Senate odd couple push $500B for local governments to cope with coronavirus revenue losses

The funds help plug holes in funding shortfalls as cities and towns generate less revenue

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., speaks with reporters in the Capitol on March 12, 2020. He and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., have proposed a $500 billion package to help offset coronavirus-related revenue losses incurred by local governments. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., speaks with reporters in the Capitol on March 12, 2020. He and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., have proposed a $500 billion package to help offset coronavirus-related revenue losses incurred by local governments. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted April 20, 2020 at 3:13pm

They come from different coasts and ends of the political spectrum, but Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana are teaming up to push for $500 billion to help local governments reeling from coronavirus-related costs and revenue losses.

The bipartisan proposal, unveiled Monday, seeks to bridge funding shortfalls as cities and towns bring in less money from everything from parking meter fees to taxes.

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“Cities and state governments will be given full flexibility in using the funds, including making up for lost revenue,” Cassidy said on a press call.

Cassidy has worked with Democrats previously on items like flood insurance but is an extremely reliable Republican vote. He has an average party unity score of over 95 percent since being elected to the Senate in 2014, according to CQ Roll Call data. For his part, Menendez’s party unity score has never dipped below 92 percent since coming to the Senate in 2006.

Menendez said he and Cassidy came to an agreement this weekend and haven’t shopped it to their Senate colleagues. They are hoping for inclusion in a future aid package, not the one under consideration currently.

The bill would allow counties and towns with populations of 50,000 or greater — the current threshold is 500,000 — to be eligible for additional funding and would increase flexibility for states and local governments to use the funds. It builds on an existing $150 billion set aside in the most recent $2.3 trillion coronavirus aid measure.

The fund would deliver money to state and local governments, including territories and the District of Columbia, in three equal tranches, “based on infection rates, revenue losses, and population size,” Menendez said.

The funds would be used to help meet current demand while helping communities transition toward reopening by expanding testing and contact tracing and by providing additional resources to residents, local hospitals, small businesses and schools.

People need “reasonable confidence that the likelihood of infection for them has been at least mitigated significantly,” Menendez said. “And so that’s going to be the reality, no matter what part of the nation that you’re in.”

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