Democratic House lawmakers say state, towns need bailout in next stimulus bill
As the new $484 billion federal relief package heads toward becoming law, suburban congressmen already are making plans to negotiate for another massive rescue bill, this one to help the states and municipalities struggling to pay bills.
In a letter to the state's congressional delegation last week, Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, outlined more than $41.6 billion in federal aid the Democratic caucus would like to see.
Suburban members of the delegation, all of whom are Democrats, did not indicate support for the specifics of Harmon's request, but emphasized that they have been advocating for more federal aid to states and municipalities facing financial crises as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster of Naperville said Harmon's request indicates a larger problem of stimulus funding authorized by the CARES Act not being distributed equitably to states and municipalities. The funds, he said, were distributed in such a way that states with populations over 3.5 million are getting $390 per person while smaller states favored by the Senate are receiving up to $2,100 per person.
Any future federal relief should be allocated on a per capita basis, he added.
"At a time when we are all in this together, it is important that emergency aid flow equally to all citizens no matter where they live," Foster wrote in a joint letter to Congress co-signed by U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove.
Relief for health care providers also should be proportionate with the number of COVID-19 cases in those states, Foster said.
The latest stimulus package, expected to get President Donald Trump's signature Friday, does not provide states direct aid for operating expenditures.
Illinois could see an estimated $14.1 billion in lost revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Harmon. Gov. J.B. Pritzker estimates that the state will lose $2.7 billion this fiscal year and $4.6 billion next fiscal year.
"The $150 billion provided to state and local governments in the CARES Act was a good start, but it is simply not enough to sustain essential services," said U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg. "State and local governments across the country are going to reach a point where they won't have enough money to pay for, among other things, police, fire, sanitation, and even public health services vital to fighting the pandemic."
Loss of municipal revenues is a greater problem for communities already struggling to contain the virus, said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston.
"What really needs to happen is not so much earmarked money for specific purposes," said Schakowsky adding, initial CARES Act funding didn't trickle down much to cities and towns.
Schakowsky said states also need more money for the distribution of personal protective equipment, ventilators and "a full-blown testing program."
U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider of Deerfield is calling for the threshold to be lowered for communities to be able to apply directly for federal aid -- cities with 500,000 or more residents are eligible under the CARES Act. Towns also need more flexibility to direct the funds where needed, he added.
Schneider is working on legislation to allow payroll tax credits for municipal governments similar to what businesses are granted. He also is pushing for allowing states and local governments to borrow at a lower interest rate.
"People are still figuring out what the impact is going to be," Schneider said. "The need to provide services as people are hunkering down at home, and the need to prepare for the reopening ... it's a matter of how long is it going to take to get the economy back up and running."