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States plead for more federal help as outbreak worsens

With more shutdowns looming and a vaccine months away from wide distribution, governors across the U.S. are pleading for more help from Washington ahead of what is shaping up to be a bleak winter.

Renewed restrictions on indoor businesses, overloaded hospitals and the coming end of unemployment benefits for millions of Americans have led governors to paint a dire picture of the months ahead unless the federal government steps in with more money and leadership to help them shore up their damaged budgets and beat back the resurgence of the coronavirus.

Between now and June 2022, state and local governments could be facing a shortfall of $400 billion or more by some estimates.

On a conference call Tuesday of Democratic governors from the Midwest, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers called for a sequel to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act adopted by Congress in March.

“There are workers and families and farmers and small businesses that are going to need our help, and frankly, we can’t do it alone,” he said. “We’re going to need a robust federal support system to help our states and economies recover beyond the federal CARES funds that expire at the end of the year.”

Casey Katims, federal liaison for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, said the situation there is too dire for the state to wait until President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in Jan. 20.

“We need help by the end of this year,” Katims said.

In a news conference Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, made a similar push. “Everyone on both sides of the aisle in Washington needs to come together and finally get this done for the American people,” he said.

And in Colorado on Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, called a special legislative session to craft a $220 million state virus-related stimulus measure. “Even as cases have exploded across the country, Congress and the president have not yet passed much needed relief for people. Here in Colorado, we want to do the best with what we have to take care of our own,” he said.

The cost of distributing tens of millions of doses of a vaccine in 2021 is also emerging as a major concern for governors. State health authorities have called on Congress to provide $8.4 billion.

A new infusion of federal money does not appear to be on the way anytime soon. A lame-duck session of Congress and a presidential administration on its way out have chilled the prospects for a deal.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans generally say a new stimulus bill is needed, but they disagree on the scope of it. Some Republicans are opposed to another round of checks directly to most taxpayers, and some don’t want Washington to “bail out” state and local governments that had financial struggles before the pandemic.

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