WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today introduced the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability, and Schools Act (HEALS) Act, the first step in negotiations for the next coronavirus (COVID-19) relief package. National Association of Counties (NACo) Executive Director Matthew Chase released the following statement:
“The HEALS Act is an important step in the bicameral legislative process as the nation grapples with the historic public health challenges and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that both chambers have laid out their initial plans, we urge all of our federal leaders to come together and ensure county officials on the front lines have the resources and flexibility necessary to mitigate the virus, protect the public’s health and restore our economy.
“This unprecedented public health and economic crisis is wreaking havoc on public finances, especially in hotspot areas, at a time when county governments are working to fulfill our vast frontline responsibilities, such as essential public health, public safety and protective services for children and seniors.
“County revenues are plummeting nationally while costs and cash flow needs are skyrocketing because of the unique county role in responding to this pandemic. New NACo research finds that the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to massive budgetary impacts for county governments and local taxpayers, with as much as $202 billion in lost revenue and increased expenditures through FY2021.
“We appreciate that the Senate bill allows limited new flexibility as part of the previously enacted $150-billion Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) for state, county and municipal governments under the CARES Act. We welcome this new ‘lost revenue’ provision, but clearly additional aid is needed for all counties, especially those hit hardest by the pandemic.
“We know that CRF dollars, when allocated and shared at the county level, can be deployed quickly for essential public health and economic recovery efforts. Counties are using these funds to help 36 million unemployed Americans and their families cope with their own economic uncertainty. We are assisting small businesses that are the backbone of our local communities. We are also investing in vital infrastructure, from broadband upgrades for telehealth to surge capacity for COVID-19 treatments to distance learning for children and families in underserved areas.
“As congressional leaders pursue a bipartisan agreement, we urge our federal partners to ensure that counties of all sizes have access to additional direct, flexible funding to fight this pandemic, rebuild the economy and strengthen our communities. We are focused on confronting the immediate challenges of today while investing in our long-term safety and recovery for tomorrow.”
Led by 40,000 elected county officials and a workforce of 3.6 million public servants, America’s 3,069 counties support over 1,900 local public health departments, nearly 1,000 public hospitals and critical access clinics, more than 800 long-term care facilities and 750 behavioral health centers.
Additionally, 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