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States, Cities Plead for Virus Aid     06/01 06:43

   One small-town Oklahoma mayor testified before Congress she's worried the 
city's 18-bed hospital can't handle a second Covid-19 wave. Many counties are 
slashing sizable chunks of their government work force. States are staring down 
red ink as the fiscal year comes to a close.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- One small-town Oklahoma mayor testified before Congress 
she's worried the city's 18-bed hospital can't handle a second Covid-19 wave. 
Many counties are slashing sizable chunks of their government work force. 
States are staring down red ink as the fiscal year comes to a close.

   As local leaders are pleading for more federal aid  even before protests 
over police violence erupted in almost every corner of the country  the 
Senate resumes session Monday with no immediate plans to consider a fresh round 
of relief. The House's staggering $3 trillion package is mothballed in the 
Senate, where Republicans are focused instead on trimming unemployment benefits 
and getting Americans back to work. Quick action by Congress is skidding to a 
halt.

   The standoff is perhaps standard Washington negotiating, but "they're 
playing a very dangerous game of chicken," said Meredith McGehee, executive 
director at Issue One, which advocates for a government reforms to ease 
political gridlock.

   Congress is confronting mounting crises  the virus outbreak, the 
shattered economy and now nationwide protests over the killings of black people 
at the hands of police  all crashing into an election year. It's a moment 
that calls for steady leadership. But the House is working remotely rather than 
risk convening in the pandemic, while the Senate wants to wait and see if 
nearly $2 trillion in previously approved aid is sufficient while it focuses on 
President Donald Trump's priorities.

   As the Senate gavels in, Republicans who control the chamber will focus on 
investigations Trump wants of the Obama administration's handling of the probe 
of Russia interference in the 2016 election interference and ties to Trump's 
campaign. Key hearings this week over what Trump calls "Obamagate" are 
scheduled at the Judiciary and Homeland Security committee. Both are scheduled 
to consider issuing subpoenas for testimony from current and former officials.

   Rather than unleash more federal aid to counter the pandemic, Senate 
Republicans want to cut back unemployment benefits they worry are preventing 
workers from returning to their jobs and create a liability shield to protect 
businesses that do re-open from lawsuits related to COVID-19.

   "We're beginning to consider whether or not to do another rescue package and 
it's been my view we need to be a little bit careful," said Senate Majority 
Leader Mitch McConnell during a radio interview Friday in his home state of 
Kentucky.

   McConnell said the Senate won't be considering the $3 trillion "grab bag" of 
the House-passed Heroes Act.

   In urging action, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday linked the death of 
George Floyd in Minnesota to the "injustice" of the virus outbreak's impact on 
African American and other minority populations.

   "The fact is that the coronavirus has taken an undue toll among people of 
color," Pelosi said on ABC. She said there is not enough virus testing in 
minority communities. "This, again, is an injustice."

   Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called on McConnell to cancel the 
"conspiracy hearings" and focus on the health and economic needs.

   Schumer said Senate Republicans are turning the Senate "into an extension of 
the president's reelection campaign."

   Deadlines are fast approaching. Most states have budget deadlines with the 
new fiscal year starting July 1. The $600 boost to unemployment benefits 
approved in the previous aid package is set to expire July 31. Small businesses 
that tapped the Paycheck Protection Program will start seeing loans come due 
without adjustments by Congress.

   Teryn Zmuda chief economist at the National Association of Counties, said 
local governments have been "on the forefront" of the COVID response but there 
is a dollar amount that is associated with that.

   Many jurisdictions faced the double-whammy of increased overtime pay for 
essential workers and declining revenues as stay-home orders cut sales and gas 
taxes, toll fees and other revenue streams.

   The result has been 800,000 jobs lost in the local government sector in 
April alone, according to a report from the association. More are expected.

   "The cost has stacked up at the local level," Zmuda said.

   At a hearing of the new House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, 
Mayor Mary Jane Scott of Mangum, Oklahoma, testified Friday that the area's 
small hospital, which receives patients from across the rural region, was 
overloaded when the community faced an outbreak. She can't imagine trying to 
withstand second wave.

   Yet Jacksonsville, Florida, Mayor Lenny B. Curry warned the committee 
there's also a high-cost of staying home. He said the city has seen a spike in 
substance abuse overdose calls.

   Republicans argue against what some call bailouts for states, warning some 
have overextended with generous services, pensions or mismanagement.

   Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the majority whip, who appeared at an online event 
Friday with a conservative group, said Congress has already "flooded the zone" 
with a "staggering amount" of funds.

   "I don't expect we'll see any immediate action in the Senate," Thune said.

   McGee notes that Washington often haggles as all sides try to cut a deal. 
But she said, "playing that game in the middle of the pandemic and our economic 
 I hate to say collapse, but close to that  the game becomes more than a 
political game  it's life and death, it's economic ruin."

 
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