Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday urged lawmakers on Capital Hill and the Trump administration to hammer out another COVID-19 stimulus package as soon as possible.
“There are very real issues that states and municipal governments have … with almost everything associated with COVID,” Baker said in a news conference, calling it important for Congress and the White House negotiating teams to “come together” and finalize a deal.
Many Republican senators believe the $3 trillion-plus already spent in relief funds over the last few months are enough, and President Donald Trump has consistently dismissed Democrats’ demands that the next stimulus package include aid to state and local governments whose budgets have been decimated during the pandemic.
The outbreak and lockdowns across the nation have led to unprecedented local budget shortfalls and more than 1.5 million layoffs of public employees, including many teachers and first responders.
Trump inaccurately claims that the funding pushed by Democrats is geared toward poorly-managed Democratic-led states; but the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act called for allocations to every state and cities and towns across the country regardless of the political affiliation of local leaders.
“It’s not just a northeast issue,” said Baker, a Republican. “People are going to continue to have costs and expenses associated with this.”
Baker repeatedly urged residents to avoid large gatherings and to wear face masks because the pandemic was far from over. He argued that health care systems in states and communities will continue to be stretched thin for months, requiring greater assistance from the federal government.
Massachusetts, for instance, is ramping up enforcement of social distancing protocols and coordinating with local governments to boost testing, contact tracing and communication and education on the virus, Baker said.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives approved a $3 trillion package that would have allocated at least $875 billion to state and local governments. According to a breakdown released by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the bill called for an estimated $23.8 million to Massachusetts over the next three years.
Senate Republicans’ coronavirus stimulus proposal includes zero new dollars for state, local and tribal governments, getting their package closer to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desired $1 trillion, an amount nearly two dozen GOP senators remain unwilling to spend.
Asked about Trump’s executive orders over the weekend, one of which will enhance unemployment benefits by $400 every week — $200 more than the GOP offered and $200 less than what Democrats demand — Baker said the way the president proposes to pay for insurance boost is flawed. Trump’s plan would pull money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency which had been set aside to reimburse states whose economies were hit hard by COVID-19.
“You can make a credible argument that FEMA money would be an appropriate resource, but as far as most states are concerned, that money is there for us,” Baker said. “That’s what we can apply for for costs incurred in March, April and May and be reimbursed by the feds. When FEMA runs out of money on that reimbursement, we don’t know when Congress will get around to appropriate funds.”