Orange County has received $554 million from the federal government for relief from costs related to the coronavirus outbreak, its CEO said Thursday.
The state received $15.3 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, with 45% of that available for governments with populations exceeding 500,000, county’s CEO Frank Kim said.
Kim called the money an “incredibly needed resource at a time when the county like most other counties are utilizing general revenue funds to address this challenging” crisis.
County officials received a 3 1/2-page letter from federal officials on how the money is meant to be spent, Kim said.
“We obviously have some questions on the various ways we can utilize those funds,” Kim said. “Those conversations are ongoing with the Department of Treasury.”
Orange County’s coronavirus-related expenses include a “robust” testing program that includes contact tracing and quarantining of the sick and supplies of personal protection equipment for first responders, Kim said.
“We have to restore the supplies of PPEs that the county Health Care Agency is maintaining in our warehouses,” Kim said. “All of these expenses come first. But you have to have a plan for the next few months. That money is available until the end of December.”
Funds from the CARES Act cannot be used for the backfill of lost revenue, Kim said.
“That’s an important item to understand,” Kim said.
Several mayors are seeking a portion of the funds.
Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu said his city should get about $60 million.
“The money is coming from the state to the county, and the county has to distribute that money,” Sidhu said. “What is the county going to do with all that money, that’s what I want to know. They have to respond. They can’t just say no.”
Sidhu said the city’s costs for combating COVID-19 have been escalating.
“We’re already spending a lot of money,” he said. “And we already have an economy that is shut down, no money coming in. We’re spending reserves right now to fight this.
“The county cannot sit on that money while our revenues are going south, and they have to be funding us somehow.”
Kim said “the local money for those cities is up at the state.”
Most Orange County mayors signed a letter appealing for their share from the county’s allotment, arguing that it should be divvied up according to population.
Irvine Mayor Christina Shea agrees.
“What are they going to do with all that money is beyond me, so all of our cities are frustrated,” Shea said of having no guarantees the county will share some of the funding.
“We’re expecting a huge downturn in our economic base because we have so many businesses closing,” Shea said. “Almost 8,000 employees from local companies have been furloughed and are going to be laid off.
“The good part is we have large reserves and no debt, so compared to most cities we’ll be in a position to weather the storm, but we are going to need those dollars to backfill.”
A lawsuit may result if the cities do not share in the money, Shea said.
“We should all be working together as a team,” Shea said.
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