Lawmakers push Trump to restore full funding for National Guards responding to pandemic

Lawmakers push Trump to restore full funding for National Guards responding to pandemic
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Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are pressing President Trump to restore full federal funding for National Guard forces that are tasked with responding to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic across the U.S.   

Thirty-four senators, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), asked Trump in a letter Tuesday to "re-authorize one hundred percent cost share for all states and territories." 

Their letter comes after the president announced last week that he was extending the deployment of National Guard forces until the end of the year, but after Aug. 21, the federal government would go from paying 100 percent of the deployment costs to 75 percent, leaving states to foot the remaining 25 percent.

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"The National Guard response has been critical within our states to supporting the health and well-being of millions of Americans," the Senate Democrats wrote.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) also led more than 115 House Democrats and some GOP members in sending a similar letter Tuesday that also urged the president to restore full federal funding, while blasting the cuts.

“States are the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. Due to the additional costs and lost revenues caused by COVID-19, state and local governments are facing unprecedented pressures on their budgets,” the House members wrote.

Lawmakers voicing opposition to the president's decision said it came with no explanation and amid an ongoing crisis, when funding for the National Guard is needed most. They also pointed out that Texas and Florida, two critical states in the upcoming 2020 presidential race, are among the exceptions to this new cost-sharing decision.

"This new determination to reduce the cost share comes at the worst possible time, as positive cases continue to rise, and food security and other basic needs increase due to the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic. Further, by singling out Florida and Texas for a full cost share as other states face challenges of similar magnitude, the decision appears arbitrary and without justification," the Senate Democrats argued.

The National Guard has helped respond to the outbreak in various ways, including distributing food and provisions, performing contact tracing, running remote testing locations, and setting up additional alternate medical care facilities to help overwhelmed hospitals. 

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Much of the National Guard's work on coronavirus relief has been done under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, in which the National Guard forces are deployed to respond to disasters and emergencies that endanger Americans. While the Guards are at the command of state and territory governors, the federal government provides pay and benefits for the deployed Guard members.

Trump in May extended the Title 32 status, which is set to expire on Aug. 21. The cost-sharing initiative will begin after that deadline. 

Critics also noted that the White House agreed to extend short-term restoration of the full funding for certain states through Sept. 30, arguing that the administration is not making rational decisions.

According to a White House official with knowledge of the matter, Texas and Florida were exempted from the decision because their governors made personal appeals directly to the president for full federal funding. 

But critics have disputed this line of reasoning, arguing that other governors also had conversations with the president and other White House officials and have made the same appeal.

And while the list of special exceptions has expanded to also include states such as Arizona, California and Connecticut, they will receive the full federal funding only through the end of September. 

“States are the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. Due to the additional costs and lost revenues caused by COVID-19, state and local governments are facing unprecedented pressures on their budgets,” wrote the House members.

"Furthermore, we are alarmed with your decision to treat states differently. Picking and choosing which states receive full Federal funding, whatever the rationale, sets a dangerous precedent and raises serious questions about the motivations for why certain states are selected and others are not," they added.

Updated 5:43 p.m.