OP-ED: COVID recovery relies on funding public service heroes

Steve Mullen
AFSCME District Council 89
Pennsylvania emergency response officials had a plan to protect nursing homes before the coronavirus swept across the state, but it was never fully implemented. Now, many say the state still isn't doing enough, and what it is doing might be too little, too late.

AFSCME District Council 89 is proud to represent nearly 10,000 workers in south-central Pennsylvania, including 148 employees at Merakey; 1,098 employees at various school districts; 516 employees at Millersville and Shippensburg universities; 551 employees in county prisons; 834 employees in cities, townships, and boroughs; and 5,641 employees who work in all facets of state government, many of whom risk their health along with that of their families every day when they go to work.

We are also proud to represent 369 people who work in nursing homes providing essential care 24/7. All these workers are true front-line heroes, and they have been essential to getting us through the COVID-19 pandemic. Working people have done more than their part, and it is time for the federal government to do theirs by funding the front lines.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was a good start to stimulating the economy and getting workers some of the protections they need, and AFSCME was proud to be part of the effort to pass that policy, but it was just a start. Workers and their families are still reeling.

More:Grim blame game over COVID deaths in besieged nursing homes

More:Spring Grove school board member: COVID-19 pandemic 'a crock of sh--'

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

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act would provide much-needed funding for states, cities, counties and municipalities, which would allow these front-line public service workers to keep their jobs while keeping the public safe and healthy. The House has passed this bill, and it is now on the Senate to do the right thing by quickly getting it on the president’s desk for signature.

The HEROES Act would include $875 billion in state and local aid ($500 billion for states and $375 billion for local governments), $90 billion in education assistance, and an increase in the federal Medicaid match by 7.8 percentage points to 14 percent. It also includes $300 million for PPE and a $600 million grant funding for COVID response in correctional facilities; $25 billion for the United State Postal Service; and $7 billion for childcare.

Just the eight counties that District Council 89 represents — Adams, Lancaster, Perry, Cumberland, Lebanon, York, Franklin and Schuylkill — would receive an estimated $1 billion over the next two years if this legislation is signed into law. These are funds that can be used to save jobs and maintain vital public services. It would benefit the health of our citizens as well as the health of our local economies.

There is a direct tie between funding public services and pandemic recovery. The people who provide clean water, safe roads, strong schools, fully staffed hospitals and much more are essential to fighting this pandemic and re-opening our economy. We can do neither if we lay them off.

And most Americans support this idea. A national survey conducted online by Hart Research Associates from May 4 to May 13, among 2,889 likely voters, found overwhelming support of maintaining state and local services such as police, schools, and healthcare, all of which are threatened if this federal funding is not passed. The survey also found overwhelming support of the idea of providing $1 trillion in federal aid to states, cities, and towns, to replace lost revenue from economic shutdown and maintain public services.

The economy has been put on pause, and tax revenue has sharply fallen when we need it most, while unemployment insurance, health care and other costs have skyrocketed. Economic experts say that providing federal aid to states and localities will make it possible to re-open our economy sooner and help businesses and people get back to work more quickly.

If we see massive layoffs because we don’t get adequate federal aid, there will be extreme cuts to public services with catastrophic effects that could be permanent. Entire communities will suffer both from a public health and economic perspective.

All of us, regardless of political parties or other differences, have been hurt by the pandemic, and we should respond as Americans by taking action to save jobs, maintain essential services, and re-open our economy.

Fund public services. Fund our heroes. Fund the front lines. Call Senators Toomey and Casey and tell them to vote yes on the HEROES Act.

— Steve Mullen is director of AFSCME District Council 89 in Harrisburg.