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Supervisor Jim Desmond
Supervisor Jim Desmond has proposed to create a $40 million grant program to help first responders and military families in San Diego County with rental and mortgage assistance. Photo by Samantha Nelson
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Supervisor proposes rental, mortgage help for first responders, military families

OCEANSIDE — As the county gears up to use millions of federal dollars to address local impacts left by the COVID-19 pandemic, one supervisor is proposing to use a chunk of that money to help first responder and military families with rental and mortgage assistance.

On Tuesday, May 25, Supervisor Jim Desmond announced his proposal for a $40 million grant program, which would provide up to three months of past due rent or mortgage payments, with a maximum of $6,000 per household, for first responder and military families living in San Diego County.

The $40 million would come from the $300 million allocated to the county by the federal government for recovery efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each of the five supervisors submitted their plans on how that money should be spent in the county, making the $40 million grant program for first responder and military families one of Desmond’s proposed ways to spend the money.

Rena Rhine
Rena Rhine, a Navy veteran and spouse of an active-duty sailor, shares her story about how COVID-19 impacted her family during May 25 press conference in Oceanside. Photo by Samantha Taylor

Desmond acknowledged that while many San Diegans have been impacted by the pandemic, two groups that he believes have been forgotten throughout relief efforts are first responders and military families.

“While husband or wife has been out there putting their lives on the line for us during this pandemic, many of the first responders and military families have lost their jobs, or have had to miss work while helping their kids with schoolwork,” Desmond said during a press conference Tuesday. “This has impacted their income and affected their ability to pay for rent or mortgage.”

Rena Rhine, a Navy veteran and wife of an active-duty sailor, was already feeling the effects of San Diego’s high cost of living when her family moved here in 2019. As they adjusted to the new cost of living, in less than a year they were hit with the pandemic.

Just as her family tried adjusting to the pandemic’s impacts, her husband was given short notice to deploy in response to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt COVID-19 outbreak, leaving her alone to take care of their children.

“My already changing world dramatically shifted,” Rhine said.

Rhine and her family had to make hard financial decisions and would pick up free school lunches to keep her kids fed. While taking care of her own family, Rhine was also supporting hundreds of other military families facing sudden and short-term job loss, struggling with monthly bills and trying to keep food on their tables as well.

Fellow Navy veteran and spouse, Christina Bulow, also moved here in 2019. Her family thought they were prepared for high costs after moving from Hawaii but quickly discovered the high cost of living in San Diego “was something different” for military families.

They quickly went through years of built-up savings and often contemplated selling more items to make it by. Then just as they started to find their groove here, the pandemic hit right in the middle of a promising job search for Bulow, which froze her new job prospects and delayed her from getting a job for another year. The pandemic also forced her son out of the coveted military childcare system, which added to the mounting struggles.

“I found myself at home trying to do my job and be a mother at the same time,” Bulow said. “As much as my husband wanted to be there, he was essential and had to be at work doing what he needed to do.”

According to Rhine and Bulow, Desmond’s proposed $40 million grant program would help families like theirs make ends meet. If the program doesn’t happen, they explained, their families would have to continue to make difficult decisions on where to find their children’s clothes and what bills they can pay each month.

The Board of Supervisors will vote on the prioritization of their proposed programs on June 8. Once those programs are decided, the county would then need to spend time setting up those prioritized programs. Desmond wasn’t sure how long that process could take, but he hopes that everything would be ready to go within a month.

“Three hundred million is a lot of money,” Desmond said. “We have five different supervisors trying to spend it in different ways.”

Desmond is hopeful that the program he has proposed to help first responder and military families is non-controversial and non-partisan enough to be approved by the other supervisors next month.