By HENRY GARRIDO, DC 37 Executive Director
We are in a fight for our lives.
I am supportive of the efforts of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council in hammering out a budget under the worst conditions New York City has endured in recent memory — tragic and brutal circumstances.
While there are reasons to believe this budget process could have ended much worse, the conclusion leaves me with no cause to celebrate or a sense of relief because of the danger that lies ahead as we navigate through this crisis.
The budget the city passed just before midnight on July 1 opens the door to an October layoff of tens of thousands of the city’s public service workers. This will happen unless we succeed in getting our fair share of federal funding to help recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of course, this leads us to our next fight, this time with the U.S. Senate, which only recently began putting together its own stimulus package — ignoring the HEROES Act that passed the House of Representatives in late May.
Unfortunately, just like the last stimulus package, the Mitch McConnell-led Republican Senate has its own ideas of helping the nation recover from the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic. Ideas that are wrong, and will leave millions at risk. Their idea is for more giveaways to corporate interests and lobbyists. The first thing they did in the last stimulus package was mandate the Department of Treasury to hand out $500 billion to favored industries — big banks, and therefore, Wall Street.
The rest of us, if we were lucky, got temporary unemployment benefits and a $1,200 check signed by Donald J. Trump.
As time passes, we expect the U.S. Senate to hand over a proposal that is nothing more than handouts to their political donors and their 1% allies. While they work on their version of a so-called stimulus bill, municipalities on the precipice of financial ruin will continue to beg for necessary funding needed to provide essential services to recover from the economic downturn.
We are not talking about services just to combat COVID-19, but also to maintain basic needs — hospitals, education, sanitation, public safety, social services — the core of what the public expects to preserve a safe, healthy environment in their respective communities.
Also, the possibility of cutting off needed additional unemployment benefits for millions still out of work due to the pandemic will be a further blow to the economic crisis. But cutting off the supplementary unemployment benefits due to end later this month is a desperately-needed lifeline for unemployed workers who risk losing everything as a deeper recession looms on the horizon as the pandemic continues.
Many who work in the service industry face a seemingly endless road of uncertainty and poverty as the recession drags on. Losing these vital parts of the city’s economy means losing the tax income and that punishes everyone.
As the nation prepares for a second wave of the deadly virus, which is already closing down several states, consider this: If you don’t have a city of public workers to protect and serve you, who will stand on the frontlines to make those heroic efforts to ensure the health and safety of the public?
Praised as heroes, yet the first to be victimized, pushed aside, handed pink slips, and shown the door, those once called essential workers now could be told to get in the unemployment line, their futures shattered.
That is the reward the Republican-led U.S. Senate will give to our frontline heroes who, in dozens of cases, sacrificed their lives combating the coronavirus pandemic while keeping their respective communities functioning.
The HEROES Act will provide needed aid for frontline public service workers and bridge the gap in economic losses that communities suffered during the pandemic. For New York City, it is an imperative. The new budget is dependent on at least $1 billion in aid to prevent the October layoffs of 22,000 city workers.
Failure to pass this legislation will deal another crushing blow to the vitality of our city and impede any chance for a long-term recovery.
So again, I ask, who will take care of the public when this second wave hits? Who will be there for us?