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Maine’s leaders join AFSCME in demanding urgent federal aid to states, cities and towns

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By AFSCME Staff ·

In a press call on Monday, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders and International Vice Pres. Mark Bernard, who is Council 93’s Exec. Dir., joined Maine’s Gov. Janet Mills, Sen. Angus King and Augusta City Manager Bill Bridgeo in calling on the Senate to deliver urgent federal relief for states, cities, towns and schools.

Maine will face a projected $528 million shortfall for the 2021 fiscal year, according to The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, leading to a severe funding crisis for schools, health care and other critical services. Maine’s cities are struggling to cope with the economic fallout due to COVID-19, and without federal aid, Maine is estimated to lose 21,100 public and private sector jobs by the end of next year. 

“If you had told me in May that we still wouldn’t have another COVID-19 relief bill by September, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said President Saunders. “If Susan Collins and her colleagues in the Senate don’t pass a relief bill with robust, direct aid to states, cities, towns and schools, there will be catastrophic job loss in both the public and private sectors. The economic and health impact will be felt in every community nationwide.”

Everyday heroes—nurses, EMS workers, sanitation workers, child care providers, home care workers, public safety workers and more—who have exposed themselves and their families to risk over the last six months will be on the chopping block, thanked for their bravery with pinks slips.

Mark Bernard, an AFSCME IVP and the Exec. Dir. of Council 93, urged Sen. Susan Collins to show the same bravery that Maine’s 2,700 AFSCME members have shown throughout the pandemic.

“We are urging Maine’s Republican Senator Susan Collins to secure aid for Maine,” said Bernard. “We’re urging her to put strong public pressure on Leader McConnell. It will take courage. But the thousands of public sector workers in Maine who’ve served on the front lines are demonstrating far greater courage. Honor their courage.”

Sen. Angus King likened the economic fallout of the pandemic to a natural disaster.

“When we have a hurricane or natural disaster, it never occurs to me to ask whether the state that needs the help is a red state or blue state,” said King. “What we’re facing now is a slow-motion fiscal hurricane wiping out budgets across the country, in red state and blue states.”

King added, “The administration seems to be pretending this is over. But it’s not over. The failure of the administration and the Senate majority is a failure of the American people. There’s no excuse for it.”

Gov. Janet Mills thanked AFSCME members for doing their part to speed Maine’s recovery since the pandemic began.

“That progress would never have been possible without dedicated AFSCME members at every level. You work hard every day to deliver critical services. You are the backbone of our public sector and we need you like never before.”

Mills warned, however, that if Congress and the Senate do not deliver urgent aid to states, cities, town and schools, Maine will be forced to make serious cuts to public services.

“I’m here today to call upon Congress and every senator to do their jobs, so we can do ours.”

Augusta City Manager Bill Bridgeo also underscored the severity of the crisis and the need for urgent aid. As a city manager for the last 40 years, Bridgeo said the pandemic is the “biggest crisis that I have dealt with.”

He also described the painful process of having to eliminate 32 of the 240 full-time Augusta city employees.

“I felt the obligation to meet with those who were being laid off. That’s an excruciating and painful process,” said Bridgeo. “We’re holding our breath at this point in time, hoping deeply that the Senate, Congress and the president will realize that aid to states, cities and towns is vital.”

Whether it’s Maine or any other state, the message couldn’t be clearer: Congress needs to fund the front lines.

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