Support for cities is essential to the national economic recovery

Support for cities is essential to the national economic recovery
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As members of Congress return to Washington, they face the monumental challenge of steering a nation in crisis on a path back to normalcy. Communities across our country are at risk of being crushed financially due to an unprecedented reduction in tax revenues and skyrocketing expenses brought on by the pandemic.

According to a recent study of U.S. municipalities, America’s cities, towns and villages are facing over $360 billion in lost revenues over the next three years due to the impact of COVID-19.

During the most difficult public health challenge of our lifetimes, city leaders like myself have worked tirelessly each day to keep our communities safe, providing essential emergency and public safety services to protect the most vulnerable among us. Americans have depended on strong cities to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and we need strong cities to keep us on the road to economic recovery.

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But if Congress does not act in a swift, bipartisan manner, the strong cities we depend on will be decimated, undermining our collective effort to successfully and sustainably reopen America. Cities like ours will not be able to operate effectively without direct federal assistance to defray the staggering costs and revenue losses we have incurred.

Despite passage of the CARES Act, the vast majority of cities are not being made whole. Cities with populations greater than 500,000 are eligible to receive direct federal funding, while the cities we represent — and many other small and rural communities — have largely been left to fend for themselves.

As a result, many municipalities are being forced to cancel projects, reduce employee pay, institute layoffs and furloughs and dip into rainy day funds. In our city, we had no other option but to furlough all of our part-time workers, which equates to 65 percent of our employees. With sales tax revenue estimates changing on a daily basis, trying to set and approve a tentative 2020-2021 budget prior to our state-mandated deadline has proven to be a nearly impossible challenge. Meanwhile, local governments like ours are having to provide additional staffing, meet higher demands, provide personal protective equipment and manage unparalleled uncertainty as the coronavirus remains a threat in our communities.

For America’s small towns and villages, the situation is dire. A recent survey of more than 2,100 local officials across the country found that 87 percent of municipalities with populations less than 50,000 anticipate a revenue shortfall this year, with half already indicating they are preparing to cut public services. Without federal aid to alleviate budgetary stress, many small and rural communities are left with a disastrous final option: municipal dissolution.

Shortfalls in local budgets heighten the pain felt by our residents and communities. Just last month, national unemployment claims topped 40 million, with one out of every four American workers out of a job. Without urgent federal aid, that number will creep even higher. Municipalities will have no other choice than to lay off more workers; unlike the federal government, cities like ours must balance our budgets every year. 

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For every one percent increase in unemployment, municipalities are projected to experience an additional 3 percent loss in revenues. This year alone, U.S. cities are anticipating a revenue loss of at least $134 billion. This number is only climbing, as mid-summer budget deadlines loom for many state and local governments.

The public servants set to lose their jobs as a result of this unsustainable trend are not nameless and faceless workers — they are heroes on the frontlines, fighting every day for the health, safety and future of our communities. 

During these challenging times, leaders of both parties in Washington must rise to meet the moment. Our cities cannot afford to have critical federal relief derailed by partisan rancor. We are encouraged to see growing bipartisan momentum for supporting local governments and recognizing the central role cities will play in our national economic recovery. Local governments are yearning for more bipartisan proposals like the recently introduced SMART Act, which would provide $500 billion in emergency funding to state and local governments to facilitate a sustained American economic comeback.

A nationwide economic recovery without the federal government working hand-in-hand with state and local governments will be no recovery at all. We urge members of Congress to show the political courage we need right now to ensure that America’s cities, towns and villages continue to be part of the solution. Let’s get our country back to work.

Mark Shepherd (R) is the mayor of Clearfield, Utah.