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COMMENTARY: Relief for state, local governments a must

Updated June 7, 2020 - 9:13 pm

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a day doesn’t pass without me hearing from constituents who are hurting. All Nevadans want the same thing: health and safety for their loved ones, to end the pandemic, to stop the job losses and to get our lives back to normal. To do so, Washington must provide economic relief by getting resources to our state and local communities now.

Since the pandemic took off, state and local governments have been conducting vital, on-the-ground, response efforts to protect residents. Meanwhile, their revenues have plummeted as revenue sources have dried up.

On May 11, Nevada declared a state of fiscal emergency, estimating that our state budget could see a shortfall of up to $911 million because of the pandemic. That’s nearly one-fifth of our 2020 budget. With the end of Nevada’s fiscal year coming this month, state agencies have already been asked to identify potential cuts to their budgets, and our front-line workers are bracing for the worst.

These shortfalls matter because they will mean devastating layoffs and cuts to the public services that keep our communities safe. This includes firefighters, health workers and other front-line personnel. We know that the first step toward economic recovery is containing the public health emergency, but this will only take longer if states and communities are forced to cut key public health workers and services.

Budget shortfalls also matter because cutting public services will slow down our economic recovery. After the Great Recession, state and local cuts were a drag on the economy’s growth for years. In Nevada, this hurt our schools, infrastructure and local economy. Recently, the Clark County School District announced that it’s bracing for a revenue loss of $38 mil- lion for the school year that just ended, raising the possibility of budget cuts. Simply put, Congress must urgently pass direct support for state and local budgets.

In previous packages, Congress fell short of providing relief that would help state and local governments replace lost revenue and even left out smaller communities such as Henderson and Boulder City. That’s why I fought to ensure this assistance for state and local governments of all sizes was included in the latest virus relief package, which passed the House on May 15.

Congress can also relieve state budget pressures by temporarily boosting federal aid for state Medicaid programs. After all, this is a public health crisis. We saw during the Great Recession that this type of aid both relieves budget shortfalls and protects health coverage during periods of high unemployment. In other words, this means that more Nevadans get health coverage while ensuring that there are fewer budget cuts. That’s why, in April, I introduced a bill to temporarily increase federal coverage of Medicaid costs as state unemployment worsens. This tool was broadly supported in the most recent House-passed relief package.

Bottom line: We know that addressing state and local budget shortfalls puts Nevada, and our nation, on the quickest path to recovery. Now it’s a matter of Congress passing these common-sense solutions. Whether you lean to the left, to the right or somewhere in between, we all want to get back to the lives we knew. Let’s put partisanship aside and support our state and local governments so that we can all start moving forward to the part where things get better.

Susie Lee, a Democrat, represents Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.

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