Approximately 707 of Minnesota’s 853 cities have fewer than 5,000 residents. These mostly rural communities, their local businesses, and their residents, are profoundly feeling the impacts of COVID-19 and its economic implications. When they return to work, we need our federal leaders to set aside partisan differences and pass the next COVID-19 relief package, while ensuring that it provides direct appropriations and relief to communities of all sizes; not just large cities and the counties.
As we enter into the eighth month of the pandemic in the US, Minnesota’s small cities are doing their best to endure the grim reality of significant revenue losses and sizable budgetary gaps, which are forcing painful decisions and significant cuts to essential city services at a time when our businesses and residents need these services the most. Local governments find themselves in uncharted territory, having to simultaneously manage and implement multiple, “new” responsibilities, including the continuing mitigation of COVID-19 spread, maintaining critical services to protect public health, planning for economic stability, and preparation for an economic rebound. Economists predict that the full effect of paused economic activity throughout the country has not even yet been fully realized. Without immediate action, this devastating picture for small cities is expected to only worsen.
Federal CARES Act dollars (CRF) released earlier this summer have already been used by more than 400 cities on COVID-19- related expenditures, including grants to local businesses; many of which face permanent closures. However, cities are not permitted to use CRF to cover lost revenue or budget shortfalls. What our small cities desperately need at this juncture is direct financial aid so we can maintain the important services our main street businesses and residents rely upon every day.
It is time for our federal elected officials to set aside divisions and provide additional, direct and flexible relief to local governments, small businesses, and residents as part of the relief package now being negotiated. It is imperative that any agreement includes flexible tools for main street businesses and our residents, who face both economic and health issues as the pandemic and its related restrictions persist. Minnesota cities desperately need leaders in Congress to reach an agreement that can help sustain our communities during this very difficult time.
The Minnesota Association of Small Cities is an organization run by local officials and is dedicated to serving our network of member cities across the state of Minnesota. We advocate for and provide assistance to the 700+ cities with populations of less than 5,000. MAOSC pursues productive collaboration between city officials and our state and federally elected officials, with the goal of keeping our communities thriving and maintaining the Minnesota way of life.
Tim Burkhardt is Minnesota Small Cities president. Cap O’Rourke is Minnesota Small Cities executive director.