Biden: Governors and mayors need $350 billion to fight COVID

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WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden met with a bipartisan group of governors and mayors at the White House on Friday as part of his push to give financial relief from the coronavirus pandemic to state and local governments – a clear source of division with Republican lawmakers who view the spending as wasteful.

As part of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus package, Biden wants to send $350 billion to state and local governments and tribal governments. While Republicans in Congress have largely objected to this initiative, Biden’s push has some GOP support among governors and mayors.

“You folks are all on the front lines and dealing with the crisis since day one,” Biden said at the start of the Oval Office meeting. “They’ve been working on their own in many cases.”

Republican lawmakers have stressed that some past aid to state and local governments remains unspent and revenues have rebounded after slumping when the coronavirus first hit. But state governments have shed 332,000 jobs since the outbreak began to spread last February, and local governments have cut nearly 1 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Republican Govs. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Larry Hogan of Maryland attended the Friday meeting, along with Democratic governors, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo and New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan Grisham. The mayors of Atlanta, Detroit, Miami and Arlington, Texas, also were at the meeting. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell was set to attend, but she could not due to White House health screening and safety protocols, according to her press secretary.

Under the relief package being crafted in House committees this week, every state and the District of Columbia would get at least $500 million, but most of the money going to states would be distributed based on their share of unemployed workers nationally.

Local governments would also get $130.2 billion and tribal governments would get $20 billion.

The money could be used to cover costs incurred because of the pandemic and lost revenue and to address the negative economic impacts of the disease.

Congress provided $150 billion in direct assistance to state and local governments in an earlier relief package signed into law last March.

Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the lead Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said that tens of billions of dollars from that legislation has yet to be spent and that the rush to “bail out locked-down states that shuttered small businesses, schools, and churches is government waste, pure and simple.”

The committee was to take up its portion of the COVID relief bill on Friday.

“Before Congress even considers giving states and local governments another dime, funds already available to them must be used,” Comer said in a statement prior to the hearing.

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Boak reported from Baltimore.

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