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Support local governments

Posted 5/18/20

It's shocking the difference a few months can make. At the beginning of February, Sullivan County and the country at large were looking at record low unemployment numbers and people's financial …

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Support local governments

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It's shocking the difference a few months can make. At the beginning of February, Sullivan County and the country at large were looking at record low unemployment numbers and people's financial outlook was better than it'd been in years. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and that picture has changed dramatically.

Over 1.5 million people have contracted COVID-19 nationwide and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of May 15, more than 60,000 people have died.

While the extent of the human toll cannot be entirely quantified, the financial impact of this virus is also broad and will take a long time to recover from. Millions of people have lost their jobs or been furloughed until an uncertain future date. Non-essential businesses have been forced to temporarily close and some may never reopen.

This is a calamitous situation in which people's entire lives have been turned upside down through no fault of their own. Families are having to make tough decisions about their futures. Some people who never imagined themselves applying for unemployment are now having to face that reality.

While working-class people and small businesses struggle to make ends meet, local governments that provide important services to their communities are feeling the pinch as well. As reported in the Democrat, Sullivan County Treasurer Nancy Buck told legislators last week that without federal assistance to states and local governments, the loss of revenues will be substantial.

Sales tax is down over 30 percent for March compared to last year. If the trend continues, it would mean a loss of millions of dollars to the county. We can also expect losses in room tax, mortgage tax and other sources of revenue. Buck said there's $23 million worth of unpaid property taxes the county will have to collect over the next two years.

Underlying unpaid taxes are the stories of real people who are struggling to keep their homes or keep their businesses afloat. The negative impacts of this pandemic will be felt far and wide for years to come.

There's currently bipartisan legislation making its way through Congress that would provide some federal relief directly to small governments. The Direct Support for Communities Act would create a local relief fund that is split between cities, town, villages and counties.

Local governments would be able to use this federal relief to help address costs associated with lost revenues and response to the pandemic, in an effort to help avoid cuts to essential services and local tax and fee increases.

People are already struggling enough without having to shoulder the burden of increased local taxes. We support the efforts by our federal representatives to ensure greater support for local governments.

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