A man wearing a mask walks by an empty storefront in Portland on Wednesday Feb. 10, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Alan Casavant is the mayor of Biddeford. Kate Snyder is the mayor of Portland. They wrote this commentary on behalf of the Mayors’ Coalition.

The mayors of many of Maine’s largest cities have witnessed firsthand the struggle the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. Local government is the economic engine of our communities, and we have had no choice but to continue providing the essential services necessary to keep our cities running, even without help from the federal government. We are calling on our United States senators to step up and give us the help we need, help that is included in President Joe Biden’s “American Rescue Plan,” to provide relief to state and local governments.

This legislation contains $350 billion in direct aid to states and local communities and would deliver the funds necessary to secure public sector jobs and point us in the direction of a more stable economy. We have been on the frontline overseeing the public health crisis coronavirus has created. This has given us an on-the-ground understanding of the immediate and long-term needs we are facing. Providing quick, direct and flexible relief to communities will be the most effective way to help our greater communities that have gone without help for too long.

We understand this has certainly created a time of sacrifice for everyone. Businesses are pinching pennies to keep their doors open, and families are taking on second or third jobs to put food on the table. We commend the fact that these groups will likely receive additional help through the current relief package, but we simply cannot afford to forget local governments once again. We are facing increased costs and demands on our resources that maintain essential services in general assistance, first responder protection, education and more.

We’ve tightened our budgets and made necessary cuts that avoid major setbacks, but our dollars will only stretch so far. We do not want to head down the tough road of having to choose between keeping libraries open or further delaying repair of our decaying roads and bridges. Furloughs and job cuts are also on the table for many states and localities. These losses wouldn’t only affect the efficiency of government services, but would further add to the state’s already bogged unemployment.

We are here to assist and partner with our senators to provide relief to Mainers. Our federal delegation has a history of standing together in times of crisis and we must do so now. The swift support from our senators for funding to state and local governments is a crucial step to keeping our communities afloat.

We thank our senators for their continued leadership during this pandemic.