New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was in Plattsburgh Friday afternoon to make the case for the Senate to pass legislation that provides direct financial relief to local governments struggling with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The House-passed HEROES Act, supported by Democrats including Senator Gillibrand, would provide $250 billion within 30 days of enactment to all municipalities and counties. It includes $125 billion for larger cities and $37.5 billion for rural areas with a population less than 50,000.
Clinton County Legislature Chair Republican Mark Henry noted that the number of municipal leaders who came from Clinton, Franklin, and Essex Counties underscores how critical the need is for direct federal aid. “We are all here carrying the same message: counties and local governments need direct, flexible local aid and we need it now. New York state and our counties have lost billions of dollars due to the implication of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically Clinton County is currently facing a $20 million shortfall and absent additional federal assistance we will have no choice but to reduce or eliminate those critical services on which our citizens rely. It will affect schools, fire departments, social services, public health, all county departments in every municipality.”
The regional leaders emphasized that federal aid would not make their budgets whole but rather allow them to continue to provide essential services during the pandemic. Shaun Gilliland is chair of the Essex County Board of Supervisors. “I did a career in the Navy so I’ll look at this in military terms. We have expended our ready reserve of our supplies, logistics and ammunition. No general should ever leave troops in the field without resources and that’s where we are right now. And we need them because this war is not over. We desperately desperately need these resources. If we don’t get them our choices are every few. In New York and in rural counties in New York we’ve hit the iron ceiling of tax raising. People cannot afford it particularly now with so many people out of work. And so the only place that any administrator or any local official can do is to start tightening up our services and that’s the last thing we need right now.”
This week, Senate Republicans offered the HEALS Act, which does not include state and local relief funding. Gillibrand calls the Republican bill a non-starter. “It’s not just the bill it’s just Mitch McConnell’s perspective. I mean he said a couple months ago ‘oh I don’t care if states have to go bankrupt’. That’s outrageous and states can’t go bankrupt. Constitutionally that’s not even possible. So his just lack of empathy or concern is what concerns me and I was disappointed it wasn’t included in this first draft.”
If Congress passes the HEROES Act, Gillibrand says the local government funds would go directly to municipalities. “We have 500 billion to go right to the states. New York will get a big chunk of that. And then the rest would go directly to municipalities based on different formulas. So this is written so that rural, smaller cities, smaller towns, smaller counties can actually get some of the resources.”
Senator Gillibrand is introducing the Direct Support for Communities Act to create a relief fund to help local municipalities deal with lost revenues due to the pandemic.