It’s both #TeacherAppreciationWeek and Public Service Recognition Week, which uses the hashtag #PSRW. And, yes, we should #ThankATeacher and honor our federal, state, county, and local government employees.
But teachers, sanitation workers, nurses, and other public workers need more than a “thank-you.” They need personal protective equipment (PPE). They need more resources to work with. They need higher pay and cheaper healthcare.
They need these things because we—all of us—are counting on them to get us through this pandemic.
We are counting on unemployment compensation specialists like Tonya Reese, who says, “It’s crazy right now. So many folks need help, but we are working hard to get each and every person their money as fast as possible.”
We are counting on child protection case workers like Heather Burke, who says, “We need more funding to help keep families together. Dollars can buy diapers and bring formula in and help us better serve families.”
We are counting on home care workers like Francis Hall, who says, “Since [the state of Minnesota] and home care companies aren’t providing essentials like masks and rubbing alcohol, and store shelves are wiped out, I have to go to multiple stores to find what I need.”
We are counting on special education teachers like Danielle Kovach, who says, “I’m so worried—am I giving [students] everything they need and doing everything I can do?”
Which means that Congress and the Trump administration need to send aid to state and local governments, and they need to do it now.
Instead, congressional Republicans are sitting on their hands while blaming blue states and public employee pensions. Sen. Mike Braun (R-Indiana) said on Tuesday that there’s “no real kind of rush to do anything [for states and localities] at this point.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has even suggested letting states go bankrupt, saying that Republicans aren’t interested in “solving their pension problems.” (No matter that public pensions are net revenue generators for state and local governments.)
Do they not see the looming disaster? State governments are estimated to face budget shortfalls over the next three fiscal years totaling around $650 billion. Water and wastewater systems alone are expected to lose $27 billion in revenue this year. They probably do see it—but they just don’t care. More likely, they see as the next phase in a concerted 40-year attack on government.
There are things that state and local governments can do. They can quit subsidizing massive corporations like Amazon, which is run by the world’s richest person. They can protect property and sales tax revenue that goes to public schools. They can raise tax rates on upper-income earners.
But, ultimately, the federal government must get out its checkbook. States and localities are not allowed to run deficits, so they’ll soon be forced to make drastic cuts and lay off potentially hundreds of thousands of front-line public workers. And if that happens, many more people will almost certainly die.
Sujatha Gidla, a New York City subway conductor, summed up the situation in a recent New York Times op-ed: “The conditions created by the pandemic drive home the fact that we essential workers—workers in general—are the ones who keep the social order from sinking into chaos. Yet we are treated with the utmost disrespect, as though we’re expendable.”