U.S. cities are experiencing budget shortfalls amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Congress has greenlit about $3 trillion in coronavirus relief, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said most American cities have been left behind.
"Cities have been on the front line of the battle, and we are being hit hard," he said.
That's why Williams and other members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or larger, held a meeting on Wednesday to urge House and Senate negotiators to provide direct financial assistance to all cities in a new pandemic recovery package.
The conference released a study it conducted on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on American cities. The report showed that the output of metro economies would shrink by more than $1 trillion, averaging about $10,000 per household. Additionally, most metro areas will see unemployment rates hovering above 6%-10%, and large metro-area employment rates will remain more than 10% below pre-pandemic job levels.
The results are based on the assumption that the pandemic will be brought under control in the second half of the year.
In early May, Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax said the city's budget could see shortfalls between $73 million and $134 million and that 472 furloughs of municipal employees will take place through at least July 31.
The conference's president, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, said the pandemic laid bare the systemic inequity that exists in the economy. He said economies have to be rebuilt in a way that promotes opportunity, particularly in communities of color who have "been denied for way too long."
Painful budget decisions are already coming down, Williams said, and they cost people jobs and governments essential services. Now, he said Republican and Democratic mayors alike are speaking out to let Congress know that they need direct flexible assistance.
Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley, who is also the mayor's conference vice president, said cities usually feel the economic downturn of disasters first and get out of it last. Whaley said it's simple: If small cities and towns don't get federal aid as most companies have, cuts will be made to first responders and response times will increase.
"Cities are where the rubber meets the road. Therefore, if we want to have a road, we need federal assistance," Whaley said.
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The mayors at the meeting said they wanted to see more legislation like the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROS) Act, a $3 trillion package that would provide direct assistance to cities and municipalities of all sizes. Under the HEROS Act, $375 billion would be directed to local governments across the country. The legislation would also expand the use of funds to cover lost, delayed or decreased revenue stemming from the pandemic.
Without additional relief, metro areas have a grim future ahead of them. Based on the study's findings, by the first quarter of 2021, job levels in these areas will remain 5.2% below what they are this year. These rates are similar to job losses during the Great Recession.
Strong recovery isn't possible without strong cities, Williams said, and the relief most cities got went toward emergency and medical services. He said the coronavirus pandemic is not too different from a hurricane, tornado or massive flood. But, when those natural disasters happen, Williams said, the federal government helps with emergency and medical services, as well as rebuilding efforts.
"When a hurricane hits ... it's gone after a few days. The virus is still here and it's very uncertain how long it's going to last," he said.