In a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Apr. 10, 2020, Mayor Jim Kenney asked Congress to take swift and decisive action on the fourth phase of the federal COVID-19 response.
“One-quarter of Philadelphia residents have income below the federal poverty line – the highest rate of any major city in the nation,” The letter said. “As a result, Philadelphia will face unique challenges recovering from COVID-19, and it is clear that the impact of this pandemic will fall more heavily on vulnerable populations.”
The letter asks for “direct and flexible” funding to local governments due to a sharp reduction in local revenue streams, such as shrinking tax bases. To respond to the challenges, Kenney calls for the expansion of existing programs such as Medicaid, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), and more funding for personal protective equipment and supplies, among other recommendations.
“We believe that the two most effective forms of relief that can be offered to local governments are providing direct, flexible funding and replacing lost revenue resulting from this crisis,” the letter said. “Without these interventions, local governments will be forced to make drastic cuts, which will deprive residents of needed services, exacerbate the damage being done to local economies and lessen the possibility of a speedy economic recovery.”
The letter calls on Congress to support renters and homeowners by providing rental assistance to low-income renters and those with disabilities, as well as up to 12 months of mortgage payment forbearance, in addition to maintaining and expanding low-income housing.
Homelessness is another critical concern, as the city is working to stop the spread of the virus among the nearly 17,000 people who are served by the city’s homeless services system. Kenney asked for more homeless emergency assistance, not only to help the current homeless population, but those who may become homeless as the economic fallout of the crisis becomes more acute.
The letter also calls for an expansion and a streamlining of the CARES Act recovery rebate program and the extension of unemployment benefits through the end of the economic downturn. Currently, unemployment insurance has been extended by 13 weeks, with benefits expanded to four months.
Education is another critical concern, with the administration asking for additional funds to increase the use of technology, teacher training, and converting traditional class instruction into online modalities, as well as other support for job training and retraining for those impacted in the workforce.
The previous three phases of COVID-19 relief were passed in March and included funding for disease treatment and prevention, benefits to individuals and businesses, and direct payments to individuals and businesses. In all, the federal response to the pandemic has cost over $2 trillion.