Biden presses for $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan; meets with bipartisan governors, mayors

Coronavirus Stimulus

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden met Friday with a bipartisan group of governors and mayors at the White House as part of his push to give financial relief from the coronavirus pandemic to state and local governments.

As part of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus package, Biden wants to send $350 billion to state and local governments and tribal governments. While Republicans in Congress have largely objected to this initiative, Biden’s push has some GOP support among governors and mayors.

Biden invited a set of mayors and governors to the Oval Office and described what he said was a need to give those officials more help supporting millions of unemployed workers and reopening schools.

“You folks are all on the front lines and dealing with the crisis since day one,” Biden said at the start of the Oval Office meeting. “They’ve been working on their own in many cases.”

Republican lawmakers have stressed that some past aid to state and local governments remains unspent and revenues have rebounded after slumping when the coronavirus first hit. But state governments have shed 332,000 jobs since the outbreak began to spread last February, and local governments have cut nearly 1 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Republican Govs. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Larry Hogan of Maryland attended the Friday meeting, along with Democratic governors, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo and New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan Grisham. The mayors of Atlanta, Detroit, Miami and Arlington, Texas, also were at the meeting. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell was set to attend, but she could not due to White House health screening and safety protocols, according to her press secretary.

One of the mayors in attendance, Republican Jeff Williams of Arlington, Texas, said his city urgently needs the federal aid earmarked for state and local governments in Biden’s rescue plan. He said cities were crushed when Congress removed similar aid from a previous relief bill that passed in December.

“We’ve been crippled. We haven’t gotten help,” Williams said in an interview. “Our property taxes are down and costs are way up. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, this is the right solution so we can achieve economic growth much faster.”

Arlington, which is home to the largest General Motors Co plant in the world, is bracing for a 10% drop in the appraised value of its commercial properties, which would cut revenues by some $30 million after an $18 million loss last year, Williams said.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told media after the meeting the $1.9 trillion price tag for the whole bill is “too high, we need to compromise on that.”

“I agree with the urgency of it but the urgency can be accomplished just as quickly with compromise. I think it sets a bad precedent to ram that through on a partisan vote,” Hutchinson said.

Under the relief package being crafted in House committees this week, every state and the District of Columbia would get at least $500 million, but most of the money going to states would be distributed based on their share of unemployed workers nationally.

“We need to help the states economically in terms of unemployment,” Biden said during a small part of the meeting that was open to reporters. “The federal government has a major role to play here.”

Local governments would also get $130.2 billion and tribal governments would get $20 billion.

The money could be used to cover costs incurred because of the pandemic and lost revenue and to address the negative economic impacts of the disease.

The White House summit came as the CDC released new guidelines for safely reopening schools and as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said “the time to go big is now” as she pushed for more stimulus globally during the first meeting of the Group of Seven wealthy economies since the new U.S. administration took office.

Congress provided $150 billion in direct assistance to state and local governments in an earlier relief package signed into law last March.

Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform debated Friday the merits of the spending for state and local governments.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the committee’s Democratic chairperson, said states and communities are desperate for help at a time when the pandemic continues to take lives and livelihoods.

“This money will allow these governments to distribute vaccines faster, expand testing more broadly and maintain vital services across our country,” Maloney said. “It will also help Main Street economies and save the jobs of our teachers, first responders and other essential workers.”

Rep. James Comer, the ranking Republican, said states still have money to spend from the relief package Congress passed last March. He played a video clip of California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently talking about how higher than expected revenues would allow the state to grow its cash reserves.

“Despite this surplus, California is still receiving an additional $41.2 billion in taxpayer dollars from this $350 billion slush fund,” said Comer. He went on to describe the spending as a “big blue state bailout.”

Biden on Thursday said the U.S. coronavirus death toll was likely to reach 500,000 next month, but said the United States was on track to have enough vaccine for 300 million Americans by the end of July.

While economic growth is picking up, unemployment remains high and many communities of color are not expected to recover for years.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report; reporting by Reuters’ Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Trevor Hunnicutt and Diane Bartz; AP reporting by Josh Boak and Kevin Freking

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