By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
African American community advocates are determined to have a seat at the table as County officials divvy up $300 million in federal COVID-19 money.
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has agreed to spend the money to address housing, homelessness, health and economic response through the
the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021.
“We are recommending investments in the top four priorities as they address the most immediate need and take the most time to establish,” County Executive Ann Edwards said.
Edwards was joined during last week’s presentation by Damon Armeni, senior manager for Deloitte. The County hired the firm to circulate a survey that provided public input which helped shape the list of priorities. Deloitte will also monitor and provide guidance on rules about how the money is being used.
Projects centered on housing and homelessness will receive 39% of the first $150 million. The money could help fund temporary and permanent housing for the homeless and rental assistance for those impacted by the pandemic. Projects related to health will receive 13%, with $19.5 million going toward efforts that include addressing mental health concerns and assisting underserved communities with lack of access to health care.
Another $19.5 million will go to economic response and bolstering businesses and workers who are directly impacted by the pandemic. Eight percent of funds will go toward compensating County employees who had no choice but to work in direct contact with the public during the pandemic.
Seventeen percent, or $25.5 million, will be spread among the five supervisors to use in their districts. Ten percent will go to administrative costs and includes the County’s contract with Deloitte.
“We have created a vision in Sacramento County that supports investments in recovery for residents, businesses and the community, focusing on equity to disproportionately impacted communities,” Edwards said. “We want to make smart investments that will maximize the impact of the ARPA funds and we also want to keep this in mind as we develop and institute programs and services.”
An Opportunity To ‘ACT’ Right
Several community members expressed their hopes that the County will consider giving some thought — and funds — to address the issue of violence in the Black community. A commitment to public safety, they say, must be extended and actualized in communities of color, hard hit by the pandemic.
“We’re dealing with this issue that’s been plaguing the County for quite some time, and especially with the uptick that’s directly connected to the outbreak,” said Julius Thibodeux, Strategy Manager for the community-based organization, Advance Peace.
Thibodeux pointed to gun violence in the Arden Arcade and North Highlands area.
Les Simmons, senior pastor for South Sacramento Christian Center, says that before the pandemic, groups such as Healing The Hood, Brother 2 Brother, Advance Peace, The Jackie Rose Development Center and Voice of the Youth were having an impact in the community. Simmons implored the Board of Supervisors to prioritize and protect those affected by area violence.
“Prioritizing it means we put resources, we put funding and we put that continued focus and effort to reducing retaliatory violence and community violence,” Simmons said. “We have an opportunity to invest in the future. We have an opportunity to save lives.”
“An investment today can prevent a tragedy tomorrow,” echoed Mervyn Brookins of Brother 2 Brother.
While not directly mentioned in the list of priorities for the money, such projects could be funded with the ARPA monies because they relate to health and wellbeing, Deloitte’s Armeni said.
District 1 Supervisor Phil Serna said issues mentioned by Thibodeux, Simmons and Brookins are in line with the work of the Black Child Legacy Campaign (BCLC). Serna called for the Blue Ribbon Commission to address third-party homicides, the disproportionate child death rates and infant mortality. The study evolved into the BCLC.
“This is an investment that we cannot ignore,” Serna said, adding that such proposals should at least be candidates for consideration.
Other local residents made a play for the arts and culture community to be considered for funding and others asked that no ARPA funds be given to local law enforcement. As first reported by The Sacramento OBSERVER, the County gave the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department the bulk of the money from last year’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Serna addressed concerns, stating that “it would be wise to just be sensitive to that as we go forward.” Serna also addressed community distrust in the Board after what he called former County CEO Nav Gill’s “creative accounting scheme to balance the budget using CARES Act funds.”
Edwards, Gill’s replacement, said law enforcement isn’t an eligible expenditure according to federal guidelines for the use of the ARPA money. Armeni, however, shared a scenario in which law enforcement could be funded, theorizing that a rise in violence during the pandemic could prompt law enforcement to ask for money to help rehire employees they had to let go due to COVID-19.
Black leaders and advocates maintain that while hard hit by the pandemic, African Americans have been largely left out of outreach efforts. In late July, 78 organizations, individuals and other stakeholders issued a letter to County officials demanding equitable access to the ARPA funds. The letter outlined recommendations and strategies for the money. Signees say the COVID-19 pandemic intensified unacceptable conditions caused by racial and health inequities and that past spending priorities have left many in Sacramento County more vulnerable.
An excerpt from the letter reads, “Last summer, the County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in Sacramento County. Under the Resolve section, number six states the County’s commitment to ‘prioritize the investment of time and budget in promoting racial equity to address social determinants of health.’ It is critical that racial equity and inclusion be the highest motivation and priority in the allocation and distribution of ARPA funds.”
Specific projects that will get money will be determined, but Edwards says County officials will be looking at each proposal and their stated outcomes for community impact and improvement. She describes the amount of requests as “voluminous” and far exceeding the $300 million the County will get.
“I would argue that all of them have merit,” Edwards said. “There are many, many good proposals and not everything is going to get funding. That’s the really challenging piece when you have this much money.”
“We’re going to bring in departments and see what their needs are and we’re looking at the community proposals and we’ll blend all of that together to create projects that make sense for the community,” Edwards added.
The County received the first $150 million ARPA allotment in May and expects to receive a second $150 allotment in May 2022. Sacramento County has until December 31, 2024 to determine exactly how and where the money will be spent and until December 31, 2026 to spend it.