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Local governments face cutbacks without federal aid

While Congress continues to debate another round of COVID economic relief aid, funding for state and local governments appear to be on the chopping block. Judy Woodruff spoke with Dayton Ohio Mayor Nan Whaley and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Mayor David Holt to learn how this may impact cities across the country.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    While Congress continues to debate a new round of COVID relief money, one chunk of aid appears to be left on the chopping block, and that is funding for state and local governments.

    For how this development may affect cities across the country, I'm joined by two mayors on the front lines of the COVID fight, Nan Whaley, Democrat of Dayton, Ohio, and David Holt, Republican of Oklahoma City.

    We welcome both of you to the "NewsHour." Thank you so much for joining us.

    Mayor Whaley, I'm going to start with you. How has COVID affected the people of Dayton? How has it affected your community?

  • Mayor Nan Whaley:

    Well, certainly, it's very close to everybody, as we have seen a really tremendous surge this past month in our communities.

    So, your friends, everyone knows someone now that has passed away from the disease. And then it has really affected our schools, everyday life, really everything that you used to do, even from the summer to the winter. And then, you know, while we're very hopeful and excited by the vaccine, the vaccine still hasn't made it to Dayton.

    So, we are concerned about the economic recovery being pretty slow, even with the vaccine coming.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mayor Holt, Oklahoma City, with a population of, what, over 650,000, how has Oklahoma City been hit by this pandemic?

  • Mayor David Holt:

    Well, like everybody, we have had serious levels of death that we have never experienced — or at least I should say never not probably since 1918.

    And we have had our health care system stretched to its limit. For several weeks now, we have had about 600 patients in the hospitals of Oklahoma City just for COVID-19, which is about a third of our capacity is just devoted to that.

    And, then, there's obviously the secondary economic affect that we have experienced. You know, I think other places have probably suffered more economically than Oklahoma City has. But it's not as if we have been immune from that. And it affects everything. And it certainly affects our city government functions as well.

    We're a government that is almost primarily and almost exclusively dependent on sales tax, which means that we get hit pretty fast when there is an economic downturn. So, we, like many other governments, have had to tighten our belt as well. And that means fewer services for our residents.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mayor Whaley, what about the financial impact in Dayton? How has that been affected? How has it affected your ability to conduct the services that citizens need?

  • Mayor Nan Whaley:

    Well, when the COVID pandemic first hit, we quickly offered a volunteer separation plan for all of our employees. We have around a little over 1,800 employees; 102 of them took the buyout.

    So, that made our — the folks working at the city a lot less. And they have been doing a lot more during a pandemic with less people. That is simply not sustainable long-term, because you know, when people retire, they move, and different parts of the organization get really, really hit in places that you just can't afford to keep on doing that.

    So, that helped us through the '21 budget. We were hoping to get federal relief. If we don't see federal relief, we're prepared to not have a police class in '21, not have a fire class in '21. And you know people retire every year, so that means that our levels will be lower coming in the '21 year.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mayor Holt, what about in Oklahoma City in terms of — you started — you touched on it a moment ago. But what has it meant, what kind of hit have you taken, and what difference could federal aid make one way or another?

  • David Holt:

    Well, we're down about 5 percent in sales tax for this fiscal year. So, we have had to freeze a lot of hiring that we had expected to make this year.

    We have certainly had to cut back programming, especially in our rec centers. It is hard to — we want — the first thing we want to protect are the people we have on staff now. But that means that we really — the worst impact is felt by our programming.

    And these are programs that people care about. But I do want to say something real quick, because I don't want Mayor Whaley to have to say this. Thirty-six cities did get funding back in April and May from the original CARES Act. And we are blessed to be one of those cities here in Oklahoma City, because we are over 500,000.

    But there are 3,000 cities across America over 10,000. There's 300 cities over 100,000, and only 36 of those got that funding. That funding had a lot of strings attached, and so we haven't necessarily been able to use it as much as we would have liked on our revenue shortfalls.

    But it has certainly given us a little bit of breathing room. And even though we benefited from that, I want to speak for Mayor Whaley and for other cities around the country, hundreds of them, thousands of them, that never got that benefit. And that is why this package is so very important.

  • Mayor Nan Whaley:

    And, Judy…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We appreciate your point.

    Go ahead. Mayor Whaley., go ahead.

  • Mayor Nan Whaley:

    No, I was just saying — I was going to going to say, David is right. The smaller the town, the more this is felt, because the smaller you are, you don't have the ability to really hold this loss.

    And so not getting in the federal relief package affects small communities all across the country. And I don't really know what some of these smaller communities in Dayton are really going to do in the next quarter.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, just quickly, Mayor Holt, without that federal money making a difference.

  • Mayor David Holt:

    Yes, yes.

    I mean, listen, cities and states are some of biggest employers in any community. And the federal government has, rightfully so, supported many employers across our country in ways that have allowed them to retain their staff, pay their employees, and maintain their business.

    And our business is providing services to our residents. And we need that same support. And we need it across our cities, not just our biggest ones. Again, very grateful for that back in the spring here in Oklahoma City, but really want to see that same support given to cities and states across the United States.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we need to hear this message.

    And we thank both of you for sharing your story with us, Mayor David Holt, Oklahoma City, Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio. Thank you.

  • Mayor Nan Whaley:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Mayor David Holt:

    Thank you, Judy.

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