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Innovation Ohio · July 16, 2020

Ohio City Leaders Call on Portman to Fight for a Bold Federal Relief Package


Columbus, OH – Today, city executives and elected officeholders across Ohio held a press call to demand that Senator Portman support the HEROES Act or fight for a similarly-bold package for localities, working families, or schools as the Senate crafts its own bill. They released a letter signed by 20+ elected officials across the state outlining key priorities. 

A recording of the call is available here. (Password: 6p+gK@07)

“We are in the middle of a very challenging year in our state and in our country — and that is putting it mildly,” said Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, noting that his city is experiencing “Great Depression levels of unemployment” and that Ohio cities’ reliance on income tax makes them uniquely vulnerable to recessions. Toledo faces a $30 M deficit because of the pandemic and has had to furlough 300 employees.  

“The federal government has botched the response to COVID-19, and we in local government have had to do what we always do: step up to deliver for and protect our citizens,” he said. “But in this unprecedented moment, our hands are tied by not having the resources we need to deliver the services our citizens expect…If Washington chooses to ignore police and sanitation workers and they have to be laid off, I will be very clear about who was responsible for that…Airlines and corporations are always first in line, but most people want the parks mowed and a firefighter to be able to come when they call.” 

Cincinnati Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld emphasized the unprecedented moment of a public health, economic, and racial justice triple crisis and how surreal it has been to see visitors bureaus and recreation centers become temporary hospital facilities and housing for the homeless. 

He explained how his city’s $73 M budget deficit, often seen as an abstraction, has real-world effects. “Our ability to piece together a budget that ensures that vulnerable seniors and youth can keep cool in 90-degree heat is at risk….Teachers are reaching into their pockets more than ever to pay for things their kids need,” he said. “Senator Portman should join Senator Brown in getting this vital legislation through. My message to him is: listen to your constituents.” 

He also urged the Senator to continue the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program and noted Economic Policy Institute data that if it expires, over 100,000 jobs will be lost. 

Cleveland Cincinnati Councilmember Blaine Griffin said, “If the HEROES Act passes, Cleveland will receive more than $1 B for healthcare and for teachers and for other essential employees. They are working so hard for us, and we cannot give them a pink slip…We need federal relief to keep Clevelanders to keep from falling into poverty.” 

He also said the city has been financially responsible. “Cleveland has done our part. We prepared for a downturn. But nobody was prepared for COVID-19 and how it would reveal the inequities among us,” he said. 

He noted the recession has contributed to a spike in violent crime and domestic violence and has disproportionately affected African-Americans. He invited Senator Portman to walk the neighborhoods of Cleveland with him and see the effects. “I know we are seen as a Democratic city,” he said, “But we are your constituents too, Senator.” 

Columbus City Auditor Megan Kilgore forecasts a drop of 4.7% in city revenue, five times worse than Columbus’ worst-ever year for revenue collection on record during the Great Recession. 

“Funding infrastructure is the most economically efficient way to rebuild an economy,” she said. “Take a project like an investment in clean drinking water or sewer lines or high-speed IT networks or green energy projects. Think about the workers who work on that. That creates more wages, which gets spent, and that spending supports other workers. That is the multiplier effect….If Senator Portman does not act, he is putting a ‘Closed for Business’ sign on Ohio.” 

Chillicothe Mayor Luke Feeney said the crisis has been particularly acute for Southeast Ohio, which has a disproportionately high number of public-sector workers like teachers, hospital employees, and local government staff. 

His city is still finalizing projections, but they could be as high as a 10% or 11% dropoff in revenue. Already in the last few months, the city has drained one-third of its reserves, which it has spent the last few years building up, and has had to issue layoff notices to firefighters. He offered an example of economic effects: “We’ve had to reduce work hours by one-third. That means the building I sit in right now [City Hall] has to close tomorrow. That means those workers won’t come downtown and shop or dine on Main Street.” 

Speaking for Southeast Ohio as a whole, he said: “There may not be a big population center, but we matter down here too. We’re asking Senator Portman to stem the bleeding in places like mine and in cities like Ironton and Waverly,” he said. 

The leaders seek $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments, among other priorities detailed in the letter pertaining to Medicaid, K-12 education, childcare, paid family leave, and unemployment compensation. Already, 65,700 public sector workers have been laid off in Ohio since February. 

Anything less than $1 trillion for state and local government will cause needless suffering: while Ohio stands to lose another 191,400 public and private sector jobs in the next 18 months if no federal package is passed, the Economic Policy Institute projects that even a package that amounts to a mere $500 B for states and cities will still trigger the loss of 93,900 Ohio jobs. 

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Tagged in these Policy Areas: coronavirus