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Rep. Thompson backs virus relief aid for smaller counties

Thompson’s office estimated President Biden’s coronavirus relief proposal would deliver about $142.6 million to parts of Sonoma County in his district.|

Rep. Mike Thompson on Tuesday said he’s hopeful that smaller local governments, such as Sonoma County and Santa Rosa, will be eligible for tens of millions of dollars in direct aid under President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal.

Thompson hosted a virtual press conference Tuesday to tout the importance of delivering federal aid to state and local governments, and in doing so, he advocated for the removal of a cap in previous COVID-19 legislation that limited direct payments to counties and cities based on a 500,000-person population threshold.

"It needs to be as easily implemented as possible,“ Thompson, D-St. Helena, said of the new funding to bolster state and city budgets. ”And anytime you can take a step out of the mix, we should do that.“

The Biden proposal as written could deliver tens of millions of dollars combined to Sonoma County and Santa Rosa within a couple months of passage. The county and city have previously reported combined revenue losses and pandemic-related expenses of more than $130 million.

Thompson’s office estimated that as written, the legislation would deliver about $142.6 million to parts of Sonoma County in his district, including $97 million to the county itself and $34 million to Santa Rosa. Petaluma would likely be eligible, too, but Thompson’s office did not include an estimate for the county’s second-largest city, which is represented by his Democratic colleague, Rep. Jared Huffman of San Rafael.

Thompson also said he is “pretty pleased” generally with the initial COVID-19 response package proposed by Biden in the first weeks of his presidency. It would include $350 billion total for local governments — more than twice the size of the $150 billion fund for state and local governments appropriated last spring in the CARES Act. Local governments also would be able to use money obtained through the Biden plan to replace lost revenue, whereas CARES Act funding was limited to expenses directly incurred as a result of the pandemic.

Biden’s proposal, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, is moving through legislative committees before consideration by the full House and Senate.

As initially written, Biden's plan would eliminate a direct-aid provision that disqualified jurisdictions like Sonoma County because they have populations under 500,000 people. The new funding would be split proportionally based on population, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which is tasked with turning that part of Biden’s agenda into legislation.

Thompson, a 12-term veteran in Congress, sits on the influential House Ways and Means Committee, which is advancing several other key aspects of Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Much of his 5th District, including Sonoma, Napa, Solano and Lake counties, missed out on direct federal aid checks in the CARES Act because of the population provision.

Local representatives have petitioned him over the past several months to advocate for increased access to direct aid, and Thompson said he’s listening.

“I know it’s an issue,” Thompson said, noting that he’s brought it up with Democratic chairs of other House committees. “I’ve worked with our cities that fall outside of the preferred numbers ... Folks are aware about the concern, and I’m hopeful, and I’ll keep working on it.”

GOP stalls new funding

Though Republicans and Democrats agreed on the need to fund state and local governments in the CARES Act, GOP opposition scuttled any new funding in December.

But with Democrats now in control of the White House and the Senate, as well as the House, they can pass their preferred legislation without a single Republican supporter through a process known as “reconciliation” — a legislative tool typically reserved for budget bills.

Thompson said he’d prefer not to use the option but would support that path if it came down to it.

“I’d rather have a good, cohesive, bipartisan working environment where everybody comes to the table and tries to solve the problem,” Thompson said. “But it became pretty clear pretty quickly that that wasn’t going to be the case."

The Democrats remain open to collaboration, Thompson stressed, but “absent that, we’re going to do it through reconciliation.”

Thompson was joined on his Tuesday press conference call, streamed live over Facebook, by several public and private officials from within his district. Among them was Mark Bodenhamer, CEO of the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce, who backed Thompson’s call for increased government aid.

“State and local governments saw firsthand the importance of a strong, healthy local economy when tax revenue plummeted last spring,” said Bodenhamer. “Similarly, businesses saw the importance of a well-funded local government when local municipalities scrambled to adapt local codes and ordinances to allow businesses to creatively expand their operations outdoors.”

Watch the press conference here.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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