- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2020

The federal government must accept a bigger role in the coronavirus response, U.S. mayors told Congress Friday, pleading with lawmakers for a cash infusion before they mull cuts to education, health care or law enforcement.

They credited Washington for early steps to keep the nation afloat but said they are hemorrhaging funds as they try to combat the virus and maintain basic services.

“Cities need real money,” said Stephen K. Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, told the House Select Subcommittee Hearing on the Coronavirus and Cities.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said early hiccups in federal testing efforts “hid the spread in our community” on the front end of the pandemic. She wants the federal government to take a firmer hand in disease-fighting strategy moving forward, as transmission lingers despite efforts to reopen the American economy.

“Fifty states with 50 different battle plans will cause more death,” Ms. Durkan said. She also slammed the “scavenger hunt, Hunger Games” process in which states and cities were forced to compete against each other for protective gear and supplies.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, meanwhile, said the racial health disparities uncovered by the pandemic demand an “urgent and larger national conversation.”

The Trump administration has told states to take the lead in COVID-19 testing, saying it will support local efforts.

It also says they want to see the impact of existing stimulus efforts before spending more. Some GOP lawmakers say blue-state leaders are seeking a “bailout” for things such as underfunded pensions.

Mayors who testified to the House panel said they need help now to maintain hospitals, police departments and other services.

“We are squeezing every single dime,” Ms. Lance Bottoms said.

Mary Jane Scott, mayor of Magnum, Oklahoma, said local revenue for the past two months is on track to plummet by 70-80%.

“We will need federal assistance of some kind,” she said.

She also said the pandemic exposed the lack of internet access in rural communities like hers. Students didn’t have adequate wifi to complete school and college coursework from home, she said.

Lenny Curry, mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, said Congress should not, however, extend relief money to municipalities looking to paper over pre-pandemic choices. He said Florida managed to head off serious damage from COVID-19 and that long-lasting quarantines will lead to terrible outcomes.

“It would, in fact, be a cure worse than the disease,” Mr. Curry said.

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