More than four million workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the economy ground to a halt in the wake of shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We now have more than 26 million Americans who have lost their jobs since the public health crisis began, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor.

California is encouraged by a decrease in the rate of new COVID-19 infections and that has Governor Gavin Newsom and a team of public and private sector advisors considering plans for a phased reboot of the economy.  As always, the Orange County Employees Association stands with our public health officials and scientists in determining when the state can reopen safely. We also stand with all workers in this crisis, and will fight for their safety during any easing of COVID-19-related restrictions. Many workers have inadequate health coverage, minimal sick time banks, and woefully low supplies of personal protective equipment. We cannot needlessly risk the health and safety of the very workers who are so essential to our communities.

Public sector workers have been subjected to risks every day since the start of the crisis. First responders, public health nurses, social workers, mental health workers and many others have remained on the job. Community safety, stopping child abuse, and protecting the local environment cannot telecommute, and neither do these workers.

While COVID-19 continues to cost lives, the damage to the economy threatens the resources city and county governments need to protect our families. The increasing demands on critical safety net services California’s counties provide coupled with rapidly declining revenues makes the situation untenable without additional Federal support.

It is now obvious that help for small business under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is insufficient to stabilize the private sector and the same is true for local governments. Funds are needed now to avoid substantial reductions in services already being considered in budgets. State and local governments have COVID-19 funding needs that are just as immediate as small businesses. Our local communities answered the call to service in this crisis, and we need to keep them strong.

The Federal government must provide aid to our local communities. Our local government will be on the frontline of the recovery, and this is the worst possible time to gut our local defenses.  This funding is desperately needed to fund services most in demand or most at risk – public health, public safety, and safety net services. The Orange County Congressional delegation has proudly advocated for this solution. 

Here’s how you can help. Contact your member of Congress and the Trump administration TODAY to urge them to work together to provide desperately needed aid for hard hit states and localities.  Now is the time for Congress to unite and help cities and counties fulfill our vast public health, public safety and economic recovery responsibilities. Even those representatives who are with us need to hear from you.

We should remember that serving the public does not stop in this or any other crisis but a pandemic presents a new and critically dangerous challenge. Every essential contact with the public puts the health of our public workers and their families at risk. Reopening the economy is tempting after weeks of a shutdown but we shouldn’t sacrifice lives when it can be prevented by standing together for the good of all. It’s time for our leaders in Washington D.C. to follow the example of our public workers in putting service over self.

Charles Barfield, General Manager, Orange County Employees Association

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