WASHINGTON — The number of coronavirus infections across the country is swelling at a perilous time for state governments, just weeks before federal support rushed through Congress in the pandemic’s early stages is set to end.
The expiring provisions from the $2 trillion CARES Act and subsequent executive orders will mean reductions in unemployment benefits for those struggling to find work, the loss of eviction protections, and a restart to monthly student loan bills that had been suspended.
Those changes heading into the darkest months of winter will not only hit hard at vulnerable Americans. They’ll increase the fiscal strain on state governments, which are facing a deadline to spend any remaining federal dollars received for pandemic-related costs — or send that money back to Washington. And the critical moment is coming at a time when a new president has been elected, the current president is refusing to concede and Congress is unable to muster the consensus to take action.
“It really is becoming a problem, in that I think the people in the White House are focused on fighting elections and the people in the Biden administration don’t have any information and haven’t taken over, and there’s a little bit of a vacuum right now,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said during a recent news conference.
Hogan added that he still just sees “bickering” from those in Congress: “The states are out here fighting probably the worst part of the crisis we’ve ever had to deal with, and we don’t really know what’s going on at the federal level.”
Despite calls for a new infusion of federal relief, any additional COVID-19 aid appears unlikely until President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Top congressional leaders and the Trump administration held on-again, off-again negotiations over a new coronavirus relief package before the November election, but those talks have not resumed since Election Day.
Lawmakers are now on recess for the Thanksgiving holidays. They will return for the lame-duck session — the period between an election and when the newly elected lawmakers take office — to consider government funding legislation needed to avert a shutdown after Dec. 11.
That has left states on their own to deal with the looming consequences as COVID-19 infections nationally exceed 11 million and more than 250,000 deaths in the U.S.
Cumulatively, state, local, territorial and tribal governments are projected to face a budget shortfall between $275 billion and $415 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and that’s if elected officials drain any remaining fiscal reserves.
Already, states and localities have furloughed or laid off 1.2 million workers to date, based on CBPP data. Read more