The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a plan allocating nearly $130 million in federal coronavirus relief funding.
In July, the board approved a $1.22 billion spending program funded by federal relief dollars. This latest spending plan relates to monies set aside under that program for contingencies and also includes federal funding from other sources. All coronavirus relief dollars provided under the original federal bill must be spent by Dec. 30.
Supervisors Hilda Solis said her district has been the hardest hit.
“For the last six months, COVID-19 has plagued the world and impacted the 10 million residents who call L.A. County home. The First Supervisorial District continues to bear the brunt of this crisis with over 27% of all countywide cases,” Solis said. “The COVID-19 crisis paints a stark portrait of inequity that comes after years of long-term neglect in our communities of color that can no longer be denied or minimized.”
A total of $31 million will be spent on programs to help community health workers reach out to vulnerable and hard-to-reach residents, especially in communities of color, to educate them about the virus and available testing and other resources.
Another $50 million was allocated to food programs, which have drawn long lines countywide throughout the pandemic.
A total of $23 million will be used to help homeless individuals impacted by the virus, including for purchasing housing units like motel rooms.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the funding for post-pandemic housing “will ensure that these individuals will remain indoors and are put on the path to stable housing.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl emphasized that nearly $15 million would be used to bridge the digital divide for school-age children without computers or internet access.
“This is about a free public education and COVID has jeopardized that in a way that I don’t think we have ever seen,” Kuehl said. “The money will purchase computer devices, buy internet connectivity for students that don’t have the technology or the service to participate in distance learning.”
The county will also offer $10 million in grants to small businesses hit hard by COVID-19.
Supervisor Janice Hahn highlighted her interest in helping breweries and other small businesses that are closed under county health orders.
“I have heard from so many local breweries that are struggling to stay in business while following the county’s health order,” she said. “With our case numbers on the decline, I am hopeful it will be safe for them to fully reopen soon. But in the meantime, I want to get them the lifeline they need to make it through this crisis.”
The state has allowed breweries in Tier 1 counties like Los Angeles to reopen if they partner with food trucks or other meal providers, but Los Angeles County’s public health officer has required breweries that don’t qualify as restaurants to remain closed to slow the spread of the virus.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the board that most breweries fall into the same category as bars — rather than restaurants — as a place where people go primarily to drink. At restaurants, residents are urged to sit with members of their household, but people at bars tend to mingle with bigger groups, including strangers, without masks.
Based on the spike in cases when bars were briefly opened in June, Ferrer said she wouldn’t recommend reopening drinking establishments until transmission rates fall lower.
The Los Angeles County Brewers Guild has reached out to Hahn and other members of the board to urge them to make changes to the public health order.
In an Aug. 28 Instagram post, Hermosa Brewing Company in Hermosa Beach — which qualifies as a restaurant — said two-thirds of guild members don’t have full kitchens and are explicitly prohibited from teaming up with third-party food vendors to provide outdoor dining.
“Not allowing the approximately 70 brewery tap rooms to operate in this way is not deterring patrons … many are merely driving to breweries in neighboring counties to get a small dose of craft beer community,” according to the post.
Priority under the small business grant program would be given to businesses subject to county restrictions that are more stringent than those required by the state, according to Hahn. That could include breweries, wineries, family entertainment centers and card rooms, depending on the size of their workforce.
Officials from Bell Gardens, Commerce and Hawaiian Gardens have urged the board to allow them to reopen card rooms outdoors, saying they employ hundreds of people locally and account for up to 75% of some city’s revenues.
The Gardens Casino in Hawaiian Gardens is normally open 24 hours a day and generates roughly $1 million each month for the small municipality, according to the city. That’s nearly three-quarters of its general fund. Without that money, Hawaiian Gardens and the other cities that rely on card clubs have been forced to lay off workers or cut back on services.
Earlier this month, Gardena Mayor Tasha Cerda urged the board to reconsider the health order, saying the card rooms generate $8.5 million in city revenue annually.
“Our very diverse community has been hit the hardest,” Cerda said. “These residents, they need our help now more than ever.”
The state has allowed games to resume outdoors, but Los Angeles County’s public health officer has mandated that the clubs remain closed to keep the spread of the virus under control.
Ferrer said that card rooms typically draw people from a wide area, heightening the threat that the virus would spread the virus across many communities. Players also sit together for a long time, increasing the likelihood of infection from asymptomatic individuals.
During a virtual news conference Monday, mayors, city managers and council members pointed to the example of other card rooms that have reopened across the state, saying they have taken every possible measure to ensure that their locations are clean and constantly sanitized, in addition to setting up plexiglass barriers.
Solis echoed that sentiment and pushed Ferrer to reconsider, saying that card room operators would not allow food or drink and would require everyone to wear masks.
Ferrer said her department was waiting for more data on transmission over the Labor Day holiday, which should be available by the month’s end, before revising any of the standing orders. Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who chairs the board, said a discussion of public health orders would be a set matter at all future meetings.
More details about how to apply for the small business grants and rules about eligibility are expected to be available soon.