U.S. Conference on Mayors calls on Congress to go big on funding the front lines

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has sent a letter to Congress that echoes what AFSCME has been saying for months: It’s long past time to robustly fund the front lines.

The letter, signed by 402 mayors – Republicans, Democrats and independents, from cities and towns large and small – describes the dire need for aid from Congress, as communities have been forced to lay off and furlough workers and cut essential services like trash collection and road repairs.

“We urge you to take immediate action on comprehensive coronavirus relief legislation, including providing direct fiscal assistance to all cities, which is long overdue,” says the letter, which was sent last week.

The mayors told Congress they back President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which would lead to faster vaccine distribution, get students back to school safely, reopen shuttered businesses and prevent cuts to essential public services.

As of December, at least 1.3 million public service worker jobs were lost, with the economic effects of the pandemic reverberating for years to come, experts warn.

“American cities and our essential workers have been serving at the front lines of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for nearly a year. We have been charged with executing herculean public health efforts and an unprecedented emergency response,” the mayors wrote. “Despite immense fiscal pressure, your local government partners oversaw those efforts, while trying to maintain essential services and increase our internal capacity to provide support for residents and businesses who have been crippled by a tanking economy.”

The coalition of mayors isn’t the only group calling for urgent aid.

State health officials are also calling on Congress to fund the front lines. On Tuesday, a group of state health officials testified before the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee and made clear that beating back the tide of the pandemic and vaccinating the entire country will be impossible without aid to states, cities, towns and schools. There simply aren’t enough vaccinators, contact tracers and other public health professionals to get the job done without additional aid and resources, the officials warned.

Funding the front lines is popular nationally and the smart decision fiscally. Not only are 84% of Americans in favor of funding the front lines, but many are worried that we will not spend enough to beat the pandemic. Doing so is also the smart thing to do, according to economists across the political spectrum.

So far, though, the lack of federal aid has left many of the essential workers who’re getting us through this pandemic – and will help our nation recover from it – out in the cold.

The mayors highlighted the harsh irony they, and many AFSCME, members face: “As the economic engines of our country, local governments will be relied upon to lead the long-term economic recovery our nation so desperately needs, even as, with few exceptions, cities have been largely left without direct federal assistance.”

It’s long past time to fund the front lines.