Whether we realize it or not, we benefit from the work of public-sector employees and our state, county and municipal governments every day. From maintaining public safety to educating our children to providing critical services, our police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers, teachers, librarians and so many other public employees are there for us when we need them most.

However, because of the coronavirus pandemic, our state and local governments are facing unprecedented challenges. Already, Maine towns and cities are being forced to make impossible decisions often resulting in cuts to valued services.

In Portland and South Portland, city leaders were forced to furlough hundreds of employees, hitting programs like community services and recreation departments particularly hard. In Skowhegan, vehicle registration and municipal services are taking longer to process as public employees work in shifts. And in Augusta, the city has been forced to lay off over 30 employees, including child care workers, and has scheduled two furlough days for city employees, including the police and fire chiefs.

Two weeks ago, I spoke with municipal leaders from Westbrook and Windham about the difficult decisions they’ve had to make. In Westbrook, they’ve been forced to propose cutting 18 jobs and in Windham, they are forgoing certain capital improvement projects.

As a former town councilor in Freeport, I know that no one in local government wants to be put in this position. The health, safety and prosperity of our communities are our top priorities, and state and local governments provide critical services that protect and serve Maine people.

At this point, the threats posed by the coronavirus are not new. For weeks, state and local elected officials have asked again and again for federal support from Congress. But those calls have not yet been answered; instead, the federal response has prioritized partisan politics and wealthy special interests ahead of relief for state and local governments.

In early April, after a bipartisan group of governors called on Congress to pass more aid for state and local governments, Senate Republicans blocked efforts to include the relief alongside additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. At the time, Sen. Susan Collins even called Democratic efforts to negotiate for additional funding, including funding for state and local governments, “disgraceful.”

And for three weeks in May, as cities and towns continued to make cuts and plead for federal assistance, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans wasted more time, choosing to focus on confirming Donald Trump’s judicial nominees instead of passing coronavirus relief legislation. Senate Republicans confirmed three new judges the week before Memorial Day alone, and then promptly left town without passing any relief for state and local governments.

The CARES Act did include assistance for Maine’s state government, but there are significant restrictions on how that money can be used, and assistance for Maine towns, cities and counties was left out entirely, as funds went to jurisdictions with more than 500,000 residents.

The reality is that federal aid for states should have been passed weeks ago. As the Trump administration has abdicated its duty to lead during this crisis, more and more responsibility has fallen on state and local governments. Instead of passing the relief that state and local governments have asked for, the Trump administration and Washington Republicans have focused on winning partisan fights and allowing the wealthy and well-connected to skip to the front of the line.

Maine’s state, county and municipal governments need additional federal relief to deal with this ongoing crisis. As the Senate comes back in session this week, they should move to immediately pass long-delayed relief for state and local governments.

Let’s hope, for everyone’s sake, it’s not too little, too late.


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