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Across the nation and here in Orange County, local public servants continue to fight a global health pandemic. Public health nurses, epidemiologists, scientists, social workers and thousands more confront the crisis head on every day. While these workers bravely perform the work nearly everyone deems “essential,” they have so far been left behind by the Senate majority in Washington D.C.

As the pandemic rages on in our community, the decision to strengthen the public health safety net and maintain other essential municipal services when we need them most is being debated right now in our nation’s capital.

On May 15 of this year the House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act or the HEROES Act – a $3 trillion package that includes a continuation of direct aid to individual Americans, to small businesses, and provides urgently needed assistance for states and municipalities. Under the HEROES Act, Orange County could receive an estimated $3.8 billion in direct federal funding to replace lost local government revenues and enable the County and our local cities to continue to provide essential services to our communities.

For months, residents in Orange County have counted on local government for food, employment assistance, public health, and even outdoor recreation. During this time local government has answered the call.

Yet instead of voting on the HEROES Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has unveiled the bogus HEALS Act – the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act. Senator McConnell’s plan fails miserably to provide the relief Americans need to recover from the public health and economic crises. It offers no money for state and local governments, nothing to keep the U.S. Postal Service operating, no hazard pay for those risking their lives every day, and no emergency temporary standards to keep front-line workers safe. What the act does do is cut benefits for unemployed Americans and provide a liability shield to employers with unsafe workplaces. The HEALS Act is a heartless distraction the American people cannot afford.

According to the League of California Cities, California’s 482 cities will collectively lose an estimated $6.7 billion in revenue over the next two years because of the coronavirus pandemic. Such losses could prompt calls for layoffs and furloughs for public workers and potentially jeopardize basic services such as sanitation, public health and housing. These jobs are performed by the same essential public workers who have risked their health and that of their families to keep us safe during the pandemic.

Our local communities need the resources to continue to meet the challenge of the moment. Local public servants have met this crisis with laudable professionalism and courage. Our elected representatives in Washington, and specifically the Senate majority, cannot abandon essential workers or their public employers in this time of unprecedented need.

Congress has previously demonstrated the capacity to act to authorize assistance for the American people during this pandemic. Four bi-partisan relief bills have been passed and become law, including the CARES Act. While not perfect, that legislation created a lifeline for local governments and their essential workers, small businesses, and the unemployed. On July 31, 2020, the $600 per week unemployment benefit provided through the CARES Act will expire. But, COVID-19 knows no political ideology or election schedule. The virus isn’t going away anytime soon, and neither is the urgent need of the American people to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

The Labor movement isn’t alone in its support for the HEROES Act. In May, Orange County’s entire Congressional delegation voted for the HEROES Act in the House. Representatives Porter, Rouda, Cisneros, and Levin penned an editorial in support of the Act. They noted that the OC Board of Supervisors and 33 mayors urged Congress to provide “immediate, direct funding” to local governments. This bi-partisan effort reflects the reality that passing the HEROES Act isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity.

Charles Barfield, General Manager, Orange County Employees Association

The Orange County Employees Association is the largest public sector union in Orange County representing approximately 18,000 workers. OCEA members are public health nurses, law enforcement officials, food inspectors, and other public workers who come to work every day with a mission to keep our communities safe and healthy. OCEA members work for the County of Orange, Orange County Superior Court, and various cities and districts throughout Orange County.

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