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Washington– Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and a group of their colleagues to send a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) requesting support for the funding levels and flexibility for state and local governments that was included in the HEROES Act passed by the House of Representatives. The funding includes $500 billion for states, $375 billion for local governments and $20 billion each for territories and tribal lands.

As state and local governments report anticipated cuts to their budgets, this will invariably affect such services as public schools, social services and health departments, with widespread economic consequences. Local and state governments expect cuts in services to local health departments which employ essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as child welfare workers, social workers, firefighters and more employees. Many county and state governments have been forced to furlough workers due to the pandemic, and without funding, these furloughs could become permanent job losses. Decreased local government spending may lead to a $344 billion decrease in economic output and 4.9 million less jobs. 

“Providing additional funds to state and local governments will ensure that jurisdictions have the financial resources to fund first responders, and the life-saving work done in our public hospitals and by public health departments in communities large and small. Existing funding is not enough for jurisdictions grappling with these extraordinary shortfalls. Governors of both parties may be forced to balance their budgets by cutting education funding for thousands of school districts and slashing funding to support the millions of Americans who reside in nursing homes or receive care in home and community-based settings,” the senators wrote in the letter. “It is essential that the federal government provide fiscal support for those who are responding directly to and are most affected by this unprecedented health and economic crisis.” 

In addition to Feinstein and Casey, the letter as also signed by Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Angus King (I-Maine), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.). 

The letter is available here and below. 

Dear Majority Leader McConnell,

We write to you as a group of senators who represent states that are in serious need of immediate financial assistance at the state, county, and local levels. We ask that you support the funding amount for State and Local governments that was included in the HEROES Act, including $500 billion for States, $375 billion for Local governments and $20 billion each for territories and tribal lands. We also ask that you work with us to provide both significant new funding to state and local governments struggling to pay their first responders, as well as flexibility in the use of those funds.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created sudden revenue shortfalls that state and local governments could not have foreseen. A recent survey found that 96% of municipalities anticipate budget shortfalls this year due to precipitous revenue decreases caused by the COVID-19 response. In most cases, states are restrained by constitutionally-mandated balanced budgets. Without additional revenue, state, county, and local governments will have no choice but to fire or furlough many of their more than 20 million employees. Since February, state and local governments have cut a total of 1.5 million jobs, an 8% drop that is twice the decline seen during and after the 2007-09 recession. Forcing millions of people out of their jobs will further strain an already reeling economy, inflate the unemployment rolls, and eliminate the essential services these employees provide. 

We seek significant new resources to reinforce the work of state and local governments. Providing additional funds to state and local governments will ensure that jurisdictions have the financial resources to fund first responders, and the life-saving work done in our public hospitals and by public health departments in communities large and small. Existing funding is not enough for jurisdictions grappling with these extraordinary shortfalls. Governors of both parties may be forced to balance their budgets by cutting education funding for thousands of school districts and slashing funding to support the millions of Americans who reside in nursing homes or receive care in home and community-based settings. At least 44,000 deaths caused by COVID-19 were among nursing home residents and workers in nursing homes and other long-term care settings, representing more than 40% of deaths nationwide. It is essential that the federal government provide fiscal support for those who are responding directly to and are most affected by this unprecedented health and economic crisis.

In addition, state and local governments require flexibility in the application of funds, both in the funding already provided in the CARES Act, and in any new funds provided going forward. As mentioned, jurisdictions are facing drastic revenue shortfalls, which are anticipated to worsen throughout the duration of the health crisis. Yet the money provided by the CARES Act may not be spent to replace lost revenue, which is a restriction that is neither intended nor required by the CARES Act. To stabilize these budgets and to ensure jurisdictions have the resources necessary to battle the virus and provide the services the American people rely on, more flexibility is essential so that jurisdictions can use money wherever it is most needed. 

The COVID-19 crisis has devastated communities throughout the United States. The country needs you to act decisively and quickly to ensure that locally-funded first responders, educators and health care providers across the nation can continue to provide assistance to respond to this crisis, sustain local economies and support families living with the fear and uncertainty created by this unprecedented public health emergency. 

Sincerely,  

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