WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) spoke tonight on the Senate Floor to urge his colleagues to approve robust, flexible, direct federal assistance for frontline states and local communities struggling to respond to COVID-19 and maintain essential services, while revenues plummet due to the pandemic’s economic fallout. Debate over a fourth COVID-19 aid package has stalled in the Senate, despite many state and local governments facing constitutional budget deadlines and bracing for mass layoffs and deep service cuts.
“The last thing we need during an economic crisis is to send three to four million public workers to the unemployment line without the ability for them to respond on our collective behalf. We need bold, bipartisan action to address this national crisis,” said Sen. Menendez. “This isn’t a blue-state or red-state issue … This is a red, white and blue issue. This is an American issue.”
Sen. Menendez has co-authored the State and Municipal Recovery and Transition (SMART) Act that would provide $500 billion in direct, flexible federal assistance to state and local governments. It has broad, bipartisan support with Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.) as the Republican lead, and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) as original cosponsors.
Below are the Senator’s remarks as delivered:
“M. President, I rise today to stress the urgency for Congress to provide robust, flexible assistance to state and local governments on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because this administration has failed to devise and deploy a national response to a national emergency, the burden of containing and defeating the virus has largely fallen on our states, our counties and municipalities.
“They are expending enormous resources to expand testing, shore up hospitals, process unemployment claims, and get our residents the help they desperately need.
“At the same time, revenues have fallen off a cliff due to the economic fallout. Monies collected from sales and property taxes, building permits, court fees, parking meters and transit fares. You name it—they’re ALL down.
“I’ve served at every level of government in New Jersey: school board, mayor, state legislature. I know exactly what they’re going through.
“This isn’t about any irresponsibility on their part. It is the consequences of a national pandemic.
“We didn’t ask for over 14,000 of our citizens in New Jersey to die. We didn’t ask for nearly 180,000 New Jerseyans to ultimately be infected. But that’s our reality and not our only reality. There are other states that are similarly situated.
“And unlike the federal government, virtually all state and local governments are constitutionally obligated—constitutionally obligated—to pass a balanced budget.
“Forty-five states have a June 30th deadline. That’s tomorrow. Others are fast approaching.
“This isn’t a blue-state or red-state issue. This isn’t about pensions as some might suggest. This is a red, white and blue issue. This is an American issue.
“This virus doesn’t see political boundaries. This isn’t an issue of fiscal responsibility. No one, no one is immune.
“We see it across the nation with huge spikes in Florida, Texas and Arizona and others.
“Earlier today, the bipartisan National Governors Association, National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Conference of State Legislatures, The Council of State Governments, and International City-County Management Association, sent a joint letter to Senate leadership.
“I’ve never seen them all come together on any given issue. They came together on this one.
"Over 170 businesses and organizations signed on. All unified with a clear message: that if we fail to provide our states and communities with immediate assistance, we will only hamper our nation’s ability to fully recover, and Americans will needlessly suffer.
“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 1.4 million public employees and counting have been laid off or furloughed across the country.
“Over 90,000 in Texas, 65,000 in Ohio, nearly 30,000 in Kentucky, 25,000 both in Colorado and Florida. Every state and community is bleeding.
“We’re talking about first responders, teachers, nurses, sanitation workers, and other employees on the frontlines of the COVID fight.
“We need them on the job—not the unemployment line.
“It would be the height of irony that, as the result of the pandemic or, more importantly, our government’s unwillingness to respond to the challenge of states and municipalities, that those who we needed the most, those who we still need the most, and those who we will still need the most tomorrow are going to be laid off.
“And the essential services our residents and businesses rely upon are being slashed left and right.
“For instance, the National League of Cities reports that more than 700 U.S. cities have halted roadway repairs and delayed equipment purchases to plug local budget holes.
“We’re seeing deep, painful cuts across the board.
“And Moody’s projected last week that state budget shortfalls will top $500 billion over the next three years.
“Now, I have heard some in this body argue that if we just reopen our economy, then that would negate the need for Congress to act. Well, that has proven to be a fallacy.
“COVID-19 cases are spiking across the country, especially in those states that were quick to reopen.
“We’re seeing daily records being set in places like Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Texas—forcing some areas to tighten their restrictions.
“Yet in my home state of New Jersey, which was second only to New York in the number of COVID cases, we’ve not just flattened the curve—our infection rates are dropping.
“As we methodically and responsibly reopen, there is no doubt that the emergency protection measures we took in New Jersey helped stop the spread of COVID-19 and saved lives.
“But that progress has come with tremendous economic pain and personal sacrifice that no state and community will be able to escape.
“M. President, we can’t allow ourselves to be handcuffed to partisan ideology. This isn’t about left or right, conservative or progressive politics.
“And I honestly believe that most of our colleagues on the Republican side understand this.
“Most recognize that forcing states and communities to go bankrupt is not a conservative principle.
“That the last thing we need during an economic crisis is to send three to four million public workers to the unemployment line without the ability for them to respond on our collective behalf.
“We need bold, bipartisan action to address this national crisis.
“That’s why the State and Municipal Assistance for Response and Transition, or SMART Act, is a commonsense solution we need to give our communities a fighting chance and stop the economy from free-falling.
“I want to thank Senators Cassidy, Hyde-Smith, Collins, Manchin and Booker for joining me in this bipartisan effort. And we are working every day to build more support.
“The SMART Act provides $500 billion in flexible, federal funds that will help our communities dramatically expand the testing capacity and contact tracing we need to contain the virus—which is a necessary step to restoring consumer confidence and restarting the economy.
“It will help stave of massive layoffs, tax hikes and deep, painful cuts to essential services.
“It will keep our EMTs, firefighters, public health workers, teachers and other essential employees on the job during this critical time.
“Because it’s not just about defeating COVID-19. We still need to keep our first responders on the job, our children learning, the trash picked up, the roads maintained, and the buses and trains running on time.
“Unless we act soon, we will see more mass layoffs, devastating tax increases, and a breakdown in public safety and essential services
“We cannot—in all good conscience—sit back and watch our states, counties, cities and towns fail.
“We cannot shift the federal government’s responsibility and then leave them holding the bag.
“We can’t turn our backs on the American people.
“A national emergency requires a national response.
“And it is this body’s sworn duty to act, to send our states and local communities the resources they desperately need to combat COVID-19 and continue to serve the constituents we’ve all been elected to represent.
“If the safety and security of the American people is job one—this is also safety and security.
“And I’ll close with this…
“I appreciate that there are different points of views, but I really get upset when I hear that states like mine and others somehow want to be ‘bailed out.’
“I tell you what, M. President, New Jersey would be happy to take the excess money it sends to the federal treasury than what it gets in return—billions of dollars—and say, ‘We’ll handle the problem on our own.’
“We’d like to see some of our fellow states who receive more money than they contribute to the federal treasury return it.
“We’re not a moocher state, we’re a donor state.
“And so, some of my colleagues here, they should look—$20-30 billion more that they get from the federal government than they pay into the federal treasury.
“We in New Jersey pay more than what we get.
“And now that we’re in the midst of a national emergency, that we have thousands of our citizens dying, thousands more still infected, and did the right thing in order to stop the dying, we should pay a greater consequence because we did the right thing from doing job number one—the safety and security of our citizens?
“I don’t think so, M. President. I don’t think so.”
October 29, 2020