Supporters say the Local Jobs for America Act could stave off further layoffs of city and county workers.
In the first week of May, as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new budget that would shrink the city's workforce by nearly 11,000 employees, local government associations continued lobbying Congress in support of legislation that might save at least some of those jobs. The Local Jobs for America Act (LJAA) is gathering support in the House and may soon be introduced in the Senate.
New York's situation is shared by large cities around the country, and it will continue to worsen without passage of the LJAA, says Larry Jones, assistant executive director for the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors. LJAA would provide $100 billion over several years to local communities to hold off planned cuts or to hire back workers for local services who have been laid off because of tight budgets, Jones says. More than 70 percent would be paid directly to cities with populations of more than 50,000 people, while the rest would be siphoned to smaller communities through the states.
By early May, the bill had 158 co-sponsors in the House, plus its original sponsor, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. If supporters can gain 200 co-sponsors, Jones says, Miller will ask for a vote on the floor.
After that, they will urge the Senate to move a similar bill there, and Jones says some senators have indicated that they would introduce that bill soon.
While he has no timeline for when the bill may be voted on, Jones does not think the current spending-averse atmosphere in Congress will impede LJAA's progress. "There's also the concern, we know, both in the public and in Congress that, when you're looking at public sector jobs, and you're talking about services like police, fire, teachers, bus drivers, these are all considered essential services," Jones says. "So, there's a feeling that you cannot afford to let these drop below certain levels, and in many cases [cities] have already reached that [dangerous level]."
The LJAA funding distribution mechanism is based on the Community Development Block Grant program, in which cities with more than 50,000 people get the funding directly and smaller cities receive funds through the states. However, the formula is based onnumbers (50 percent), poverty level (25 percent) and population (25 percent). Half of the funding can be used to retain employees who might otherwise lose their jobs because of budget shortfalls; 25 percent can be given to community-based organizations to hire employees to provide services or functions not customarily provided by local government employees; and 5 percent of the funding can be used for program administration.