Helfrich, other Pa. mayors, ask Congress for $250 billion aid package

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Mayor Michael Helfrich demonstrates a method  to cover a cough during a press conference announcing a declaration of disaster emergency due to the COVID-19 virus Thursday, March 12, 2020. He also announced that York's Saint Patrick's Day parade was cancelled due to the Coronavirus threat. Bill Kalina photo

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich was one of fifteen mayors in Pennsylvania to sign on to a letter pleading for Congress to provide funding for local and state governments hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The signatories of the letter, representing the largest cities in the state, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, said they are seeking at least $250 billion in relief in the next stimulus bill as tax revenues plummet as a result of efforts to mitigate the infection's spread. 

"This is an untenable situation and could quickly become a national emergency," the letter that was sent Thursday to the Pennsylvania congressional delegation read.

More:Coronavirus pandemic: Here's what York County's data looks like

Congress is already in the midst of negotiations for what would be the fifth wave of economic relief since the beginning of the outbreak.

House Democrats earlier this week unveiled a $3 trillion plan, roughly one-third of which would go directly to state and local governments — and at least partially fulfill the calls of the mayors.

But Republicans have already considered the proposal a nonstarter, jeopardizing aid to local governments, The New York Times reported. 

York City estimated $4.4 million in lost tax revenue as of the end of April, Helfrich said.

That figure includes an estimated $2.2 million loss in property taxes alone. Helfrich said he is unsure whether that revenue will be lost for good or if the city would be able to recover it through delayed payments.

Either way, the rippling economic effects of the virus will undoubtedly take a toll on the city’s budget, which already struggles to account for skyrocketing pension and health care costs.

“This just made everything worse,” Helfrich said. “You’re talking about cuts in every single service area.”

Local governments in York County missed out on potentially millions of dollars in direct relief under the CARES act, which President Donald Trump signed into law in late March.

The bill's language only permitted aid to counties with 500,000 or more people — a benchmark York missed by roughly 50,000 residents.

Especially in smaller counties, cities have yet to see much relief as their budgets continue to face dim prospects amid the pandemic.

Most of the relief, for example, has been grant funding to keep city residents afloat. There has also been some direct payment relief to citizens, something House Democrats wish to send out again.

York City has received roughly $900,000 in Community Block Grant funding, but those funds have been utilized for rental assistance and business aid, Helfrich said.

As of noon Sunday, there were 851 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in York County and 16 deaths related to the virus.

Statewide, there were 62,234 cases and 4,418 deaths.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.