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Pennsylvania cities need the American Rescue Plan — we cannot wait

As mayors of Pennsylvania cities, we witness the human toll the pandemic takes each day it stretches on. We see families losing loved ones, jobless workers struggling to make ends meet, kids stuck at home and isolated, and businesses closing their doors for good. Across our Commonwealth, residents continue to suffer.

We see this pain every day. We see it in the family waiting in the snow for their weekly box of food, the elementary school student who hasn’t signed on for online learning in weeks, and the small business owner who has finally laid off their last two employees after fighting to stay open for months.

It’s time for our Congressional leaders to step up.

It has been more than a year since the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in America, and the anniversary of Pennsylvania’s initial cases is quickly approaching. In this time, the relief Pennsylvania and our cities have received from the federal government has been critical. Unfortunately, much more funding is still needed for American communities to recover and thrive.

Each of our cities has been forced to make difficult budget cuts in the wake of COVID-19, and without additional federal relief our residents will suffer even further. Congress has the opportunity to go big with its next relief package and to provide the support that the American people need. Experts agree that the danger in this moment is not going big enough–a lesson learned during the Great Recession.

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan lays out a vision to address the ongoing COVID emergency, and it’s exactly the kind of comprehensive, bold plan Pennsylvania needs. The American public is hugely supportive of the American Rescue Plan. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that nearly 7 in 10 Americans favor passing the President’s American Rescue Plan, including 68 percent of independents. They know what we know–that Congress needs to “go big” to get our communities the help we desperately need.

Perhaps more important than anything else right now, the American Rescue Plan would help us vaccinate more people at a quicker pace. Expanded and coordinated vaccination efforts are absolutely essential to chart a path out of the pandemic nightmare. By prioritizing the health of our most vulnerable residents and restoring a sense of safety and confidence among the public, we’ll be able to safely reopen our schools faster and begin rebuilding our local economies.

The plan will also help working families that continue to struggle by providing direct payments and enhanced unemployment benefits, rental assistance and an extended eviction moratorium, and food aid. It also supports our communities’ small businesses. These programs will help our neighbors keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables.

A crucial element of President Biden’s plan is direct aid to state and local governments of all sizes. Local governments’ revenues are severely diminished, and we see few, if any, signs of hope for improving our financial position in 2021. Essential services such as public health, public safety, and sanitation are at risk. We can’t allow partisan politics to make us forget what we learned from the last recession: cities are economic engines for their regions, and not spending enough on federal stimulus will result in cuts at the local level that slow the pace of economic recovery in the long run.

Congress must act, and they must act soon. Our communities cannot wait another day. We waited months between the first relief package in March 2020 and the second in December, and millions of Americans suffered as a result. Congress alone has the power to alleviate the pain many Americans are experiencing, and they should exercise it without delay.

We encourage all Pennsylvanians to contact their Congressional representatives and let them know, the message from Pennsylvania is clear: we need our federal representatives to support swift passage of the American Rescue Plan so we can beat back the virus and pursue a speedy and inclusive recovery. It simply cannot wait.

Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter is joined in this column by mayors from across the state, including Danene Sorace of Lancaster, Paige Cognetti of Scranton, Jim Kenney of Philadelphia and William Peduto of Pittsburgh.

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