WASHINGTON — Twenty-one Republican governors and one Democrat are taking aim at a key component of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill, arguing a proposed allocation of funds “punishes” states that did not fully lock down businesses amid the pandemic.
The governors, led by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, issued a statement over the weekend critical of what they called a “biased” formula used to decide how much money in direct aid each states receives. One Democrat, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, also supported the statement.
Biden’s bill, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, proposes $350 billion in direct aid to state and city governments to replenish tax revenue collections that declined during the pandemic. Most of the funding for each state would be based on its unemployment figures – not overall population. States where the most citizens were out of work last year would receive a greater share.
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That arrangement “punishes states that took a measured approach to the pandemic and entered the crisis with healthy state budgets and strong economies,” the governors said in the statement.
“A state’s ability to keep businesses open and people employed should not be a penalizing factor when distributing funds. If Congress is going to provide aid to states, it should be on an equitable population basis.”
Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill passed the Democratic-controlled House early Saturday morning by a mostly party-line 219-212 vote. It now heads to the evenly divided Senate, where a vote is expected this week.
The White House declined to comment.
Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harris, responding to the governors’ criticism, tweeted, “There is idiotic and then there is this! SC, wake up!” Harris, former state party chairman in South Carolina, touted how the bill would deliver $1,400 stimulus check as well as funding for vaccinations, schools and housing.
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House Republicans have seized on the funding formula to allege Biden’s bill disproportionately helps “states run by the Democrat majority’s political allies.”
Thirty-three states would receive fewer funds than if the formula were based on population, according to an analysis from the office of Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, the top Republican on the House Budget Committee. Twenty-three of the states are led by Republican governors and 10 by Democratic governors.
The five states that would see their funding decrease the most are Georgia, Florida, Virginia, South Carolina and Alabama, according to the analysis. Only Virginia has a Democratic governor.
The five states that would get the biggest financial boost by using unemployment as a criteria are California, New York, New Jersey, Texas and Nevada. Only Texas has a Republican governor. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is not among the 22 governors who signed on to the statement.
While few Republican governors have voiced support for Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill, the legislation has garnered the public backing of 32 Republican mayors who say their cash-challenged cities need the assistance. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has been perhaps the most outspoken Republican governor in support of the bill’s passage.
“There are many needs within states,” Justice told USA TODAY last month.
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Biden has touted the aid as a way for governments to pay police officers and firefighters, keep libraries and recreation centers open, and provide other core services. That’s in addition to $130 billion proposed to help reopen public schools.
Biden met with nine Republican senators virtually Monday to discuss the Senate’s vote on the relief bill.
“The group had a good discussion and was united in the goal of quickly passing a significant package that reflects the scope of the challenges our country is facing,” the White House said.
Other governors who supported the statement are: Kay Ivey (R-Ala.), Mike Dunleavy (R-Ark.), Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.), Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), Brian Kemp (R-Ga.), Brad Little (R-Idaho), Eric Holcomb (R-Ind.), Kim Reynolds (R-Iowa), Tate Reeves (R-Miss.), Mike Parson (R-Mo.), Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.), Chris Sununu (R-N.H.), Doug Burgum (R-N.D.), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Kevin Stitt (R-Okla.), Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), Bill Lee (R-Tenn.), Spencer Cox (R-Utah) and Mark Gordon (R-Wyo.).
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @Joeygarrison.