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Some Mayors Sound Alarm About What Happens If Federal Relief Falls Short

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It is down to the wire on Capitol Hill after a months-long political tug of war with very real consequences, consequences like whether jobless Americans facing hunger or eviction will get any more relief, whether businesses will have more help to stay in business and whether cities and states get federal dollars to help pay police, firefighters, teachers and other crucial employees. Dayton, Ohio's, Nan Whaley has been one of the mayors sounding the alarm about what happens if federal relief falls short. She's a Democrat, and she joins us now to talk about her concerns.

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

NAN WHALEY: Glad to be with you all today.

CHANG: So tell me - what do you see happening specifically in Dayton, Ohio, if, as it looks to be the case, aid to state and local governments just doesn't make it into this package lawmakers are negotiating on Capitol Hill?

WHALEY: Well, it will have a direct effect on city services. This past year, to get through 2020, we had 102 employees take a voluntary separation program. So we have huge holes throughout the organization that we haven't realigned yet. For example, housing inspection - you know, a number of folks retired in housing inspection. And so that makes housing inspection pretty much almost nonexistent right now. And then for our '21 budget, which is balanced - because we are a local government, we must always balance our budget - we have no police class for '21 and no fire class either.

CHANG: Wow.

WHALEY: So that will mean, you know, as people retire - you know, we have a pretty, you know, robust attrition rate - that one class equals the people coming in. We will have less police officers and firefighters in '21.

CHANG: Let me ask you. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has often called the relief that you are waiting for - that is, state and local relief. He calls that a blue-state bailout - you know, sending money to places that haven't managed their budgets well is how he has characterized it. What do you say to that characterization?

WHALEY: Well, it's so off base. He just has no sense of what's going on on the ground and what's happening in normal people's lives. The fact of the matter is, is when the first care package came, the top 38 cities in the country did receive significant relief. The thousands of other communities that people live in did not receive any. So we're talking about small towns, cities - cities much smaller than Dayton - that haven't seen any sort of fiscal help. And this is where the rubber meets the road and the front-line workers are. So that's what's so frustrating about this, you know, is it has nothing to do with the facts on the ground or what we're seeing in our communities. It just has everything to do with the political football game of the D.C. Beltway.

CHANG: That said, politics aside, some jurisdictions have actually seen their tax revenues pick up since the start of the pandemic. So the urgency to help those particular jurisdictions isn't as great right now. What is the case for Dayton?

WHALEY: Well, we've lost millions of dollars this year and expect the recovery to be very slow in '21. I mean, we still don't have the vaccine in the city of Dayton this week. So, you know, we aren't one of these big cities that has all the assets and access to those kind of things. So...

CHANG: So your front-line health care workers, your senior citizens, they are not getting vaccinated right now.

WHALEY: Right now, no. We're not going to start until Christmas Eve is my understanding, if we get the Moderna vaccine. We have got no Pfizer vaccine in Montgomery County or in Dayton. So there are lots of places across the country like Dayton that are still waiting and still, you know, mired in a very slow economy.

You know, when the Senate was negotiating, they had revenue loss as part of the decision. Absolutely, you know, put it - population and revenue loss. But at the end of the day, the vast majority of small communities and local communities are hurting. And what do we do? We provide police service. We provide fire service. We pick up your trash. We fill your potholes. We move the snow. We provide your water. These are not fancy things we're doing, and it's not something that's a Democrat way or a Republican way of doing this work. And that's what's so frustrating to me is that, you know, the D.C. Beltway has gotten so out of touch that they don't even understand the work that local governments do every day for everyday citizens.

CHANG: So let me ask you, as this debate in Washington over coronavirus relief has gone on and on and on...

WHALEY: On and on and on and on...

CHANG: ...(Laughter) How have you been explaining it to people in Dayton?

WHALEY: I think people, you know, definitely local community leaders, have been watching this for months and months. And, you know, I think that's what people are seeing. They're seeing a D.C. Beltway mentality that is so out of touch of what's going on in everybody's lives on the ground. And, you know, that's hard for me, too, because I believe that, you know, if they stopped playing games and would just do what the American public needs, it would help instill trust in our government. And something I really want to have, too - just give us what we need to get through this pandemic. It's not, you know, cities' fault. It's nobody's fault we're in this situation. The federal government needs to step up and do that.

CHANG: Nan Whaley is the mayor of Dayton, Ohio.

Thank you very much for joining us.

WHALEY: Oh, it's great to be on. Thank you so much for caring about our local communities. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.