A Harvey, Illinois, pension fund claims it’s entitled to share in the Chicago suburb’s American Rescue Plan funds and wants to block the distribution of aid until a judge decides.
The financially stressed suburb south of Chicago, which has battled over the last decade with its public safety pension funds, the city of Chicago, and bondholders about its obligations, settled a legal dispute with its police and firefighters’ over past due payments in 2018.
The Firefighters Pension Fund is now staking a claim on Harvey’s share of the $350 billion for local, state and tribal governments in the coronavirus relief package President Biden signed in March, arguing Harvey’s share is subject to the 10% claim on city tax funds that flow through the state and are sent directed to the fund the city agreed to in a 2018 settlement.
Support urgent COVID-19 response efforts to continue to decrease spread of the virus and bring the pandemic under control
Replace lost revenue for eligible state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments to strengthen support for vital public services and help retain jobs
Support immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses
Address systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the inequal impact of the pandemic
The Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds provide substantial flexibility for each government to meet local needs—including support for households, small businesses, impacted industries, essential workers, and the communities hardest hit by the crisis. These funds can also be used to make necessary investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
Concurrent with this program launch, Treasury has published an Interim Final Rule that implements the provisions of this program.
Illinois? borrowing through the Federal Reserve?s Municipal Liquidity Facility provided a lifeline for critical services during the COVID-19 pandemic, so the state should be allowed to use its incoming federal coronavirus relief money to pay it off, Comptroller Susana Mendoza tells the federal government.
The state?s $3.8 billion of short-term borrowing, including $3.2 billion through the Federal Reserve?s Municipal Liquidity Facility ?was essential for the continued performance of government services during the most fiscally challenging times for the state?s cash flow during the pandemic, all directly related to the COVID-19 crisis,? Mendoza wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
?We want to promptly repay federal taxpayers for the crucial help they provided us during the pandemic,? wrote Mendoza, the elected constitutional officer who manages state debt, pension, and bill payments. The state?s updated American Relief Plan share is $8.1 billion.
Mendoza fired off the letter Wednesday, two days after the release of a 151-page guidance on how states, local governments, and tribes can spend their shares of the $350 billion Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund and the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund that?s built into the American Rescue Plan.
The guidance imposes a sweeping ban on using funds to cover principal and interest repayment, even when the borrowing was directly related to the COVID-19 crisis.
A poverty-fighting measure included in the COVID-19 relief bill passed this year will deliver monthly payments to households including 88% of children in the United States, starting in July, Biden administration officials said on Monday.
The Democratic-backed American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Joe Biden in March as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, expanded a tax credit available to most parents.
Those people will get up to $3,000 per child, or $3,600 for each child under the age of 6, in 2021, subject to income restrictions. The benefit will reach 39 million households, many automatically and by direct deposit every month, starting on July 15.
The first round of aid for state and local governments is set to go out next week, but with no guidance yet on the spending rules, leaders are becoming increasingly frustrated.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) included $350 billion in direct aid to states and localities and the law requires the U.S. Department of Treasury to distribute the first tranche by May 10. Since it passed on March 11, the department has been developing guidance on the spending rules with input from government organizations. The ARPA law says governments can use the money for public health crisis expenses and for budget deficits, but more specifics are needed because governments are required to track and report on their spending.
Now, with just days to go until the first round of aid is to be delivered, the rules still aren’t out and frustrations are mounting. This is particularly true for those governments who are receiving direct federal aid for the first time since the pandemic began.
Soon after the Labor Department released its April jobs report, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce blamed last month’s weak employment growth on the existence of a $300 weekly supplemental jobless benefit and began urging lawmakers to eliminate the federally enhanced unemployment payments that were extended through early September when congressional Democrats passed President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
“No. We don’t need to end [the additional] $300 a week in emergency unemployment benefits that workers desperately need,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in response to the grumbles of the nation’s largest business lobbying group. “We need to end starvation wages in America.”
“If $300 a week is preventing employers from hiring low-wage workers there’s a simple solution,” Sanders added. “Raise your wages. Pay decent benefits.”
There’s little doubt that Illinois politicians are salivating over the $13.7 billion windfall they’re about to spend. Those billions are Illinois’ share of the $350 billion in aid dedicated to state and local governments, a key part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed earlier this year. The state of Illinois itself will get $7.75 billion and the remaining $6 billion will go directly to counties and cities.
The numbers are big. Take the city of Berwyn, Illinois, which is set to receive $32 million in stimulus dollars, according to a data release from the Illinois Municipal League. The city’s take is equal to a whopping 81 percent of its 2019 general budget. Peoria expects $46 million, or nearly half of its $100 million budget. And the city of Chicago will get nearly $2 billion, worth 60 percent of its general budget, based on financial data from the Illinois Comptroller.
Even the state, which nearly broke even in revenues in 2020 compared to 2019, will get more than $7.75 billion, nearly a fifth of its budget.
Embedded below are a set of searchable databases that provide the estimated allocation of the $360 billion in direct government aid to states, counties and cities under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The remaining stimulus includes funding for schools and other programs, for which detailed data is not yet available.
The $360 billion is split as follows: State governments are set to receive $230 billion in direct and capital project grants, county governments will receive $65 billion, and municipal governments will receive the other $65 billion.
Author(s): Ted Dabrowski, Mark Glennon, John Klingner
Conditions on Relief • Special Financial Assistance funds (and earnings thereon) can be used to make benefit payments and pay plan expenses • Must be segregated from other plan assets; invested only in investment-grade bonds or other investments as permitted by PBGC • Deemed to be in critical status until the last plan year ending in 2051 • Plans that become insolvent after receiving relief subject to rules for insolvent plans • Must reinstate any previously suspended benefits under the MPRA – Either as lump sum within 3 months or monthly equal installments over 5 years (to begin within 3 months) • Not eligible to apply for a new suspension of benefits under the MPRA
Author(s): Alan Cabral, Jim Hlawek, Seong Kim, Ron Kramer
California’s total estimated pension liability is something like $1 trillion. To balance its books, Sacramento had to get money from taxpayers in Florida, South Dakota, Utah and, other, better-managed states (through the COVID-19 stimulus) to close the gap.
Whether it will be enough to stop municipal fire departments from bringing private ambulance and medical services “in-house” is yet to be seen. Hopefully, it will — which would be a good thing for taxpayers and people in need.
Otherwise, the pattern of using federal reimbursements for services provided to cover the losses in underfunded public employee pension plans will continue, much to the determinant of taxpayers.
Most observers believe that the Treasury will interpret the law narrowly. Rather than seeking to claw back funds from any states passing tax cuts or credits, the feds are considered likely to challenge only those states that clearly use federal dollars to pay for them. “Nothing in the act prevents states from enacting a broad variety of tax cuts,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote in a response to the AGs. “It simply provides that funding received under the act may not be used to offset a reduction in net tax revenue resulting from certain changes in state law.”
But the fact that the law blocks federal money from being used even indirectly to pay for tax cuts has state officials not just worried but angry. “Democrats in Washington and in the White House are not going to tell me, or the Georgia General Assembly, that we can’t cut taxes for hard-working Georgians,” Gov. Brian Kemp complained at a news conference last month.
That prohibition lasts as long as the stimulus dollars are spent, which will be into 2024. And there are limits, Walczak notes, on where and how states can spend federal aid. They can use the money to address pandemic and health needs, for example. While those are clearly ongoing, much of the cost of vaccine supply and distribution has been underwritten by the feds. Other costs in these areas have already been addressed by last year’s federal CARES Act, which some states struggled to spend.
As part of the most recent federal stimulus, states that haven’t expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act can receive additional matching funds. Rather than paying 10 percent of the cost for new recipients, they’d only have to pay 5 percent over the next two years. Additional subsidies mean they would actually cost themselves money by refusing to expand. Florida, for instance, would come out ahead by $1.25 billion, even after paying its share of expanded coverage. Still, Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders remain opposed.
It’s true that the 95 percent match rate will only last for two years. But plenty of states have put in place triggers that would end their expansion programs if the federal share ever dipped below 90 percent, notes Trish Riley, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy.