May 13, 2020 / 5:29 PM / 2 months ago

U.S. governors seek Washington aid to fight 'red, white and blue' pandemic

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, May 13 (Reuters) - Governors of the 50 U.S. states on Wednesday urged leaders in Washington to abandon partisanship and deliver relief to cities and states facing economic disaster in their efforts to battle what they called a “red, white and blue pandemic.”

The plea followed the unveiling on Tuesday of a $3 trillion-plus coronavirus relief package by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The proposal would provide funding for states, businesses and families.

Without specifically mentioning Tuesday’s bill, the bipartisan National Governors Association asked Congress to deliver “urgent state fiscal relief.”

“This is not a red state and blue state crisis ... It does not attack Democrats or Republicans. It attacks Americans,” the association’s chair, Maryland’s Larry Hogan, a Republican, and its vice chair, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, wrote in a statement citing colors applied to their respective parties.

“The nation’s governors are counting on our leaders in Washington to come together, put partisanship aside, and to get this done for the American people,” they said.

The proposed legislation, more than doubling the congressional financial response to the crisis, includes nearly $1 trillion in long-sought assistance for state and local governments bearing the brunt of a pandemic that has infected nearly 1.4 million people in the United States and killed more than 82,000.

Republicans in Congress want to hold off on new coronavirus relief to assess the impact of nearly $3 trillion in assistance that Congress has allocated since early March.

“It’s dead on arrival here,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said of the House bill.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday called the U.S. response to date “particularly swift and forceful,” but also called for additional fiscal spending.

“There is a sense, growing sense I think, that the recovery may come more slowly than we would like. But it will come, and that may mean that it’s necessary for us to do more,” Powell said in a webcast by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, the city hardest hit by the pandemic, appealed to U.S. President Donald Trump, a native New Yorker, to back the additional funding.

“The difference maker right now ... is obviously the president of the United States. And I’ll say it simply today. Mr. President, we’re looking to you. Your hometown is looking to you and cities and states all over the country,” de Blasio said at his daily briefing.

REOPENING

States and cities are experimenting with ways to safely reopen after the coronavirus outbreak shuttered businesses and forced tens of millions of Americans out of work.

But as the lockdowns have eased, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has steadily increased its projections for U.S. deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. On Tuesday, it revised its estimate to more than 147,000 deaths by early August, up nearly 10,000.

In Congress on Tuesday, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, urged states to wait for clear signs of improvement, such as a significant decline in new infections, and warned of a potential new outbreak that would risk lives and set back economic recovery if they eased restrictions too soon.

Governors have defended their decisions to reopen and said they were meeting Fauci’s recommended metrics.

“I really believe in this slow and steady reopening,” Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo told MSNBC on Wednesday. “My goal of course is to reopen once.”

Companies facing a precipitous loss in revenue are also anxious to re-open.

Tesla Inc and officials in California reached a deal to allow production at its electric vehicle assembly plant in Fremont to resume as early as Monday, county officials said on Wednesday. Earlier in the week, CEO Elon Musk vowed to defy authorities to open the plant.

Two Canadian government sources said on Wednesday that Canada and the United States appeared likely to extend a ban on non-essential travel until June 21. The border between the two stretches 8,891 km (5,525 miles) and is a crossing point for one of the world’s largest bilateral trading relationships.

Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Doina Chiacu in Washington, Writing by Sonya Hepinstall, Editing by Howard Goller

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