CORONAVIRUS

Iowa leaders warn of 'pink slips' without direct aid in next COVID stimulus package

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the novel coronavirus
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the novel coronavirus. (CDC via AP)

DAVENPORT — As Iowans navigate the devastation from the Aug. 10 derecho as well as the economic downturn caused by the ongoing pandemic, local government officials warn front-line municipal and county workers could face layoffs as communities brace for massive budget shortfalls, struggle to provide services and meet new demands.

In a conference call with reporters, Davenport Mayor Mike Matson, Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart, Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan and Polk County Supervisor Tom Hockensmith warned of dire consequences for Iowa’s cities, towns and schools if they do not receive aid in the next coronavirus stimulus package as the state has become a global COVID-19 hot spot.

“We need to ensure we can maintain a quality (municipal) workforce that is appropriately equipped, trained and staffed that links directly to the safety and service our community deserves,” Matson said.

Hart added: “Whether urban or rural, or southwest or northeast, every Iowa county and city has been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and the action — or inaction — by state and federal officials” to address declines in local-option sales and road-use tax revenues to maintain and improve roads, bridges, sewers, water lines and other “necessary and needed” infrastructure projects.

Communities, too, face dwindling hotel/motel tax collections from the closure of entertainment venues. Such revenue, Hart and Matson said, is crucial to fund museums, the arts, economic development and other services that improve quality of life. Not filling those losses could harm cities’ ability to retain workers and quality employers.

“It is no time for inaction,” Hart said. “It’s time for action in supporting our Iowa community. ... Cities large and small alike are the incubators for change.”

The U.S. Senate went on recess last month for the summer without a stimulus deal as the pandemic has put millions out of work and shuttered businesses. Many relief programs approved in the spring have expired, putting pressure on Congress to come up with a new round of funding, with local governments scraping for money to house the homeless, support small businesses and prevent evictions.

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Republicans have opposed a Democratic plan to send more than $900 billion in direct assistance to cash-strapped state and local governments in the next coronavirus relief package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested he would rather let states go bankrupt than provide aid.

Meanwhile, Iowa’s first responders, sanitation workers and other public service workers have forgone vacations as they work harder to protect and provide services to towns, schools and businesses, said Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61.

“These brave Iowans deserve so much more than our thanks,” Homan said. “If Iowa does not get the necessary aid we need from the federal government for our state, for our cities, towns and school districts, we could lose essential public services we need to beat the pandemic, rebuild our communities and safely reopen the economy at a time when demand is soaring.

“Our everyday heroes could be thanked for their service with pink slips.”

The more than $2 trillion U.S. stimulus package passed in March included $150 billion in funding for state and local governments, but provided direct aid only to communities with populations of 500,000 or greater. No Iowa cities were eligible.

House Democrats in May passed a bill that included nearly $1 trillion in aid to states, cities and Native American tribes.

“However, the Senate has decided to hit ‘pause,’ while our communities suffer,” Homan said.

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.