JAY WAGNER & NANCY VAUGHAN: For the sake of our cities, pass the Rescue Act

Posted February 17, 2021 5:00 a.m. EST

FILE -- A group of volunteers hand off food donations in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. More than one million people filed for unemployment benefits last week. (Stephen Speranza/The New York Times)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Nancy Vaughan is mayor of Greensboro. Jay Wagner is mayor of High Point. This column originally appeared in the Greensboro News & Record.

This week, North Carolina crossed 10,000 COVID deaths. For the sake of our state and our country, pass the American Rescue Act and end this crisis.

The coronavirus doesn’t know — or care — if you’re a Republican or a Democrat.

In North Carolina alone, more than 10,000 have died, leaving behind countless loved ones not knowing how they’ll ever be able to fill the immeasurable hole in their lives.

As this virus raged through our cities and towns, we did what we could, making hard choices to try to fight the spread without a widely available vaccine.

Children were sent home from school and relegated to their bedrooms, sitting on Zoom calls with their teachers and classmates in little boxes on laptop screens.

Businesses had to reduce capacity and many had to lay off employees. Some had to shut their doors for good.

The majority of North Carolinians — moms and dads, sons and daughters in working families across our state — were either feeling the pain of the virus itself, or the pain of missed paychecks and crippling economic anxiety.

Hope is finally on the horizon. The light at the end of this long tunnel is within sight. At long last, safe and effective vaccines are available and being administered across North Carolina.

But that doesn’t mean our work is done — far from it. Right now, the task ahead of us is complex and massive. We need to quickly stand up an enormous vaccination system, while simultaneously rescuing millions of North Carolinians from the economic cliff.

One of us is a Republican and one of us is a Democrat. Though not far apart geographically — less than 20 miles — we represent two distinct and different communities in central North Carolina. Nevertheless, the crises we are facing are the same. We need big, bold solutions.

Earlier assistance from Congress has been helpful, but it has left the job undone and our cities need direct assistance to cover losses and allow us to rebuild our communities. We understand the need for fiscal responsibility. State law requires balanced budgets. Despite our best efforts, the fiscal challenges the pandemic has caused for local governments are unprecedented.

Greensboro’s new Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts and the Greensboro Coliseum remain idle and the High Point Market, a major economic powerhouse, has struggled during the pandemic to generate the economic activity so critical to our region and state. We want the tools and the kind of help from Washington that can revitalize our cities, our communities, businesses and families.

The American Rescue Plan will give our cities the resources we need to fund our essential services — such as keeping our police and firefighters on the job. It’ll fund a vaccination program of the scope we need to end this pandemic. It’ll provide economic relief to North Carolinians facing economic desperation — through $1,400 checks, extended unemployment insurance benefits, rental and utility assistance, affordable child care, and emergency food and nutrition assistance — the kind of help we know can make a difference. We need more tools to rescue North Carolina’s small businesses from further pain through flexible grants and low-cost capital.

This is the time for action of a scope that none of us has ever had to undergo in our lifetimes.

We are just two mayors — standing together, not as a Democrat or a Republican, but as local leaders fighting for our communities. We speak for mayors across North Carolina when we say to all of Congress — we need bold action like the American Rescue Plan, and we need it now.

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