Jul. 2, 2020 10:00 am

Opinion: Costs of the pandemic to local, state governments must be covered by the federal government

Unless the federal government provides funding to make up the losses, there will be a catastrophic retreat from progress, says guest columnist Robert Brand.

City Hall Courtyard.

(Photo by Flickr user wyliepoon, used under a Creative Commons license)

This guest column was written by Robert Brand, the founder of Work for Progress for America.
Local and state governments are facing fiscal crises that if not addressed will cut even the inadequate efforts to create a more just society and will challenge the ability of government to respond to the demands for justice that are all around us.

Unless the federal government provides funding to make up the losses of local and state governments from the pandemic (actual costs and lost tax revenue) there will be a catastrophic retreat from progress. Just to get us in the right frame of mind we should understand that we are starting with a mess.

  • The economy is broken with 40 million unemployed, tens of millions with reduced income, debt ballooning and huge uncertainty. 
  • The Black Lives Matter movement has focused national attention on the history of racism that has harmed our nation and the crisis of unaccountable police which requires thoughtful and agile responses that reallocate resources and assure there is sufficient funding for preventing harm and responding to community problems.
  • The healthcare system is broken with treatment not available to millions, unequal treatment by race, gender, income and geography; pathetic abandonment of public health and conservatives willing to sacrifice the elderly, people of color, the frail, those in congregate housing (nursing homes, institutional care, prisons), the immune compromised — literally served up to risk death and illness to pretend that the world has not changed. 
  • Our politics are broken with the polarization keeping the majority from organizing for a new, new deal; a green new deal, equal rights, police and justice reform and simple direct voting rights. 
  • Our very planet is broken, with a ticking clock on whether we will make the reforms necessary to prevent global catastrophe and make a world that offers hope to our children and which tackles the massive threats to our food systems, our global health, education and opportunities to live with enforceable human rights.
  • Our military is broken, eating up our resources and substituting force for reason in ever widening failures which squander lives, wealth and opportunities. 

The pandemic has created an extreme crisis for local and state governments and for basic voting rights.

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Unlike the federal government, most local and state governments must have balanced budgets to begin their fiscal years. All are facing revenue shortfalls totaling hundreds of billions of dollars. At the same time the federal government is threatening to defund the U. S. Postal Service which would have an extreme negative impact on voting by mail. 

Everything we want to accomplish requires that the federal, commonwealth and local governments work to correct the crises which grow directly from the pandemic and resulting collapse of so much of our economy and opportunities.

This means that the entire costs of the pandemic to local and state governments, the entire cost of healthcare related to the pandemic, the lost income of low- and middle-income people, and the cost of preparing for the ongoing testing, PPE, case tracing and preparedness for future disasters must be covered by the federal government. Otherwise government will not be able to help those calling for justice and fairness, much less businesses and workers trying to rebuild their lives.

While there are many more tasks that government should take the lead to implement, it is essential that government at all levels also make a commitment to voting rights and a fully funded system that makes elections fair, encourages voting and counts the votes, quickly, efficiently and accountably.

There are people in our country who want to restrict voting. We must overcome their decades long campaign to keep control of government in the hands of a self-serving minority. This means funding of federal elections, offering assistance to states to make voting easier during the pandemic and funding the Postal Service to facilitate mail voting.

Every elected official must commit to these fundamental reforms.

Local governments should support and fund local activists to educate our neighbors, engage elected officials and build an unstoppable movement for these initiatives.

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