Blocking aid to states during economic crisis is inhumane

The cruel reality of COVID-19 for Nevadans is that the life-saving measures we took to protect each other medically have left so many people hurting financially.

Hundreds of thousands of Nevadans lost their jobs and health insurance. Nevada’s unemployment rate is now higher than it was during the Great Depression, and the fiscal situation in Clark County, Washoe County and virtually every place in between is dire. The economic devastation has drastically reduced state revenues, while the number of Nevadans depending on unemployment benefits, Medicaid and other public services has skyrocketed.

As Nevada’s Senate majority leader and the speaker of the Assembly, the two of us are required by the state Constitution to balance the budget, even in extraordinary circumstances, and we will do that. We will also do everything possible to ensure that the public services that Nevadans are depending on in this crisis are protected, but there may be hard choices ahead.

While Congress has already passed four separate pieces of legislation and committed more than $3 trillion to relief and recovery, only $150 billion of that was aid to all state, tribal and local governments combined. That pales in comparison to what economic experts believe is needed to address this economic crisis: $765 billion for states, $144 billion for counties and $360 billion for the country’s cities and towns.

More significant federal aid is desperately needed, and needed soon. It is critical that we protect funding for health care during a public health crisis and business services during an economic crisis. We must safeguard food assistance at a time when 600,000 Nevadans may not be able to afford their next meal.

Two weeks ago, the House of Representatives approved legislation that included significant funding for states, municipal governments and additional support for Medicaid. There is support from bipartisan groups like the National Governors Association and the National League of Cities. There are large numbers of Republican and Democratic U.S. senators calling for more aid to protect vital public services.

But two men stand in the way. Despite 36 million people filing for unemployment in two months, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he doesn’t see any urgency to provide state and local aid. President Donald Trump has tried to pretend that the coronavirus is a partisan issue and that threats to public services will only be a problem in blue states.

To those two men, we say this: Elected officials have a moral obligation to take care of every constituent. We need you to support the Nevadans who depend on Medicaid, public schools and local fire departments too.

The people of Nevada acted heroically to flatten the curve of the pandemic. Although thousands contracted COVID-19 and almost 500 have died, many more would have been affected without Gov. Steve Sisolak’s bold and necessary actions, including the stay-at-home order.

Study after study has shown that stay-at-home orders and temporary business closures were necessary to limit the spread of the virus and save lives.

But now our families need help. And McConnell and the president owe it to Nevadans to provide it.

Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro serves as the majority leader for the Nevada state Senate. Assemblyman Jason Frierson serves as the speaker of the Assembly.