WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – A division among Senate Republicans is growing over whether state and local governments need more federal dollars to help them get through the coronavirus crisis.
Some senators are pushing for billions more, while others are working to give states flexibility with money they already have.
“It’s sort of like a Labor Day mattress sale around here right now,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA.
Now back in Washington, Kennedy said senators are busy shopping new ideas about how to send more coronavirus relief to state and local governments.
However, Kennedy points to the $3 trillion in taxpayer dollars Congress has already approved. Each state has received at least $1 billion of that.
“We might have made one mistake though,” he said. “We conditioned the money.”
Kennedy’s new legislation would allow state and local governments to use the funds on operating expenses unrelated to the pandemic.
“They can’t waste it,” he said. “They can’t spend it on things like bailing out mismanaged pension programs.”
Kennedy calls additional state funding for coronavirus relief premature, but Louisiana’s senior senator, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA, is working on a lot more.
“If you don’t have the police, the garbage, the fire to support your small business, the small business can’t be open,” Cassidy said. “It’s an ecosystem. We’re trying to support all parts of that ecosystem.”
Cassidy’s legislation would give an additional $500 billion to state and local governments, but he said it’s not a blank check.
“You don’t wanna just give states money,” Cassidy said. “You want to have some rationale as to why you would.”
The bipartisan plan, sponsored by Cassidy and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, would distribute the money over time. A third of it would go out immediately based on population, then a third at the end of June based on infection rate and a third at the end of the year based on total economic impact.
“States and cities have got to find the money by which they can keep essential services open,” Cassidy said.
Currently, states must return any unused coronavirus relief funds to the U.S. Treasury Department by the end of the year, but both Cassidy and Kennedy’s bills would allow states to keep the money.