WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a colloquy on the Senate Floor today, U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) today led a bipartisan push for Congress to include their $500 billion SMART Fund, which would provide state and local governments battling COVID-19 with robust, flexible funding, in the next emergency COVID relief package. The GOP’s proposal, the HEALS Act, does not provide any federal funding to assist states and communities. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also joined the colloquy. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are also cosponsors of the SMART Fund.
“Without help from Washington, our states, counties and municipalities will have to swallow a toxic cocktail of tax hikes, services cuts and layoffs that will only poison our economic recovery,” said Sen. Menendez. “It would be the height of irony—and a horrible one at that—for the men and women we’ve needed the most to be the ones fired as a result of the aid economic distress that the virus has created. We need our essential workers on the job—not the unemployment line.”
In May, Sens. Menendez and Cassidy introduced the State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Act, which targets $500 billion in emergency funding to every state, county and community in the country, while prioritizing assistance to the areas with the greatest need. Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (N.J.-11) is leading the bipartisan companion legislation in the House of Representatives
Sen. Menendez derided those who have refused to support this bipartisan, commonsense measure because of their false beliefs that this will help “Blue States.”
“Why does is New Jersey end up being a donor or “maker” state, while Florida is a “taker” state? Quite simply, it’s because we invest in our people and in our communities,” Sen. Menendez continued. “New Jersey has the best public schools in the country, ranking #1 in Education Week’s 2019 report. Florida, well, it ranked in the bottom half of states. A better education leads to a better economy with higher paying jobs, so it’s no surprise that New Jersey also has the highest per capita income amongst states at over $110,000 per year. By comparison, Florida’s per capita income is almost $35,000 less, which puts it, once again, in the bottom half of states. So, if you want your children to have a quality education, if you want to work in a vibrant economy that creates high paying jobs, you should live in a state like New Jersey. But New Jersey, like all states and through no fault of our own, is facing a health and fiscal crisis of historic magnitude.”
The SMART Act is supported by the National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of Realtors, National Troopers Coalition, Amalgamated Transit Union, New Jersey Association of Counties, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey, the New Jersey chapter of the Communications Workers of America, the New Jersey Police Benevolent Association, and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.
Below are the senator’s remarks:
“M. President, I rise today to join my Republican colleagues from Louisiana and Maine to make a plea for us to break this partisan logjam and support bipartisan, common-sense solutions.
“I want to especially commend Senator Cassidy who from the beginning has joined me in this effort and has been true to his commitment to the issue and to his word. We’ve engaged in a series of conferences with major national organizations in support of the legislation. I appreciate his leadership in this regard. I also appreciate Senator Collins, who joined us from the very beginning in this effort.
“Exactly 76 days ago – yes, nearly three months ago – Senator Cassidy and I stood right here on the Floor of the Senate with our colleagues Senators Collins and Booker to talk about the challenges facing our state and local governments – and the need for Congress to deliver robust, flexible assistance to help them deal with the pandemic and its economic fallout.
“In 76 days, we’ve seen COVID-19 sweep across our land. The virus is surging in states coast to coast, from the Deep South to the Upper Midwest. No community has been spared.
“America is no stranger to tough times.
“In just the past 100 years, we’ve fought two world wars, faced a Great Depression, and confronted a nuclear-armed Soviet Union.
“We’ve faced calamitous disasters – both natural and manmade – from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy to the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
“We have lived through many dark days of our history.
“But no matter how steep the challenge, no matter how hopeless things appeared at the moment, we always came together as a country and saw ourselves as Americans above all else.
“I’m beyond proud to be a New Jerseyan. I’m proud to be from a state that invests in its people, has a great education system, and an innovative economy.
“But when my parents fled tyranny in Cuba, their dream wasn’t to move to any one state. No, they dreamed of moving to the United States of America to give me and my siblings the opportunity they never had.
“We are not a collection of 50 separate states.
“No, we are one nation, indivisible.
“When hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast, flooding inundated communities along the Missisippi River, or wildfires raged in the West, I never hesitated to act to help my fellow Americans.
“I never asked how many New Jerseyans were affected or how this would impact my state.
“But some in this body have chosen to betray that unity and to instead, pit Americans in one state versus their fellow citizens in another.
“They have derided Senator Cassidy’s and my efforts to avoid millions of layoffs of essential workers as a, and I quote, a “Blue State Bailout.”
“The junior Senator from Florida had said he refuses to support assistance because it will go to progressive states like New Jersey, New York, and California.
“He spreads falsehoods about states carrying over large, annual budget deficits even though he’s well aware that states, unlike the federal government, must balance their budgets.
“He has the gall to chide other states about taking from Florida, even as his own state is the second largest “taker” state in the entire country.
“Indeed, according to latest estimates, Florida receives around $45B more from the federal government than it pays each and every year.
“By comparison, New Jersey actually pays about $21 billion more each year to the federal government than it receives.
“Let me say that again: Florida takes $45 billion per year out of the federal coffers, while New Jersey puts $21 billion back in. You’re welcome Florida.
“And why is New Jersey a donor or “maker” state, while Florida is a “taker” state?
“Quite simply, it’s because we invest in our people and in our communities.
“New Jersey has the best public schools in the country, ranking #1 in Education Week’s 2019 report.
“Florida, well, it ranked in the bottom half of states.
“A better education leads to a better economy with higher paying jobs, so it’s no surprise that New Jersey also has the highest per capita income amongst states at over $110,000 per year.
“By comparison, Florida’s per capita income is almost $35,000 less, which puts it, once again, in the bottom half of states.
“So if you want your children to have a quality education, if you want to work in a vibrant economy that creates high paying jobs, you should live in a state like New Jersey.
“But New Jersey, like all states and through no fault of our own, is facing a health and fiscal crisis of historic magnitude.
“And because of a failure of leadership here in Washington to implement a national response to a national emergency, our local towns, cities, counties and states have had to deal with this crisis alone, rather than united as a nation.
“And they are running out of money.
“They are running out of money to combat this deadly pandemic.
“They are running out of money to maintain the services our residents and businesses depend upon.
“They are running out of money to pay our first responders – our police, firefighters, paramedics and emergency personnel.
“They are running out of money to make sure there are teachers in the classroom when our kids can safely head back to school and nurses in our hospitals when a sick patient is brought in.
“They are running out of money to make sure the trash gets picked up, the buses and trains run on time and the lights stay on at City Hall.
“They’ve been squeezed on both sides of the ledger, spending billions of dollars in unforeseen costs on emergency response, while watching revenues dry up due to the slowing economy and necessary orders to help contain the virus.
“Without help from Washington, our states, counties and municipalities will have to swallow a toxic cocktail of tax hikes, services cuts and layoffs that will only poison our economic recovery.
“It would be the height of irony—and a horrible one at that—for the men and women we’ve needed the most to be the ones fired as a result of the economic distress that the virus has created.
“We need our essential workers on the job—not the unemployment line.
“Already, nearly 1.5 million state and local workers have been furloughed or laid off. That’s only since February and double the total local public sector jobs we lost during the entire Great Recession more than a decade ago.
“If we fail to deliver the robust, flexible funding our states and communities need, we are effectively sending pink slips to millions of Americans. We’re saying to all of them: You’re fired!
“That’s millions more who aren’t collecting a paycheck. Millions who can’t afford to shop at our stores, eat at our restaurants, pay their rent or their mortgage.
“Leading economists respected by both parties predict it would decimate our economy and send us on the path to another Great Depression.
“We can’t allow that to happen.
“That’s why Senator Cassidy, Senator Collins, Senator Hyde-Smith and I came together. We saw early on the impact COVID-19 was having on our home states and constituents.
“So we came up with the State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition – or the SMART Act.
“It delivers $500 billion in flexible funding to frontline states, counties and municipalities.
“It targets areas with the greatest need based on infection rate and lost revenues, and every single town, city, and county—regardless of its size—would qualify for direct funding. No one is left out.
“And we immediately built a bipartisan coalition with Senators Collins and Booker, Hyde-Smith, Manchin and Sinema.
“Republicans and Democrats from all walks of life … cutting across the political and geographic spectrum.
“We knew the assistance Congress provided our state and local governments in the CARES Act wasn’t enough to deal with the growing need.
“And we warned our colleagues—each and every one of you—that what was happening in New Jersey and Louisiana and elsewhere would eventually come to your state if we didn’t get this pandemic under control.
“Well, we haven’t and it’s raging. And our fellow Americans are suffering. And they are dying.
“We’ve waited for 76 days.
“And what Leader McConnell is offering is wholly inadequate to address the needs of the American people.
“In Colorado, the estimated state and local shortfall due to the pandemic is $10 billion and counting through 2022.
“In Alaska, it is expected to exceed $4 billion.
“In Georgia it will be $2.5 billion in 2021 alone.
“Kentucky could see a nearly 20 percent drop in its revenue in 2021, at a time when the state’s fiscal house is already in disorder.
“But Leader McConnell is not offering another dime to help our cities, counties and states confront this challenge. Zero. Nothing.
“And that’s the problem when we ignore regular order and let leadership hijack the legislative process. We lose our voice and the needs of our constituents are left out.
“I for one did not come to Washington to sit on the sidelines and wait for a handful of people to reach a deal behind closed doors, forced to vote on a 1,000 page bill within an hour of seeing it.
“But that’s exactly what we’ve been doing here for far too long.
“We need to end this high-stakes game of closed door posturing and restore the Senate back to its foundation as the greatest deliberative body in the world.
“It would’ve been easier for me to just embrace the $900 billion for fiscal relief in the HEROES Act.
“It would’ve been easier for Senators Cassidy, Collins and Hyde-Smith to just tow the party line.
“But we all knew that sticking to our respective corners wasn’t going to help a single one of our constituents.
“And it’s not too late for the Senate to get back on track.
“Let’s do our jobs. Let’s work together on a bipartisan solution that delivers the federal support our states, counties and cities on the frontlines of this pandemic need to defeat COVID-19 and serve the American people.
“Let’s bring the SMART Act up in committee, allow members on both sides of the aisle to offer amendments to make the legislation even better.
“Because you all know what our state and local governments will get if we leave it all up to the present status – absolutely nothing.
“And good luck explaining that to the people back home.
“I hear some of my colleagues speak from this floor, calling not for unity, but for division.
“They callously ignore the pleas for help from their fellow Americans, comforted by the selfish, but mistaken belief their communities are immune to the fiscal Armageddon facing our communities.
“Let me be clear: it doesn’t really matter how fiscally responsible or conservative your state budget when your revenue drops 30 percent overnight.
“This is not a red or blue state issue; it’s an American priority.
“I believe that history will look kindly upon those who stood for unity and compromise over demagoguery and obstinacy.
“Those who put the well-being of the country over scoring partisan points.
“Those who stuck their necks out and took a political risk for no other reason than it was the right thing to do.
“With that, I turn to my friend from Maine Senator Collins.”
January 21, 2021