We are all painfully aware of the devastating health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. What is also becoming frighteningly clear is the unprecedented economic devastation. New York and other hard hit areas need money to balance their books and that cash needs to come from Washington.
As the crisis erupted in New York and across America, we went from the longest expansion in history to an economic freefall in a matter of weeks. Job losses have been swift and massive, totaling more than 22 million nationwide, erasing nearly all employment gains made over the past decade.
Main Street is shuttered from Long Island to Buffalo, and Wall Street has experienced extreme volatility. The New York Federal Reserve reported that business activity declined for 85 percent of firms. Businesses large and small are struggling to survive. The virtual shutdown of entire sectors of the economy will drive state and local government revenues sharply downward due to shrinking sales and income tax collections, and leave many unable to pay their mortgages and property taxes.
New York State’s revenue shortfall is estimated to be between $10 billion to $15 billion. New York City and the other cities, counties, towns, villages and school districts across our state face huge revenue shortfalls as well.
Nevertheless, in the face of this extraordinary fiscal challenge, our state and local governments continue to provide essential services. As we all appreciate, our public health care workers, first responders and transit workers are among those on the front lines of responding to this health emergency.
In response to this fiscal crisis, the federal government must do more to rescue the finances of the states and our local governments. Washington has enacted three stimulus and relief measures in response to the crisis. We are thankful to our congressional delegation for the support provided thus far, but much more is needed to stabilize the situation. The announcement of an agreement on additional help for small businesses and hospitals is welcome, but what about our states and local governments?
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the National Governors Association have called for $500 billion to stabilize state finances and avoid drastic budget cuts that could further disrupt health and hospital finances, education funding and emergency services. Since much of New York’s state budget flows to local governments, school districts and non-profits, the potential ripple effects of the state budget gap are alarming.
New York’s local governments are in serious need of additional assistance. The $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund enacted in the federal CARES Act provides some help, but is limited to states and to local governments with populations above 500,000. In our state, only New York City and a half dozen other municipalities directly qualify for this aid, a small fraction of our local governments. The New York Conference of Mayors is on target in calling for the elimination of population thresholds for additional local aid.
We all rely on the essential services our local governments provide. This truth is more evident now than ever. The next federal stimulus bill must provide more assistance to state and local governments, particularly the municipalities that have thus far been left behind.
To ignore the financial struggles of the governments leading the fight against the pandemic would both undermine our immediate response and hamstring our ability to recover from the crisis. Swift and decisive action will benefit us all.
Thomas P. DiNapoli is the New York State comptroller.
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