The Coast News Group
The San Diego County Administration Building. Public domain photo

Supervisors OK COVID-related grants, discuss future ARPA funding

REGION – The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted today to accept nearly $124 million in state funding for with contact tracing, mitigation and other strategies in combating further spread of the coronavirus.

The $123,774,567 comes from state Department of Public Health, via the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Prevention, according to Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer.

The supervisors also formally accepted a $629,000 federal grant from the CDC that will allow the county to focus on a racial and ethnic approach to community health.

Supervisors additionally approved establishing a framework on how to spend future COVID-related relief funding, courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act, which Congress recently passed and President Joe Biden signed into law.

When it’s available, ARPA will provide hundreds of millions of dollars in COVID relief, including rental assistance and up to $40 million in hazard pay for county employees, officials said.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher cautioned that ARPA funding hasn’t officially been allocated, so supervisors and county staffers have time to finalize how that money will be spent.

“One-half of these funds we won’t receive until next year,” Fletcher said. “We may want to see what the world looks like then. We’re not locking anything in stone.”

The board voted after hearing an update on COVID prevention measures and from the public, many of whom are county employees who said they needed hazard pay for being frontline workers and putting their lives at risk during a pandemic.

Supervisors had their own requests from ARPA, including $20 million for broadband, $25 million in legal services for those in need, and millions of dollars for mental health treatment and utility assistance.

Supervisors Joel Anderson and Jim Desmond said they would oppose hazard pay for county workers. Anderson said his opposition was not meant to disrespect county employees.

“I represent a very poor district and can’t face my constituents having given COVID bonuses,” he said.

Desmond thanked county workers for all their efforts, but noted that non-county workers have also made sacrifices.

Last year, supervisors approved spending $390 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act money, along with $40 million out of the county’s general fund, to help residents with financial needs. That money also helped the county and various partners, including hospitals, with efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus.