WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday introduced the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability, and Schools (HEALS) Act, the first step in negotiations for the next coronavirus (COVID-19) relief package.
For months, counties have been outlining the urgent need for additional federal funding, as well as additional flexibility for the assistance counties received through the CARES Act. As part of the HEALS Act, the American Workers, Families, and Employers Assistance Act, would only permit CARES Act funding to be used for revenue shortfalls if counties above 500,000 population have distributed at least 25 percent of the funding to other governments within their jurisdictions. National Association of Counties (NACo) Large Urban County Caucus Chair, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman, released the following statement:
“Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, America’s counties have taken the lead in responding both on the public health front and in economic recovery. As strong allies in the federal-state-local partnership, we have called for direct and flexible federal funding to allow us to best serve our residents. The HEALS Act falls far short of giving us the resources needed to best keep our communities safe and healthy.
“In addition to more direct funding for counties of all sizes, we have asked for increased flexibility in the use of CARES Act funding. Not only does the HEALS Act fail to provide direct funding beyond the five percent of counties nationwide who were eligible for the CARES Act, the increased flexibility comes with a condition that is unacceptable to urban counties. Essentially, we would be required to allocate a quarter of our funding to other local governments within our jurisdictions despite the fact that counties are generally responsible for public health. This provision is unworkable, and counties strongly urge the Senate to abandon the state and local aid provisions of the HEALS Act and instead provide additional flexible aid to counties of all sizes.
“CRF dollars are best invested and shared at the county level. Counties play a significant role in public health, safety and economic stability. We are helping unemployed Americans and their families, and supporting the small businesses and nonprofit communities. We are also investing in vital infrastructure, from broadband upgrades to roads and bridges, and human services for some of our most vulnerable residents.”
America’s urban counties provide essential services to 150 million residents, including local public health departments, public hospitals and critical access clinics, long-term care facilities and behavioral health centers.
Additionally, urban county governments are responsible for emergency operations centers and 911 services, court and jail management, public safety and emergency response, protective services for children, seniors and veterans, and the “last of the first responders” with coroners and medical examiners.
NACo’s coronavirus online hub includes county level examples of response efforts, interactive maps and analyses of federal actions. View this resource-rich webpage at www.naco.org/coronavirus.Standard