Opinion | The Money Machine That Can Save Cities – By Claudia Sahm – The New York Times

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Ms. Sahm was an economist at the Federal Reserve from 2008 to 2019.

Credit…Eva Hambach/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“State and local budgets across the United States are beginning to buckle under the economic strain caused by Covid-19. Because the economy is essentially in a medically induced coma, sales tax revenue and revenue from other business taxes have dried up. That means the funds to take care of communities — to pay teachers, to support Medicaid, to hire emergency medical workers, to maintain roads, to build low-income housing — are also drying up.

Because 40 out of 50 states have laws mandating that both the state’s overall budget and the budgets of nearly all cities be balanced, state governments are already laying off employees and cutting services. More than 14,000 workers in state governments lost their jobs in March. Terrifyingly, those losses, counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only stretch through mid-March, before the shutdowns were nationwide.

Local officials were blindsided by this crisis and the costs it required to rapidly ramp up medical care and the social safety net. But so far Congress has allocated only $150 billion for state and local governments from the trillions of dollars its approved for pandemic relief. It’s too little and often it’s arriving too late.

The Federal Reserve knows this. And so, the central bank, with consent from Congress and in partnership with the Treasury, has joined the effort to shore up local and state finances by taking the unprecedented move of “backstopping the municipal bond market.” “