Details of a plan to share $101 million in funding from the federal coronavirus relief bill with cities and nonprofit organizations was released Thursday by two Orange County supervisors.
Several mayors have been lobbying county officials for a share of the $554 million the county received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Security Act to help pay for COVID-19-related expenses, and on Tuesday, Supervisor Don Wagner proposed doling out $75 million to small businesses, but the move was rejected.
Supervisors Andrew Do and Lisa Bartlett teamed up to propose the HEART Plan. The funding would be used to help small businesses that had to close during Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order, help cities pay COVID-19-related expenses and provide food for the needy.
The money would be distributed evenly among each of the county’s five supervisorial districts as suggested by Supervisor Doug Chaffee on Tuesday.
County officials expect to use the funding to cover $453 million in COVID-19 pandemic-related expenses such as overtime for staff responding to coronavirus emergencies as well as public health and medical costs.
“There are so many different needs out there” other than the loss of economic activity sustained by small businesses, Do said.
Do cited examples such as unemployed residents who can’t cover food expenses for their families and seniors too at risk to go out shopping who can’t afford to have food delivered to them.
“It’s all part of the economic support category” covered in the federal coronavirus relief bill, Do said.
The board will consider the plan at its Tuesday meeting.
Meanwhile, the county supervisors and mayors of 33 Orange County cities signed a letter Wednesday lobbying Congress to support the $3 trillion coronavirus response bill introduced by House Democrats.
The letter advocated for “dedicated and flexible funding for all local governments” in the bill dubbed as The Heroes Act
The bill includes funding for “hazard pay” for employees in “essential” businesses such as grocery stores that remained open during the pandemic.
The supervisors and mayors asked for “two separate and equally sized funds for direct payments to counties and cities,” with one fund for counties based on population and another fund for cities “using a fair distribution formula.”
A key to the funding sought by the mayors and county would be money to “make up for lost revenue” during the pandemic.
The letter states that rising costs combating the coronavirus has depleted the rainy day funds of the municipalities at a time when sales tax revenue has receded due to the quarantine orders.
“We thought it was important to express our position and enthusiastic support for that funding,” Kim told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.
“We know that counties and cities have had a devastating loss of revenue and maintaining our infrastructure will be challenging this coming year,” Kim said.
Kim said a public safety tax represents 80% of funding for the sheriff’s department and 20% for the District Attorney’s Office, and county officials expect a loss of about $140 million in that funding because of the pandemic.
Sales tax and vehicle license fee funding has “dropped dramatically,” Kim said.
Demands from the public for relief such as food stamps is rising significantly, Kim said.
Kim said there has been a “100% rise in demand for food assistance programming” during the pandemic and a 20% rise in requests for MediCal services.
“We’re going to be asked to do more with fewer employees and we’ll struggle” to pay for relief funding, Kim said.
Rep. Mike Levin, D-Dana Point, said he has pushed for more “emergency federal funding for state and local governments, and I’m glad that Orange County has joined in that effort.”
“Fortunately, our latest relief bill includes roughly $1.8 billion in federal funding for Orange County, and provides the flexibility that local governments need to make up for lost revenues due to COVID-19,” Levin said.
The bill would also provide $1.8 billion in funding for San Diego County and about $300 million for cities in Levin’s district.
Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Fullerton, said he has pushed for more flexibility in CARES Act funding for state and local governments.
Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, said, “There’s no question that our county and city governments have been on the frontlines of this pandemic — that’s why I led a bipartisan letter with mayors and councilmembers from the 45th District calling on leaders of both parties to make this a priority.”
“I’m pleased to report that the Heroes Act up for consideration in the House will include much-needed funds for our local governments,” Porter said.
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