WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s administration is warning that cities and states may have to lay off essential workers, including those who administer COVID-19 vaccines, unless local governments receive additional federal funding.
It has turned to Republican mayors to help push Biden’s first major legislative initiative across the finish line.
White House officials say efforts by local communities to battle the coronavirus could be hampered if Congress refuses to provide additional assistance, countering a key criticism from congressional Republicans that Biden’s proposal to send state and local governments billions of dollars with few strings attached is too generous.
“They need the money so they don’t have to make these hard choices between laying off a firefighter, laying off a first responder, laying off people who are helping to administer the vaccine,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told McClatchy.
Those efforts will be tested this week when the House votes on a $1.9 trillion package that includes $350 billion for state and local aid. The Senate is likely to vote on it by mid-March.
The House legislation would send money to areas experiencing higher-than-anticipated revenues, as well as those that are hurting financially. Local governments would not necessarily be required to use those funds on pandemic-related expenses.
The White House says its proposed funding for cities and states is based on projected budget shortfalls around the nation.
It pointed to a study from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal policy group, that said states, localities, tribal nations and territories faced collective shortfalls of $300 billion, not including additional COVID-19 costs.
Many Republicans in Washington oppose Biden’s proposal to send unrestricted aid to cities and states, however, saying it should be up to local governments to balance their own budgets.
Rep. Byron Donalds, a Republican who represents Southwest Florida and is a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said he would like to see a comprehensive study of whether the financial problems state and local governments say they’re having were caused by the pandemic.