Congressman Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and several leaders from within his district held a news conference on Tuesday in support of President Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” relief package that is set to get a floor vote in the House next week.
The plan was created to fund a panoply of things related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including housing and mortgage relief, food insecurity, small business relief, unemployment relief, racial equity and coronavirus response, job creation, and even combating climate change.
But the main focus of the news conference was to hammer home what Thompson and others say is a dire need for more funding to preserve essential services in counties and municipalities that he covers.
Local officials on hand for the Zoom conference included Napa County Superintendent of Schools Barbara Nemko, Napa County Sheriff John Robertson, and Alicia Hardy, CEO of OLE Health, which provides services to low-income residents of Napa and Solano counties.
Biden’s proposal would pump $1.9 trillion into relief, with Napa County receiving $47.4 million. Of that, the county would receive $27 million; Napa, $14 million; American Canyon, $3.8 million; Calistoga, $983,000; St. Helena, $1.1 million, and Yountville, $551,000.
“The firefighters just continue to work like the healthcare workers do,” said Vallejo Fire Chief Daryl C. Arbuthnott, citing myriad unforeseen expenses due to the pandemic as well as the 11 firefighters that he said tested positive for COVID-19 over the past year.
Arbuthnott said that in order to pay for these expenses, they have had to dip into pension funds and reserves to make ends meet.
“We’ve had to freeze our hiring. We’ve had to purchase PPE (personal protective equipment),” he said.
Job one appears to be to get as many essential city and county workers vaccinated so that important services are less impacted on the community. But everything is related and recovery needs to come from several fronts, Thompson said.
“Most of the major economists have come out and stated that the biggest danger is not spending too much but spending not enough,” Thompson said. “It will speed the recovery.”
Thompson said that the Donald Trump’s administration told Americans last year that state and local relief money would not be offered because “’it’s going to go to the blue states.’ That’s probably one of the most ridiculous arguments that I’ve ever heard of.”
Hardy provided a snapshot of the effect that the pandemic has had on health services like hers that primarily deal with Medicare and MediCal consumers.
“We have been asked to step up and provide testing or vaccinations, but we have no additional funding to do this,” she said. “(Biden’s) plan would give one-time direct funding to do this.”
Hardy said that 60% of the people that OLE serves are Latinx, which are suffering statistically at a greater rate under COVID-19. She has also seen a 200% increase in the need for mental health services.
By being able to better-fund programs like hers, unsheltered people, agricultural workers and other essential workers will be able to return to the workforce, she said.
“By vaccinating them, these people are going to be the people that bring our economy back to life,” she said.
Opponents of the Biden plan include former Obama economic advisor Larry Summers, who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post saying that the stimulus could cut into other important social safety nets in the long run and possibly spark high inflation.
Republicans who oppose the idea cite raising the debt and “blasting out another $2 trillion in borrowed or printed money,” according to a quote of Republican Rep. Pat Toomey in Business Insider.
To this, Thompson seems to think we are in an emergency situation and the stimulus is the answer the United States needs.
“The local government in my district needs help and they need help badly,” he said. “Not only do they need help to keep employees on staff who are providing the services, but when people are laid off they don’t have the money to spend on local businesses. So it’s kind of a two-edged sword.”
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