Kemp rails against ‘unlevel playing field’ of $1.9T coronavirus relief package

Gov. Brian Kemp and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey talk with Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency Director Chris Stallings at the covid vaccination site outside of the Delta Flight Museum in Hapeville on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 24, 2021.Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Gov. Brian Kemp and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey talk with Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency Director Chris Stallings at the covid vaccination site outside of the Delta Flight Museum in Hapeville on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 24, 2021.Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Gov. Brian Kemp urged federal lawmakers to overhaul the funding formula written into the $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package to give Georgia a bigger share of the economic relief.

The Republican sent the state’s congressional delegation a letter this week saying the formula was “unacceptable” because it relies on metrics that benefit states with higher unemployment rates.

“Georgians should not be punished by a federal government hoping to tip the scales in favor of other states who chose to decimate their economies,” he wrote in the letter.

He’s referring to a change in the complex formula that guides how roughly $350 billion in direct aid to state and local governments is doled out.

The relief package that passed last year took population, the rate of coronavirus cases and unemployment rate into account. The latest version places a greater emphasis on the average number of unemployed people in each jurisdiction during the end of 2020.

That could wind up hurting Georgia, Kemp said, because the state’s unemployment rate hovered around 5 percent while some other states with more stringent economic limits had higher jobless rates.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have staked enormous political capital on the relief package, which so far has no Republican support in Congress but has been embraced by Georgia Democrats as a pressing priority.

And Georgia’s two newly elected U.S. senators -- essentially, the deciding votes for the measure -- have vowed to approve the measure. U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff last week toured Grady Memorial Hospital, calling it essential to containing the pandemic.

Supporters say only a robust package will help the sluggish national economy rebound, and point to incentives such as a $15 minimum wage hike and a round of $1,400 relief checks. Republicans favor more targeted initiatives and say Biden’s package amounts to wasteful spending.

Kemp didn’t wade into the broader back-and-forth after touring a mass vaccination site at the Delta Flight Museum. Instead he homed in on the formula, which he said would punish Georgia for a “measured reopening here, because we’ve been fiscally conservative and we’ve made hard choices.”

“I think it’s a very unlevel playing field,” he said.

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