Congress

State and local government jobs are front and center in Dems' plans for COVID-19 relief

U.S. Capitol (Photo by Orhan Cam / Shutterstock) 

Democratic lawmakers are seeking aid to help state and local governments retain workers and avoid layoffs in the next relief bill aimed at alleviating the economic toll that the coronavirus pandemic has had upon the U.S. economy.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are leading efforts to provide state and local governments with as much as $700 billion in block aid grants and increased funding for Medicaid. Both houses of Congress are hoping to pass another stimulus package after passing the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act on March 27.

Both lawmakers said they were most concerned with preventing smaller governments 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 President Lee Saunders 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."

AFSCME President Saunders added, "We need to keep local and state governments solvent to keep workers employed."

Speaker Rep. Pelosi and Sen. Schumer said part of the impetus for the new bill was a letter that the National Governors Association had sent them and their Republican colleagues on March 20. The letter had asked for direct funding from Congress to offset issues such as a rise in layoffs and furloughs that strained existing resources to provide such workers with unemployment insurance.

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 a piece of legislation aimed at providing frontline healthcare workers with hazard pay and debt forgiveness.

About the Author

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

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