Next Stimulus Needs to Help Us, Small Cities and Counties Say

By: - May 7, 2020 12:00 am

Tempe, Arizona, furloughed 495 temporary employees, including workers at the library and at arts, culture and community centers. Many city, county and state budgets are being squeezed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Matt York/The Associated Press

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

The $2 trillion stimulus bill Congress approved at the end of March included $111 billion for states, $22.5 billion for major counties and $5 billion for big cities.

Many cities and counties didn’t get a dime.

That’s because only cities and counties with populations larger than 500,000 were eligible for direct infusions of cash. That criteria excluded about 95% of the nation’s more than 3,000 counties, according to Teryn Zmuda, chief economist for the National Association of Counties.

And while some states, such as Washington and Alabama, are taking steps to pass some of the money along to smaller municipalities, only 36 cities across the country are large enough to be eligible for direct funding, said Mike Wallace, a legislative director at the National League of Cities, which represents the 19,000 cities, villages and towns in the United States.

Twenty-seven states don’t even have a city with more than 500,000 residents, Wallace said.

Now that Congress is considering another coronavirus relief package, the National League of Cities wants $500 billion funneled right to municipal and county governments small and large. The funding could be made available over a few years to stabilize operations, increase services and provide long-term stability.

“Every city has been impacted by this, and their revenues are going to be down,” Wallace said. “It’s possible for the federal government to allocate money to every local government, regardless of size. That’s what we’re asking Congress to do.”

The association of counties agrees that all local governments need help. It has joined with the league and the U.S. Conference of Mayors in requesting $250 billion from Congress in flexible and direct funding for local governments to address the fiscal challenges related to the pandemic. (The National League of Cities’ $500 billion request includes that $250 billion.)

Story continues after map

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jenni Bergal

Jenni Bergal covers transportation, infrastructure and cybersecurity for Stateline. She has been a reporter at Kaiser and the Center for Public Integrity.