Bipartisan Senate group offers new help to state, local governments
A bipartisan group of senators are introducing a bill on Monday to provide hundreds of billions in new funding to state and local governments that have been hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus.
The bill, spearheaded by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), would provide $500 billion in emergency funding, in addition to the $150 billion passed by Congress in March.
The bill “is the commonsense, reasonable and bipartisan approach our frontline states and communities need to deliver them the necessary flexible funding to defeat COVID-19, maintain critical services, avoid mass layoffs and tax increases, and expedite our economic recovery,” Menendez said in a statement.
Cassidy added that state and local governments “lost billions in sales tax and other revenue” due to the coronavirus.
“These states, communities either lay off workers or they get help. The SMART Act helps,” Cassidy added, referring to the acronym for the State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Act.
In addition to Cassidy and Menendez, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) are co-sponsoring the Senate bill.
Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.) are spearheading the House companion legislation, which is also being co-sponsored by Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.).
How to provide additional support to state and local governments has emerged as a point of contention in Congress.
The House’s roughly $3 trillion bill passed on Friday provided almost $1 trillion for state and local governments.
But Senate Republicans are divided. While some, like Cassidy, support providing more funding, others argue that Congress should just provide more flexibility for the $150 billion already appropriated. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) for example has introduced legislation that would not give state and local governments more money but let them put money they received under the third coronavirus package toward revenue replacement.
Other GOP senators oppose both more flexibility for states and more funding, advocating for a wait-and-see approach.
Under the Cassidy-Menendez bill $16 billion will be set aside for Native American tribal governments. After that the rest of the funding would be divided up and allocated based on population size, infection rate and lost revenue.
The bill also eliminates a 500,000 population threshold for getting state and local coronavirus aid. Menendez and Cassidy initially proposed lowering the threshold to 50,000 before deciding to eliminate it altogether in the bill the two introduced.
–Updated at 7:36 p.m.