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Economic and health recovery relies on funding the front lines

AFSCME District Council 86 represents nearly 5,000 workers in northcentral Pennsylvania, including 287 in local school districts; 661 at Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield Universities; 165 prison employees; 453 who work for various cities, boroughs, and townships; and 2,441 employees who work in all facets of state government, many of whom have risked their health and the health of their families as essential employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people in this region, the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and all of America, rely on these public service workers.

We also represent 1,425 health care workers who are involved in 24/7 direct care. They, more than anyone, have been on the front lines of this health crisis. These truly essential workers are doing everything in their power to protect the safety of patients and the public, and it is time the federal government steps up to offer them some protection in return.

The federal government must pass funding that would allow these heroes to continue to deliver vital public services, or they will face layoffs, which they, their families, and every single Pennsylvanian cannot afford.

The economy has been put on pause and tax revenue has sharply fallen when we need it most, while unemployment insurance, healthcare, and other costs have skyrocketed. Economic experts say that providing federal aid to states and cities will make it possible to re-open our economy sooner and help businesses and people get back to work more quickly.

Without federal assistance, there will be massive cuts to critical services like health care, public safety, education, and sanitation. Functioning public services will make it possible to re-open our economy safely, help businesses, get people back to work, and continue the recovery from COVID-19.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was a good start to stimulating the economy and getting workers some of the protections they need, and AFSCME was proud to be part of the effort to pass that policy, but it was just a start.

The House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 6800, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which includes an emergency workplace infectious disease standard; gives aid for state and local governments, public schools, the U.S. Postal Service, and pension funding relief; keeps workers on payrolls to avoid mass layoffs; extends unemployment insurance; provides more direct payments to working people; extends health care coverage; provides housing and food benefits; and much more.

The bill includes $875 billion in state and local aid ($500 billion for states and $375 billion for local governments), $90 billion in education assistance, and an increase in the federal Medicaid match by 7.8 percentage points to 14 percent. It also includes $300 million for Personal Protective Equipment and a $600 million grant funding for COVID response in correctional facilities; $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service; and $7 billion for childcare.

Just the 11 counties that District Council 86 represents — Clinton, Lycoming, Northumberland, Tioga, Columbia, Mifflin, Snyder, Union, Juniata, Montour, and Sullivan — would receive an estimated $297,396,095 over the next two years if this legislation is signed into law.

It is now up to the U.S. Senate and President Trump to do the right thing. Those on the front lines of this crisis are nothing less than heroes, and they deserve proper protection and adequate funding, and that will come from the HEROES Act.

And most Americans support this idea. A national survey conducted online by Hart Research Associates from May 4 to May 13, among 2,889 likely voters, found overwhelming support of maintaining state and local services such as police, schools, and healthcare, all of which are threatened if this federal funding is not passed. The survey also found overwhelming support of the idea of providing $1 trillion in federal aid to states, cities, and towns, to replace lost revenue from economic shutdown and maintain public services.

All states and communities, regardless of political parties or other differences, have been hurt by the pandemic and the shutdown, and we should respond as Americans by taking action to save jobs, maintain essential services, and re-open our economy.

Working Americans have done their part. It is time for Congress and the White House to do theirs. Call your Senator and urge them to vote yes on the HEROES Act.

Zollie Rayner is director of AFSCME District Council 86 in New Columbia.

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