WASHINGTON, Jan 19 (Reuters) - The $350 billion in
coronavirus relief aid for state and local governments has
allowed U.S. cities to respond faster and stronger to an ever
changing COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen
said on Wednesday.
Yellen told a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors that
the response by state and local governments is helping to blunt
the impact of the highly-contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.
"Omicron has presented a challenge and will likely impact
some of the data in the coming months, but I am confident it
will not derail what has been one of the strongest periods of
economic growth in a century," Yellen said.
She said that the $350 billion State and Local Fiscal
Recovery Fund, which enabled cities to be flexible in how they
aided their populations, had led them to be "much readier to
"Rather than one burst of money that could only be spent in
certain ways, it called for sustained funding, and our Treasury
team has worked hard so you can use the money as flexibly as
possible," Yellen added.
She cited several examples of local uses of the funds, from
$1,000 signing bonuses for new teachers at child-care centers in
Columbus, Ohio, to Hawaii's move to reverse its decision to
furlough 10,000 state employees.
Minnesota has authorized more than $80 million in funds from
the program for health needs, ranging from rapid COVID-19 tests
to emergency surge staffing in hospitals, while St. Louis used
$58 million from its allocation to spare residents from
evictions and homelessness, supplementing rental assistance
funds, she said.
Yellen added that funding from the Biden administration's
$1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus package allowed
cities to move from fighting fires to "start building a better
The Treasury chief struck an optimistic tone on the White
House's sweeping Build Back Better social and climate spending
bill, despite contentious congressional negotiations clouding
"While we dont know the final form this will take, it will
revolutionize how we care for children in this country, invest
in climate change, and overhaul the international tax system to
ensure corporations pay their fair share," Yellen said.
(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Kim Coghill and Paul