SACRAMENTO – Three weeks ago, the City of Sacramento was awarded an $89 million federal stimulus check to address community needs triggered by the shutdown from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now it’s time to rebuild from the devastation the disease has caused.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg has put together a four-part strategy he hopes that would address significant impacts in areas of great need. Steinberg also released a letter on May 7 to reveal his plans.

“This strategy will address the significant impacts on virtually every part of our community due to the public health crisis created by COVID-19,” Steinberg wrote in the letter to members of the City Council.

“We must strike a balance between responding to the immediate economic pain of small businesses, community-based organizations and individuals, and crafting economic strategies needed to recover long-term from the economic disruption the virus and ensuing shutdown have caused,” Steinberg stated.

Steinberg and the members of the Sacramento City Council discussed the CARES Act’s (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) Framework and Funding Priorities this week during the council’s virtual meeting.

The County of Sacramento is also getting $182.6 million from the CARES Act. The money was appropriated by the size of the counties and cities in California. Counties with more than one million people and cities with more than 500,000 residents were eligible.

Community leaders from various sectors have been meeting to discuss the mayors’ plan and how it could be effectively implemented.

Chet Hewitt, the President and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation, is one of the many individuals who is concerned about the well being of people struggling during the crisis. He has convened several meetings with regional stakeholders to address the next steps.

“The meeting was really about trying to organize and talk about how the city and county’s CARES Act funds would be utilized,” Hewitt told The OBSERVER. “We wanted to ensure that those COVID-19 related expenses taking into account the needs and concerns of our communities.”

For the city of Sacramento, Steinberg has listed four key areas as necessary expenditures to address the effects of the public health crisis:

  • No. 1, Small Business Recovery and Assistance ($20M)
  • No. 2, Youth and Workforce Training Programs ($20M)
  • No. 3, City’s Homeless and Rapid Re-Housing Plan ($20M)
  • No. 4, Arts, The Creative Economy, and Tourism ($20M)

The $20 million total for each of the four broad categories described above are, Steinberg says, flexible and can be increased or decreased based on pressing needs.

In the letter, Mayor Steinberg said that more than $9 million will be left for various reimbursable expenses related to the city’s response to the health crisis, including funding for food delivery services as well as potential resources for increasing the region’s testing capabilities with State and County partners.

Cassandra Jennings, the President and CEO of Greater Sacramento Urban League, who has also been a part of the discussions, said she gathered that the participants were “encouraged by the proactiveness of the mayor,” but the “challenges are in the details,” she stated.

The underserved communities and how they will be serviced dominated the discussion,” Ms. Jennings said. She does not want anyone left behind.

“We want to make sure that the City Council considers that the four categories they are looking at that they ensure, intentionally and specifically, call out communities that are underserved, the minority populations, small businesses, again, those who are left behind,” Ms. Jennings said by telephone.

Another topic of discussion was centered around how the funds would be distributed among the entities that could service the communities’ needs. It was not laid out in Steinberg’s letter, though the participants in the discussion were concerned about the role of Aggie Square.

Aggie Square, in partnership with the city of Sacramento, is an innovation center that is intent on spurring economic growth and creating jobs. The center is on the grounds of the University of California at Davis Medical Center (UC Davis Medical Center) campus.

Sacramento Municipal Utility Districts’ (SMUD) Mobility Center, a study of transportation, is also mentioned in Steinbergs’ letter. Ms. Jennings said the Mobility and Aggie Square centers are “great projects.” She does question their pending positions.

“I’m not sure how they tie into the COVID-19 relief,” she said. “But if they do tie into the COVID-19 relief, we should make sure that inclusive economic development and equity are a part of the discussion. If the City Council wants to (include) them it must be a thoughtful and holistic way of addressing some of the issues.”

Hewitt is also not against the work or programs that Aggie Square and the Mobility centers provide, though he is unsure if they need any funding related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our question is, ‘is that a COVID-19 related expense?” Hewitt said. “If it’s not (they) are not eligible.”

During a special meeting to discuss the COVID-19 relief funds, Steinberg addresses the Aggie Square-Mobility Center issue.

Said Mayor Steinberg: “We received some feedback, including some from our progressive allies, ‘don’t spend any of this money on the Aggie Square or the Mobility Center.’ I want to explain to you what I mean by making reference to those signature and important projects. We are not going to write a check. I would not suggest that we would ever write a check directly to another governmental entity in that way. That’s not what this is about. But to the degree we can use these signature projects, especially in their early stages, to train and retrain the people of Sacramento to be ready for the digital jobs, the life sciences jobs, clean transportation jobs, and all the opportunities that will in fact be created through these initiatives, I think is an important nexus.”

The funding from the CARES Act must be spent by the end of the year.

By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer