Here’s what the United States’ governors urgently need from Washington in this public health emergency:
Reinforce our health-care system: There simply aren’t enough test kits, medical supplies and other lifesaving equipment to meet the scope of this pandemic. While states are doing all we can to secure access to these items, the federal government must take extraordinary steps to deliver what we need. The Trump administration can start by more widely implementing the Defense Production Act to direct companies to produce ventilators and protective gear for medical workers.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) needs to better coordinate the distribution of supplies based on need. Right now, there is no single authority tracking where every spare ventilator is or where there are shortages. The lack of any centralized coordination is creating a counterproductive competition between states and the federal government to secure limited supplies, driving up prices and exacerbating existing shortages.
Shore up state budgets: As a result of the sharp slowdown in the economy and the postponing of tax filings, states are likely to face huge shortfalls in revenue. States will need additional and substantial federal help to continue funding essential services such as police and Medicaid while balancing their budgets and meeting the spending demands of the pandemic.
Allow maximum flexibility for spending aid: In a rapidly evolving public health emergency, governors need more flexibility to quickly adapt as circumstances change and the demand for resources shifts — sometimes on even an hour-by-hour basis. That’s why we’ve asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to allow governors broad discretion in how we spend federal coronavirus relief funds — without imposing onerous reporting requirements that only waste time and money. We’ve also asked Mnuchin to designate a senior Treasury official to serve as a point of contact to quickly address any issues regarding the distribution of this aid.
Prepare federal unemployment insurance for an unprecedented surge: Sadly, some 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment in the week ending March 21 — an unprecedented surge. Since states depend upon the Labor Department’s Unemployment Insurance Interstate Connection Network (ICON) to validate individuals’ unemployment claims, we must make sure that ICON has the resources to meet this overwhelming number of new requests. We cannot afford any delay in getting help to everyone who needs it.
Keep “mission critical” federal workers healthy: While millions of Americans have begun working from home, “mission critical” federal employees and contractors are still reporting to work every day. More than 400,000 federal workers are based in the national capital region of Washington, Maryland and Virginia, including workers at the National Institutes of Health and FEMA. We can’t risk them getting sick when the nation is depending on their work and expertise to fight the pandemic. President Trump can help by establishing a federal testing site in the national capital region — an important step to identify sick federal workers and prevent them from infecting their colleagues.
Fortunately, millions of courageous Americans are doing their part. Medical and first responders, agricultural workers, food processor workers, distribution center warehouse employees, truck drivers, gas station attendants, grocery store employees, teachers who are adapting to distance learning, and so many other dedicated Americans are all holding our nation together in this time of crisis.
In our own states of Maryland and Michigan, we’ve witnessed so many examples of this compassion and generosity — from Baltimore city residents coming together to form a quarantine response network that’s running errands and checking in on elderly neighbors to Ford Motor Co. quickly helping to expand production of the equipment that we need to keep our health-care workers safe.
Americans are stepping up — recognizing their own responsibility to help flatten the curve and to protect the most vulnerable among us. To support them, Washington must go further.
The true spirit of America transcends partisanship. Our nation faces a new moment of grave challenge, but we remain confident that — by working together with renewed faith in one another — America can and will meet it.