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Union launches new ad blitz pushing senators for $1 trillion in state and local pandemic aid

Ads pressure incumbent GOP senators on 2020 ballot to support larger aid package

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is among the Republicans who will face pressure to support a larger aid package for local and state communities and their employees.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is among the Republicans who will face pressure to support a larger aid package for local and state communities and their employees. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A top labor union representing public employees across the country is expanding its campaign to pressure Senate Republicans to support more than $1 trillion in additional aid to state and local governments as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has already been running digital TV ads in Kentucky calling for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to support more substantial state and local assistance like what has passed the Democratic-led House.

New ads that are part of a previously announced seven-figure buy, shared first with CQ Roll Call, will expand the campaign to Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Missouri and North Carolina.

With the exception of Missouri, those states have incumbent Republican senators who will be on the ballot in November and are all top targets for Democrats as they seek to take back control of the chamber. The ads all follow the same script, customized for the individual senators.

“If Susan Collins doesn’t act, there will be painful cuts to essential public services. Fewer teachers and nurses, longer response times, dirtier streets. But some say, Maine should just go bankrupt,” the Maine version of the new ads says.

In Arizona, where appointed incumbent Republican Sen. Martha McSally is running for election, there is also a Spanish-language version of the new ad.

“We have sanitation workers who are continuing to pick up the trash. We have employment services workers who are trying to get those checks out to those that have been dramatically hurt and financially hurt by the loss of jobs, getting those unemployment checks,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a Tuesday interview. “EMTs — the time in which to respond to an emergency will increase, and people have got to understand that this is a real problem. And I think people do.”

The expanded ad campaign by the AFCME union has been tied to the congressional recess. It’s the first time the Senate has been away from Capitol Hill since Memorial Day.

“They’re on vacation right now, yet our people are still going to work every single day, many times under very severe circumstances, where they don’t have the proper PPE — proper equipment — but still going to work providing essential public services to the citizens of their communities,” Saunders said.

“It would be a shame if in fact we don’t pass legislation here in Washington, D.C., which provides the necessary financial aid to states and cities and small cities and counties and school districts to continue those essential and vital public services,” Saunders said.

Saunders cited findings that for each dollar invested in federal assistance for public services, there was a return of about $1.70. That’s the figure used by Jason Furman, who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the presidency of Barack Obama and others, including former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, in a recent Washington Post opinion piece.

Saunders rejected the concerns raised by Republicans who have suggested that aid should be limited in part because some state governments were in financial trouble even before the pandemic.

“That’s a non-starter. I mean, the argument makes absolutely no sense. We have a crisis on our hands right now with the coronavirus,” Saunders said. “In many states across the country, those numbers are starting to rise substantially once again. This is a crisis that impacts on everyone, everyone.”

Recent reporting has indicated the White House may favor a price tag closer to $1 trillion for the entire next package, which is the amount of the state and local assistance in the earlier House-passed bill. The public employee unions and their supporters insist a much smaller amount won’t be sufficient.

“There should be aid going to states and cities and towns and school districts unrestricted to continue to provide public services,” Saunders told CQ Roll Call. “This is a crisis that this country faces.”

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