It took long enough, but that's our U.S. Congress. National leaders finally came to terms to provide much-needed COVID-19 virus economic relief. Though we shall see over time how it is implemented, the package includes $600 direct payments to individuals; about $300 per week for additional unemployment insurance benefits for a limited time; more than $284 billion for Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses; about $15 billion for live entertainment venues such as movie theaters and cultural businesses; and $25 billion for eviction moratorium extensions and rental assistance.
There’s much more in the federal aid package, but it seems cities and states were left out. That’s unfortunate.
Cities like New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Lafayette and Monroe can use revenue infusions as they battle the impact of the nasty virus. U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, represents the entire state and he’s championed additional virus relief for cities like New Orleans, which has fought to get more of its share of COVID-19 relief without much success. The issue seems to come down to determining what is virus-specific impact. Certainly, with the strong support of Cassidy and President-elect Joe Biden advisor and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, guidelines can be crafted to do what should be done to help the city that might need it the most — because of the collapse of tourism — while helping other municipalities across Louisiana.
There are big funding issues for our nation and our state. Louisiana suffered from a series of hurricanes, storms and tornadoes this year. We’re thankful for the recovery funding approved by President Donald Trump and sent by federal officials. But we need more, especially for the two major storms that hit southwest Louisiana. We are not advocating spending frivolously or needlessly. It’s times like these that make it clear that a collection of states without any binding would be quite different from operating with a federal government as we do.
New Orleans and other cities are not simply looking for handouts. They employ thousands of employees who provide critical services for the rest of us, including public safety, utilities, health care and sanitation. Most responsible city leaders have been working to avoid anything that might look like a bailout, limiting services and implementing furloughs and other measures to avoid layoffs. The right level of city and state infusion could sustain us through the pandemic and help stabilize unexpected shortfalls caused by significant drops in tax revenues as businesses of all kinds have been forced to limit hours or close temporarily or permanently.
Getting a new relief measure passed is much appreciated, and the pre-Christmas timing is good news. But there’s no time to celebrate. Louisiana and its cities are waiting for additional steps. They are us, and we need more help.