WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is introducing legislation this week that would provide financial assistance to local governments affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and give them more control in how the funds are spent.
Sen. Brown, a Democrat from Cleveland, held a conference call Wednesday afternoon during which he discussed his Direct Support for Communities Act. The bill would create a fund to provide cities, towns, villages and counties with direct federal assistance for relief from lost revenue.
“Over and over, I hear the same thing from communities whether they’re large or small or rural or urban; they need more resources from the federal government,” Sen. Brown said. “I’m hopeful that with the new administration and a new Congress we’re finally going to be able to provide Ohio communities with the help they need.”
The legislation, which doesn’t have a dollar amount attached to it, would give 50% of its funding to cities, towns and villages with the other 50% going to counties across the nation. Funding would be allocated based on population.
Sen. Brown said local officials know where assistance is needed and are best positioned to provide that assistance, a sentiment shared by Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown and Athens Mayor Steve Patterson.
“Cities, regardless of their size, large, small, villages, we truly know where the needs are,” Patterson said. “This Direct Support for Communities Act is just that.”
Red tape in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act along with a short time frame to spend CARES Act funds prevented many small communities from spending all of their allotments, Patterson said.
While there still would be accountability, Sen. Brown said, his legislation would put more trust in local governments to spend funding.
“I don’t think that Mitchell McConnell and the former president really trusted local governments to give them the dollars and give them the say over how these dollars are spent,” Sen. Brown said.
While Sen. Brown’s legislation doesn’t include a dollar amount, President Joe Biden has proposed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that includes $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local and territorial governments.
“Our bill doesn’t have a number, it has a formula, and it would fit perfectly into what the president is trying to do,” Sen. Brown said.
Sen. Brown criticized his fellow lawmakers in Washington for not providing more assistance to American people, businesses, schools and local governments after passing the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March 2020. More assistance is urgently needed, he said.
“Every day thousands of people fell into poverty in this country, in this state alone hundreds, and we just didn’t do anything,” the senator said. “Well, those days are over. We’re going to deliver for people. Small businesses, unemployed workers, rental assistance, money for schools, money for local governments.”
Sen. Brown would like to see bipartisan support for the proposed legislation, but if Republicans don’t join the efforts, he wants the Democratic-controlled House and Senate to move forward with the proposal. He suggested Democrats could use reconciliation, a process Republicans used to pass tax cuts in 2017 that would only require 51 votes in the Senate.
Sen. Brown dismissed concerns from Republicans about the cost of Biden’s plan and that some of the CARES Act funds haven’t been spent yet.
“During World War II, before D-Day, Gen. (Dwight) Eisenhower didn’t go to the president and say, ‘Can we afford this?’ We did this to win the war,” Sen. Brown said. “We’ve had 400,000 people die. We’re 4% of the world’s population, 20% of the world’s deaths, and we’re going to say, ‘We’ll, I don’t know if every dollar’s been spent in every local community that we’ve put out there.”
Mayor Brown agreed that communities need support and said politics shouldn’t delay it.
“We need to make sure that we put politics aside,” the Youngstown mayor said. “It’s about people.”