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COVID-19

Aid for state, local governments a sticking point in federal COVID-19 relief

Sabri Ben-Achour Oct 6, 2020
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer talk in July. President Trump tweeted Tuesday stimulus talks with Congress are put on hold until after the election. Brendan Smialowski-Pool/Getty Images
COVID-19

Aid for state, local governments a sticking point in federal COVID-19 relief

Sabri Ben-Achour Oct 6, 2020
Heard on:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer talk in July. President Trump tweeted Tuesday stimulus talks with Congress are put on hold until after the election. Brendan Smialowski-Pool/Getty Images
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Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell issued a dire warning Tuesday. He said too little coronavirus relief from the federal government could usher in a recessionary slowdown that he said would be “tragic.”

That’s a strong word from the head of an institution that watches its words like no other. 

Hours later, President Trump tweeted that he was calling off stimulus talks with Congress until after the election.

It’s been months since any relief bills were passed, and state and local governments need help paying for things like unemployment benefits, education and public health. 

“These are incredibly important services that are being provided to people and that are helping people through this really difficult time,” said Julia Wolfe, state economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute. 

The main sticking point during negotiations was over how much money to give. Republicans were inclined to offer $200 to $400 billion, while Democrats were asking for $900 billion. 

“It is one of the more obvious examples of an attempt to inflate state budgets beyond any reasonable measure of actual need,” said Adam Michel, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. 

Republicans point to hundreds of billions in COVID-19-related aid that’s already been passed and argue states should cut pensions, freeze pay and dip into rainy day funds. 

Irma Esparza Diggs, director of federal advocacy for the National League of Cities, said many hard-hit cities are already laying off employees and cutting services.

“Some are seeing as high as up to a 50% decline in sources of revenues,” she said.

She estimates cities alone will need $360 billion over the next three years. 

Timing is another issue, said Stan Veuger, a resident scholar in economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

According to Veuger, the question remains: “Should we provide funding to state and local governments for the coming fiscal year, or should we give them money for the year after that as well?”

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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