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Ken Russell calls for federal help, expects COVID-19 impact to be worse than Great Recession

Only Jacksonville qualifies for relief already approved.

Miami Commissioner Ken Russell is calling for financial assistance from the federal government as the city of Miami deals with the fiscal fallout from the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“The forecasts that I’m hearing from our budget department look very similar — if not worse — to what we went through after the crash of 2008-09 from a financial perspective,” Russell said on a Zoom conference Monday.

“So the question is, will the federal government also be helping stabilize municipalities? Up to now, their first packages have dealt with municipalities over [a population of] half a million. Believe it or not, there’s only one in the state of Florida that is [over that number] and it’s Jacksonville. It’s not even Miami. The city of Miami is at 480,000.”

Russell spoke Monday to Orlando Gonzales of Safeguarding American Values for Everyone (SAVE) regarding the impact of COVID-19. Rep. Nick Duran, who represents portions of Miami-Dade County, also joined the conference.

Russell said he and Duran are pushing the federal government to expand the number of cities eligible for federal financial assistance going forward.

“Rep. Duran and I were working with Congresswoman [Donna] Shalala with regard to the next package and making sure that is has language in it that speaks to cities under half a million, that there will be efforts to stabilize those governments in the next rescue packages to help make sure those costs that we are incurring on behalf of our taxpayers have some sort of relief,” Russell said.

“Otherwise, we certainly will be in dire straits financially down the road.”

The economic slowdown triggered by the novel coronavirus has had significant effects on city revenues. And Russell noted Miami was especially feeling the impact given its moves early on to shut down large gatherings.

“The city of Miami was one of the very first municipalities to enact the closure of massive events like Ultra and the Calle Ocho Festival,” Russell recalled.

“These big steps were looked at as controversial earlier and they were not taken lightly. But I’m so glad that we did it early on.”

Still, as the city has continued to ramp up its social distancing measures, the economic forecasts have become more dire. Russell did say, however, that the city has not been forced to fire or furlough any employees as of yet.

Miami-Dade County continues to lead the state in confirmed tests, with nearly 7,200 as of Monday morning. The city of Miami accounts for more than 4,300 of those cases. The second-ranking city in Florida is Hollywood, located just north in Broward County. That city has just 953 confirmed positives.

The drag on the economy has also triggered hurt in the private sector as well, with hundreds of thousands of Floridians filing for unemployment.

The Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) website has struggled to handle the influx of unemployment applications, often locking out applicants entirely. Monday, Duran called Florida’s unemployment system a “disaster.”

“Unfortunately, we seem to have been two steps behind when it comes to realizing that some of these programs like this had to be ready to go as we see that people are now stuck at home and businesses are going to have to start letting people go or furloughing individuals,” Duran said.

He did note that some progress had been made by DEO officials in the past week.

“They now have 72 new servers. They’ve hired call centers with hundreds of individuals that they have trained over the course of the last week. They’re all in place right now. I know that it’s starting to work a bit more because a lot of the individuals, the constituents, who call our office and ask for some assistance are getting through now. They have begun to move through on those issues,” Duran said.

But Duran continued his calls to allow Floridians to receive unemployment benefits dated back to when they first lost their jobs.

Currently, Floridians can only receive benefits upon applying. But Democratic leaders have called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to waive that restriction as many have been blocked by the system and been unable to apply.

Written By

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

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