Schumer said part of the impetus for the new bill was a March 20 letter from the National Governors Association asking for direct funding from Congress to offset issues such as the increase in layoffs and furloughs that strained existing resources.

Schumer was one of several Democratic senators to introduce a Heroes' Fund that, if enacted, would provide essential workers with hazard pay equivalent to a $13 per hour raise and extra funding to recruit and train needed medical personnel.

Pelosi said that "while we couldn't get our [Republican colleagues] to agree to language that was pervasive enough to cover everyone," both hazard pay and paid sick leave would be addressed in any forthcoming legislation concerning state and local public-sector workers. She added Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) of the House Education and Labor Committee and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) would soon announce legislation aimed at providing frontline health care workers with hazard pay and debt forgiveness.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Lia Russell is a former staff writer and associate editor at FCW.

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