WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate to urge his colleagues to support funding for state and local governments in the next COVID-19 relief package. Specifically, Cassidy supported the SMART Act, a bipartisan bill he authored with U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to provide $500 billion to state and local governments to replace revenue lost due to the pandemic.
The SMART Act would deliver funds to states and local governments in three equal tranches: one-third based on population, one-third based on infection rate, and one-third based on revenue loss.
“The health and safety of the people of the United States and Louisiana remain my top priority,” Dr. Cassidy said. “The HEALS Act includes stimulus checks for Americans, support for small businesses, and billions to help schools reopen. While these are critically important to economic recovery, so, too, are essential services provided by states and local communities. I’m talking about police officers, firefighters, teachers, sanitation workers and other municipal employees. Because of economic lockdowns, states and local governments have seen their tax bases erode, which threatens their ability to pay the very people we need to keep our communities running.”
Menendez and SMART Act cosponsor U.S. Senator Susan Collins joined Cassidy in delivering their own speeches in support of the bill.
To read more about the SMART Act, click here.
To watch Cassidy’s speech on YouTube, click here.
To download Cassidy’s speech, click here.
See below for Cassidy’s full remarks as prepared for delivery:
Senate Republicans have unveiled a proposal for a second round of support for American families and small businesses as our nation continues to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This virus is an unprecedented challenge, but it is one that we will overcome. The HEALS Act attempts to do just that. The introduction of this proposal signals Republicans’ commitment to see Americans through this challenging time, just as we did with the CARES Act.
The health and safety of the people of the United States and Louisiana remains my top priority. The HEALS Act is a strong step in the right direction. As with all major bills, this is the starting point of negotiations to build consensus among the members on the best path forward. It is my sincere hope that Democrats join Republicans in our endeavor to deliver for the people who are depending on us to lead.
The HEALS act includes stimulus checks for Americans, support for small businesses, and billions to help schools reopen. While these are critically important to economic recovery, so, too, are essential services provided by states and local communities. I’m talking about police officers, firefighters, teachers, sanitation workers and other municipal employees. Because of economic lockdowns, states and local governments have seen their tax bases erode, which threatens their ability to pay the very people we need to keep our communities running.
I do not want to see a situation where, for example, cities slash police budgets and force layoffs of those who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. That is why Congress should include additional relief for states and local communities in this relief package. Senator Bob Menendez and I have offered a bipartisan proposal called the SMART Act to help communities through this pandemic.
The SMART Act calls for $500 billion in funding for states and local governments. It would be disbursed in thirds: one-third based on a state’s population, one-third based on COVID-19 impact, and one-third based on revenue losses. This is a fair formula that prioritizes funding to the hardest-hit areas.
The need is great. S&P Global released a report detailing states’ susceptibility to fiscal distress in a COVID-19 recession. Thirty-eight states had a high or very high risk of economic exposure. The only two states with a low risk for budget vulnerability were Nebraska and South Carolina.
S&P’s findings echo a Moody’s report that also predicted dire effects to states and cities if nothing is done. Moody’s found that 34 states will see tax revenue fall by double digit percentage points, the worst of which include Alaska at nearly 80 percent, Louisiana at 46 percent, and North Dakota at 44 percent.
According to the National Association of Counties, local communities anticipate a $202 billion impact to budgets through 2021. Their report shows:
- 71 percent of counties have cut or delayed capital investments, like infrastructure and economic development projects
- 68 percent of counties have cut or delayed services, including public safety and human services.
- One fourth of counties have cut the workforce through furloughs, layoffs and forced early retirements. 40 percent of those counties expect to cut deeper within the next year.
- Two-thirds of counties receiving CARES Act funding indicate that the amount they have received will not cover COVID budget impacts.
All told, the National Association of Counties predicts a loss of 4.9 million jobs and $344 billion lost in GDP. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can save jobs for police officers, firefighters, teachers and others by including state and local support in the stimulus act before us.
As I mentioned earlier, my state of Louisiana is facing serious shortfalls while we still struggle with rising numbers of COVID cases. As of yesterday, we had the No 1 most cases per capita in the country. The state is moving backward in terms of reopening because of this, putting further strain not only on the people themselves, but also on the revenues local communities receive from commerce.
The folks at home know the consequences if they do not receive support. Twenty-two parish presidents signed a letter supporting the SMART Act, writing, “As elected leaders with parish populations ranging from over 400,000 to 18,000 the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for all local governments not only within Louisiana, but nationally. The extreme loss of tax revenues, which provide for essential services coupled with unforeseen costs, brought onto us by the response to COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to have an extremely detrimental effect on our role to provide for the citizens of our parishes.”
I received a letter from more than 80 mayors across my state giving their “strong support and thanks” for my efforts to pass the SMART Act because they know I’m working to deliver the support they need for their communities. These mayors range from cities as large as Shreveport to small towns like Glenmora and Athens. They wrote, “The SMART Act would provide funding for municipal economic recovery that will support the reopening of businesses and allow Louisiana to move forward together. We are grateful for Senator Cassidy’s bipartisan efforts and for his longstanding partnership with Louisiana’s municipal governments.”
The same sentiments have also been echoed by Louisiana’s chambers of commerce.
I understand the concerns from my Republican colleagues about spending money on state and local governments. They are worried the money would be used to bail out poor management decisions and overly-generous – and unfunded – pension plans. I shared those concerns as well, which is why the SMART Act includes a specific provision prohibiting spending in those areas. SMART Act money replaces lost revenue caused by COVID-19, and nothing more.
And I understand concerns about spending, but I fear the cost of doing nothing would be worse. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell spoke on the state and local funding need saying that while costly it would be “worth it if it helps avoid long-term damage and leaves us with a stronger economy.”
Mr. President, Congress should not let police officers, firefighters, first responders, teachers, sanitation workers and others lose their jobs by the millions at a time when our country needs them most. The United States cannot fully recover economically if local communities cannot provide basic services that allow commerce to flow.
I commend my colleagues on the work thus far on the HEALS Act. More work is left to be done. I look forward to working with others in this chamber in the coming days to strengthen the bill even further. We cannot let Americans down in this time of tremendous need. By working together, we can deliver the support they need, and we’ll be stronger as a nation for having done so.