HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Mayors in Pennsylvania are challenging the state’s members of Congress to help them get direct budget aid from the federal government, warning that cities of all sizes face steep deficits and deep service cuts as a result of the coronavirus’ impact on the economy.
With Washington in a stalemate over a new round of funding, mayors warned of severe consequences on services and the economy without an injection of federal aid to cover slackening tax collections. They also pointed out that they received little in trickle down from a prior round of aid to cover coronavirus costs that went to states and the most heavily populated counties.
Pennsylvania’s 20-member congressional delegation is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, with nearly every Republican balking at another round of federal aid.
Warning against more deficit spending, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said in a statement Tuesday that states and counties should spend the federal aid they received in the spring before Congress considers another aid package.
“Before Congress spends even more money it doesn’t actually have, states and counties should allocate their existing allotments so we can thoughtfully determine what needs remain,” Toomey said.
Congress has already sent about a half-trillion dollars to state and local governments, boosted Medicaid reimbursements and delivered cash to public health programs, hospitals, schools and mass transit, Toomey said.
Pennsylvania state government, Philadelphia and its six other most heavily populated counties received about $5 billion in aid to cover virus-related costs. Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers agreed to spend $2.6 billion of the nearly $4 billion that went to state government, including sharing some of it with counties that did not get a direct share.
Another roughly $1.3 billion remains uncommitted.
But mayors say the state needs that money to cover its own costs — state government faces a deficit through next June whose projections are between $5 billion and $6 billion — and that it cannot be counted on to help avoid municipal budget cuts that will have a harsh impact on services, residents and the economy.
“The senator voted on these bills,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said in a video news conference organized by the Pennsylvania Municipal League. “He knows the money is not coming to the cities, and yet he is going to allow hundreds of firefighters and police officers to lose their jobs.”
In other coronavirus-related developments Tuesday:
DELAYS IN TESTING RESULTS
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said he plans to tell a visiting group from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that long delays in getting coronavirus test results have been “very problematic” and to press them for a strategic approach to deploying a vaccine once it is available.
Long waits across the country for the results of coronavirus tests renders them virtually useless in helping to contain the spread of the virus, public health officials say.
The group is doing a site visit in Philadelphia through Thursday, part of a tour of a handful of cities around the country, Farley said.
Farley said he views the visit as a way to show what the city has been doing in terms of prevention, contact tracing and social distancing efforts.
Pennsylvania reported more than 800 new virus cases and another 35 new coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to more than 120,000 Pennsylvanians infected and more than 7,350 dead.
After a July spike, the percentage of virus tests coming back positive over seven days has dropped from 6% in late July to just over 5% now, according to the COVID Tracking Project. It hit a low of 3.3% in June.
The state saw a seven-day average of about 750 new cases per day, down from almost 975 per day over seven days in late July.
The number of deaths has remained stable, at about 17 per day over the past week. That’s after a four-month downward trend that sank to weekly averages of around 12 in late July and early August, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Pennsylvania’s death count is the eighth highest in the country overall and the 14th highest per capita at about 57 deaths per 100,000 people, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is dropping in August and about 77% of people infected in Pennsylvania have recovered, according to the state Department of Health.
State health officials say cases among younger people, notably those 19 to 24, have been increasing significantly. Cases among younger age groups have become more common than in those 50 and older.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state’s confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.