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As economy crumbles, Warren, other Mass. lawmakers push Trump to waive state’s share of disaster costs

‘Our state desperately needs more federal assistance,’ lawmakers wrote

Elizabeth Warren and other lawmakers want President Trump to waive Massachusetts's share of disaster costs.
Elizabeth Warren and other lawmakers want President Trump to waive Massachusetts's share of disaster costs.Steven Senne/Associated Press

With the state barreling into — or already in — a pandemic-fueled recession, members of Massachusetts’s federal delegation are urging President Trump to waive a requirement the state help cover certain costs in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a move that could free up millions in funding at the state level.

The lawmakers warned that Massachusetts is staring down “dramatic shortfalls to state and municipal revenues” amid the public health crisis, which some economists estimate could send tax receipts plummeting by billions of dollars and batter even reliable sectors of the local economy.

Trump last month issued a major disaster declaration for Massachusetts, which under the federal assistance program will be reimbursed for 75 percent of response-related costs, including what it spends to quarantine homeless families and first responders, according to Governor Charlie Baker’s office.

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In a letter sent to Trump on Friday, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey and the state’s entire House delegation asked that he direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “waive all of the traditional cost-share requirements for major disaster assistance,” in effect increasing the federal government’s share to 100 percent.

“The scope and costs of the COVID-19 disaster is unparalleled and our state desperately needs more federal assistance,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, citing the “impending state and local budget crises.”

“The economic effects of COVID-19 will be felt long after we control the spread of the pandemic," the lawmakers wrote. "Unemployment is dramatically rising in the Commonwealth and across the country, and with the dire state revenue forecasts on the horizon, Massachusetts and other states will need FEMA to increase the federal cost-share to one hundred percent for emergency work including Direct Federal Assistance.”

How much such a move would save Massachusetts is unclear; an aide to Warren said her office was still gathering estimates on the FEMA funding the state is expected to receive.

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Governor Charlie Baker on Sunday also called for the federal government to help states bail out their budgets, saying in a television appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation" that it’s "important for the feds to support our efforts to fund the stuff we do.”

Yet, Massachusetts’ officials are far from alone in asking for the Trump administration to lessen the burden on states.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer last week also asked FEMA to waive cost-sharing requirements for emergency work in her state, saying the nature of the response “far exceeds the capability” of state officials. In her letter, she said the state had already spent more than $234 million through its State Emergency Operations Center and other efforts to fight the pandemic.

Members of New Jersey’s federal delegation are also asking Trump to eliminate the local cost-sharing for FEMA disaster grants, a move they say would allow the State Police there to recoup millions in costs.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout