In a 4-0 vote, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday established a tentative roadmap for how roughly $480 million in federal relief money slated to be appropriated to Riverside County will be spent, though one supervisor pointed out there are likely to be “significant disagreements” on exactly how much money will be going to what programs.
According to the Executive Office, the county’s precise share of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, approved by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, will be known by May 10, but the estimate is $479 million.
The act mirrors the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act approved in March 2020 to compensate for the impacts to the labor markets, businesses and other entities stemming from the coronavirus public health emergency measures.
“We are expected to receive two ARP installments,” county Transportation & Land Management Agency Director Juan Perez told the board. “We are working to set up categories, or buckets, and come back with specific programs and recommendations for each one.”
The lion’s share of the funds will go to support programs in individual cities within the county. But before anything can be distributed, guidelines on qualifying expenditures must be in place and published, and according to county CEO Jeff Van Wagenen, the county and state are still awaiting directions from the U.S. Treasury Department.
“We should have the guidelines in mid-May,” he said.
The roadmap proposed by Perez and his staff would steer $54 million into economic recovery efforts, $50 million into affordable housing and homeless aid initiatives, $45 million into infrastructure upgrades and $20 million into nonprofits, with an assortment of smaller allocations for a variety of objectives, including backfilling budgetary losses, such as park fee and animal control fee revenue that vanished in the last year.
“We’re also looking for opportunities to figure out how to strengthen the county to absorb further shocks to the system,” the TLMA director said. “We need to make strategic investments for growth.”
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries was lukewarm to the framework outlined by Perez, hesitating to give his full support because “we don’t have the legislation to know what’s going to be eligible and what’s not” for appropriations.
“I want to be careful,” he said. “We need to get into some of our impoverished unincorporated communities and make a difference with this. Otherwise, we’re potentially just funding a large bureaucracy, and we’re not helping the communities, which we have been ignoring.”
Board Chair Karen Spiegel acknowledged that because specific federal guidance is still missing, “we’re kind of playing around with numbers.”
“I’m not sure we’re addressing mental and behavioral health,” she said. “We can’t lose sight of underlying things happening and coming up in the future.”
Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, who abstained from voting on the roadmap, called it a “nice start.”
“Hopefully it won’t take too long to make the sausage here,” he said. “We all have different priorities. I don’t even know whether some of this will be good.”
Supervisor Chuck Washington was also initially skeptical but felt reassured by the prospect of further consideration of the framework in the coming weeks. Supervisor Manuel Perez signaled his approval of it, particularly the social support aspects.
“I don’t want the numbers to be baked yet,” Jeffries said. “These are rough estimates and projections. I suspect we are going to have significant disagreements with staff on this.”
The county’s CARES allotments last year totaled about $500 million, and some of the funds remain available, including set-asides for rental assistance. Without the CARES money, the county would have been about $40 million in the hole going into the 2021-22 fiscal year, Jeffries noted.
Budget hearings are slated to get underway in early June, and the American Rescue Plan Act funding will likely be factored into spending decisions. According to the TLMA’s Perez, the federal funds are required to be spent by Dec. 30, 2024.
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