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Local Officials Push For Senate Action On HEROES Act

Courtesy Architect of the Capitol

The HEROES Act, the $3 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that passed the House last month, remains stalled in the Senate.

About one third of that money would go to help state and local governments weather the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.

Local officials are trying to make the case to Congress that basic services could be cut if the act doesn’t pass.

Government tax revenues, particularly from income taxes, have taken a huge hit because so many people are unemployed, according to Roger Hartley, the Dean of the College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore.

“So right now, local governments are facing the layoffs of first responders, teachers, huge cuts to education, corrections, public safety and all of the parts of the budget that matter to citizens,” Hartley said.

Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk, who is a Democrat and chairs the county’s spending affordability committee, said state and local governments are furloughing and laying off employees and need the $1 trillion in the HEROES Act. 

“That will absolutely not help the economy recover if all of a sudden in addition to all of the unemployed from COVID that are now starting to get reemployed, thankfully, now we have to start laying off local and state employees,” Quirk said.

The lobbying for the legislation is under way. For example, this week, the American Federation of Teachers launched a $1 million ad campaign, urging people to tell their senators to support the act. 

Democrats pushed the legislation through the House on a mostly party line vote. Its future is uncertain in the Republican-controlled Senate.  The HEROES Act includes spending on things like another round of direct stimulus payments, hazard pay for essential employees, and COVID-19 testing and tracing.

There is also money in there for the postal service, food stamps and to fund voting by mail.

One Republican Senator called the bill a Democratic agenda masquerading as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, said he believes there could be bipartisan support for the legislation, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is blocking it from getting a vote.

“Local budgets go into effect July 1 so they need us to act quickly,” Cardin said. “And there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency with the Republican leader.”

Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland’s only Republican congressman, voted against the legislation in the House.

Harris declined a request for an interview, but in a statement to WYPR, he said Democrats in the House wrote the legislation with no Republican input. Harris called the HEROES Act a purely political statement.

But on the Baltimore County Council this is not a partisan issue.

The three Republicans joined the four Democrats to pass unanimously a resolution calling on the Senate to approve the HEROES Act. Republican Councilman Wade Kach said any money the county gets from it should only go to front line workers who are exposing themselves to COVID-19.

“It’s not right to appropriate money for non-Covid pandemic related expenses,” Kach said.

Quirk disagrees, saying the county needs more flexibility on how to spend the money if it comes.

“When you have a deficit that’s created because of a lockdown that was basically mandated by government, forcing small businesses to shut down and forcing jobs to be dislocated, well I think it’s incumbent to try to offset that gap,” Quirk said.

Hartley says he expects the HEROES Act eventually will pass the Senate because all members are hearing from people who are hurting.

“Will it be $3 trillion?” Hartley asked. “Or will it be less? And which pieces of it are passed versus others? That’s going to be the big question.”

Senator Cardin said he expects the Senate to take it up in July.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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