The federal government has helped large corporations and small businesses in previous COVID-19 relief packages, said Lee Saunders, the head of a union representing government employees. Now it's time to help those on the front lines by boosting local and state governments and their employees, Saunders said.
On a conference call hosted by Sen. Bob Casey, Saunders, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) said his union of 1.4 million members are backing the HEROES ACT, which he says has bipartisan support. Already passed in the House, the bill features $500 billion for state governments $375 billion for local governments.
"This can't be a partisan issue, it's a must-do," Saunders said Wednesday. "Now it is time to fund the front lines. We've got to do it."
According to Casey, 96 percent of municipalities will be impacted by the financial losses from the pandemic. The next bill, he said, must offer help to governments and those who work for them.
"The bill has to work for state and local governments," Casey said. "All of them have to balance budgets, but they can't do that when a big hole has been blown in the side of their budget."
In a letter sent by Casey and other senators to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, "state and local governments have cut a total of 1.5 million jobs. 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.
"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 is done in our public hospitals and by public health departments in communities large and small," the letter said.
Yolande Hunte, a managed care nurse at a community health clinic in Philadelphia, is already seeing the impact of the budget holes already, including decreased trash pick up.
"If the Senate doesn't act urgently, we will see across-the-board cuts to even the most essential services: Health care, water treatment, sanitation," she said.
Casey said the House bill has the right amount of funding for state and local governments. McConnell's framework, "falls disastrously short. Everything that makes our state safe and strong will be compromised."