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Opinion
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Guest Column
We mayors — a Democrat in St. Petersburg and a Republican in Miami — need President Biden’s American Rescue Plan to save our communities | Column
We cannot afford to wait. Florida’s cities are in agony and are crying out for help.
A member of the Florida National Guard directs vehicles at a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site at Marlins Park in Miami.
A member of the Florida National Guard directs vehicles at a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site at Marlins Park in Miami. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Feb. 3

It’s tough to overstate how desperate the situation has become in Florida’s communities.

Because of pandemic fatigue, or just an overall sense of numbness, it’s understandable that we’ve become desensitized to the immense and catastrophic pain being felt by so many Americans right now. For the friends and families of the more than 27,000 Floridians whom the coronavirus has killed. The 74,000 Floridians who’ve had to go to the hospital with the virus — and the over 6,500 Floridians currently in the hospital. The 650,000 Floridians without a job.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman [ Screenshot ]

And, the countless children in our state have now been hunkered down at home, taking classes on Zoom for nearly a year, separated from their friends and support systems. Lines at food pantries that look like gridlocked freeways. Floridians of all ages are dealing with mental anguish and anxiety and are struggling just to see a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.

If there was ever a time for our government to go big, it’s now. This is the moment. This is the “rainy day” we all hope never comes. There’s no more time to wait and there is no action too bold.

We have the ability to bring an end to this once-in-a-lifetime national nightmare.

President Joe Biden has laid forth his comprehensive American Rescue Plan and it’s already received bipartisan support. The plan is bold and ambitious but even then, there’s nothing in the plan that’s extraneous or not absolutely necessary at this moment.

First and foremost, the American Rescue Plan would help us get our population vaccinated more quickly. The only way we’re ever going to really be able to pull ourselves out of this hole is by vaccinating the vast majority of the population. And, despite the achievement of developing vaccines, we’ve all seen how difficult it is to administer the vaccine efficiently. We need funding to get these life-saving vaccines into arms, immediately.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez [ Provided ]

Second, the plan will finish the job of getting $2,000 checks into the hands of Floridians, providing immediate economic relief to families struggling just to put food on the table and keep the lights on — and, the plan will also fix technical issues to make sure Floridians who didn’t get the checks they were eligible for in the last round of payments.

And for Floridians facing the most economic pain — those who are without a paycheck — the American Rescue Plan will extend federal unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. The plan also addresses other areas of daily life in Florida that are in crisis: It provides rental assistance to renters falling behind, creates access to affordable childcare, and gets additional emergency food and nutrition assistance to the millions of Floridians currently facing hunger.

Finally, the president’s American Rescue Plan would provide the needed funding for states and cities — like St. Petersburg and Miami — that we need just to be able to keep our police officers, firefighters, and other first responders on payroll.

There’s so much more to Biden’s plan — like getting flexible grants to Florida’s small businesses, re-opening schools, and making child care affordable during this crisis — that will help pull us out of this disaster.

But the point is this: we cannot afford to wait. Florida’s cities are in agony and are crying out for help. This is not sustainable.

As mayors, we’re on the ground with our constituents every day and see firsthand how horrific our situation is. Our people need help. Now is not the time for austerity politics or partisan gamesmanship.

To Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and all of Congress: Florida’s — and America’s — mayors are begging you to pass the president’s bill and get your people the help they need.

Rick Kriseman is the Democratic mayor of St. Petersburg. Francis Suarez is the Republican mayor of Miami.