CAPITAL REGION — Providing billions of dollars to state and local governments to make up for their pandemic-related revenue losses will be a top priority once Democrats take control of the U.S. Senate, New York’s two senators said on Tuesday.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she will introduce the Direct Support for Communities Act to provide billions of dollars to states and local communities cover their revenue shortfalls, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer — the incoming Senate majority leader — vowed his support.
“We all know we need to take care of our local needs during this pandemic,” Schumer said during a Zoom press conference from Washington, D.C. “It’s one of my top priorities as incoming majority leader.”
Another large package of COVID relief spending — something many economists see as needed by families and businesses, as well as state and local governments — could come to a vote quickly once the Senate and presidential administration change hands.
Schumer has told colleagues additonal relief to individuals is also likely. In particular he would like to increase the $600 payments in the December aid bill to $2,000 per individual.
The two new senators who will give the Democrats 50 votes and control of the chamber will be sworn in on Tuesday, and President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in the next day. Gillibrand said she expects her bill to come to a vote within a week after that.
“At a time when more people are in need, our state and local governments are in critical need of resources to help citizens,” Gillibrand said. “Instead, they have had no choice but to lay off workers and cut essential services, and will soon be forced to raise local taxes. The federal government must deliver relief to close this gap.”
States, cities, towns and villages across the country have absorbed revenue shortfalls and increased spending due to the economic dislocations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shuttered businesses and undermined the foundations of the restaurant and hospitality industries.
Local government aid bills proposed by Democrats last year — but blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — ranged from $500 billion to $1 trillion. Gillibrand said her office is still gathering information on municipal losses, and her bill doesn’t yet have a price tag.
Whatever the cost of the bill, the plan is to split the spending evenly between state governments and local counties, cities, towns and villages, Gillibrand said.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has repeatedly called for the federal government to help New York state with an estimated $15 billion state budget deficit — a position he repeated this week during his State of the State presentations,
Meanwhile, cities like Schenectady and Saratoga Springs have had to close multi-million-dollar budget gaps for 2020 and 2021, to date generally while avoiding layoffs. But layoffs have been on the table, and the longer the municipalities go without federal aid, the more likely layoffs become. The proposal does not include school districts.
Gillibrand said she also expects a major new infrastructure spending bill to be passed early in the new Congress. “The need in the U.S. economy to invest in infrastructure spending is very high,” she said.