Orange County supervisors Tuesday will debate spending $101 million from the federal coronavirus relief bill.
Supervisors Andrew Do and Lisa Bartlett have 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, cities paying COVID-19-related expenses and providing food for the needy, among other charities.
The HEART Plan comes from the first letters of what its authors call “the most urgent needs facing Orange County”:
— Help for small businesses that remain closed;
— Expenditures to support communities affected by the coronavirus outbreak;
— Assistance to nonprofit organizations providing direct services to Orange County residents;
— Reimbursement to cities for direct COVID-19 expenses; and
— Temporary food assistance for vulnerable and at-risk populations.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner appear to favor a plan that would dole out $75 million to small businesses with $26 million going to the county’s cities to disburse.
Do told City News Service he believes his plan is more fair because some districts have more low-income residents who would benefit more from money flowing to charities than small businesses.
Do said there are about 80,000 small businesses in the county, “So take the $75 million and divided it up by 80,000 businesses and you’re writing a check for $900 to each business. Does that really make any sense?”
Bartlett said the HEART Plan “is a much more comprehensive plan that affects all of the entities within the county.”
The money comes from the county’s share of $554 million received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Security Act to help pay for COVID-19-related expenses.
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.
The money must be spent by year’s end, Do said.
Do said cities can apply for reimbursement of COVID-19-related expenses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but nonprofit organizations may not.
City officials have been clamoring for a share of the CARES Act money, and have gotten behind the $3 trillion Heroes Act proposal approved last week by the House of Representatives.
County supervisors are also expected Tuesday to direct staff to apply for variances from the state to reopen many “phase two” businesses, such dining at restaurants.
Bartlett, the president of the California State Association of Counties, said Newsom’s announcement Monday was “very significant for Orange County,” saying the county has met “the parameters that have been modified for 53 of the 58 counties to move forward through the latter part of Phase Two.”
The previous benchmark of no COVID-19-related deaths for 14 days — which was the biggest stumbling block for more populous counties — has been done away with, Bartlett said.
“They’re really focusing more on positivity rates and hospitalizations, so the metrics have now changed to something that makes more sense, particularly for the larger counties,” Bartlett said.
Local public health officers have to file paperwork on their COVID-19-related statistics with the state to get approval to reopen businesses, Bartlett said.
Depending on how long the turnaround is with the state, Orange County could have its Phase Two businesses open by this weekend or next week at the latest, Bartlett said.
Orange County has had a spike in deaths in the past couple of weeks, but most of the fatalities are from outbreaks in skilled nursing home facilities, where county officials have increased testing and supplies of personal protection equipment, Bartlett said.
Orange County is at half-capacity in hospitalization so it can withstand a surge, Bartlett said.
“Orange County has done incredibly well relative to COVID-19,” she said.
“Our hospitalization rate is low, our positive counts on a daily basis are relatively low compared to other counties and our death rate is lower than other counties. Our statistics for COVID-19 are much better than our surrounding counties.”
Do said the county just needs to increase some of its stockpile for personal protection equipment such as gowns, gloves and face masks.
The county has been working through the state to acquire the PPE, but Tuesday the board is expected to instruct county staff to acquire the goods on their own, Do said.
“The advantage of having our numbers being so good is we don’t have a whole lot left to do to meet the governor’s criteria,” Do said.
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