In the 1985 movie “Brewster’s Millions,” Richard Pryor’s character had a hard time spending $30 million in 30 days. His reward if he did would be $300 million.
The city and county of Fresno are taking a slower approach spending $171 million in federal funds from the CARES Act for COVID-19 safety and economic relief. Their prize is keeping the community safe and the economy moving.
In a report from the U.S. Treasury Department, tracking spending through June 30, Fresno County has racked up $26.7 million in costs, or 32.7% of its federal allocation. The city of Fresno incurred $12.5 million or 13.5% of its allocation.
The county ranks ninth among the 21 counties and cities that received funds directly from the federal government. Only three entities spent at a slower rate than the city of Fresno.
Federal CARES Act Spending Rates
|Agency||Percent spent through June 30|
|San Francisco city||64.9%|
|Santa Clara County||60.1%|
|Los Angeles city||50.2%|
|San Diego County||38.6%|
|San Diego city||37.6%|
|San Jose city||35.1%|
|Los Angeles County||28.3%|
|Contra Costa County||28.1%|
|San Bernardino County||21.3%|
|San Mateo County||18.5%|
|San Joaquin County||12.1%|
|Total (includes money going directly to state)||74.5%|
At a joint city-county meeting Tuesday, Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) criticized the county for what he says has been a slow rollout.
“Why haven’t these taxpayer dollars been pushed out faster and more deliberately?” Arambula asked during the meeting. “We ask if Fresno County supervisors have meaningfully engaged with community-based and faith-based organizations, the trusted messengers that we rely on to communicate with our diverse communities, especially those where English is not their first language.”
His office said the county also received $16.4 million from the state, not accounted for in the Treasury figures. Plus, Arambula still questions how much has actually been spent.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Fresno County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau outlined the county’s spending plan beyond the $26 million already accounted for. That includes $12 million for medical investigators, $11 million for an alternative care site, and $10 million for testing and enhancement at the county jail.
City Commitments Beyond 13% Already Spent
While the 13% the Treasury Department says the city is spending does not appear to be much, the city says it has committed much more.
Mayor Lee Brand is satisfied with the timeline.
“I am pleased with the progress the City is making on investing our CARES Act funds to provide much-needed relief to our residents and businesses,” Brand said via email to GV Wire℠.
The Fresno City Council approved the latest COVID-19 spending plan on June 30, committing $52 million of its $92 million allotment to testing/tracing, aid programs for individuals and businesses, and city expenses.
“As of 7/24/20, the City has spent $13,462,436.79. That’s cash out the door. We have another $27-$32 million of the funding already encumbered,” city spokesman Mark Standriff said.
The city has set aside another $38 million for “potential revenue replacement, pending federal approval or changes in CARES Act guidelines. That means we’ve spent 25.9% of the money set aside for City COVID-19 related expenditures,” Standriff said.
Magsig Says Spending, Pace Appropriate
“I do not think it is a wise strategy just to go ahead and spend all the money now, when we recognize that we’re going to be dealing with COVID-19 for months.” — Supervisor Nathan Magsig
Supervisor Nathan Magsig says the pace and items are appropriate.
“This is a marathon that we’re looking at as we deal with COVID,” Magsig said. “I do not think it is a wise strategy just to go ahead and spend all the money now, when we recognize that we’re going to be dealing with COVID-19 for months.”
Magsig’s priories are staffing and equipment for hospitals.
“If we spend all the money now and we find that there are needs later, how are we going to deal with that then?” Magsig asked. “I don’t know how we could be doing things differently based upon the information I have today.”
Arias Explains Differences in Spending Rates
“The county runs the public health department. And therefore, they’ve been able to draw down money faster.” — Councilman Miguel Arias
Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias offers an explanation of why the county’s spending rate is higher for now than the city’s.
“The county runs the public health department. And therefore, they’ve been able to draw down money faster,” Arias said.
The county had been handling testing and tracing, and the associated expenses, since the start of the pandemic. The city signed a recent contract with UCSF for a mobile testing unit.
Although the council approved $5 million for the testing on June 18, the contract was only signed this week.
“It does take some time to begin the process of testing. But once it gets going, it’s going to be very effective,” Arias said.
One of the holdups, Arias said, was working on liability language in the contract.
“It’s normal that the city has a higher standard of indemnification language than most vendors are used to in an agreement,” Arias said.
For example, if a UCSF employee gets sick or injured, the city would not be liable.
The city has also had testing sites at county-approved providers. On Friday and Saturday, testing will be conducted at Lion’s Park (at the corner of Marks and Rialto avenues) between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. Appointments are required, which can be made through this link.
— Esmeralda Soria (@Esmeralda_Soria) July 29, 2020