COVID-19 relief gets big boost

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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors allocated more than $650 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds, known as ARPA funding on June 8 with the majority of the dollars slated for ongoing COVID-19 response costs, homeless services and small business support.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said the board’s decisions will help support the county’s response to the pandemic, along with making significant investments in helping the small business community, families and youth, services for seniors and the unsheltered along with investments for infrastructure programs like broadband and clean water infrastructure.

However, National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis said with the 2020-21 budget recently closed, it is “still a little early” to decide exactly how dollars will be locally allocated.
City officials typically take a summer recess in the month of July, but the mayor said council members will likely begin discussing how to prioritize funding when they resume regular meetings in August.

“Our ‘20-’21 budget focused on housing, homelessness, social services as well as maintaining services like public safety, parks and recreation, services to the community. I would think our ARPA allocation of $18.6 million would be aligned with those efforts but have not yet decided what it will look like,” Sotelo-Solis said.

The county plan suggests dollars should be spent on stormwater improvements, broadband, fire districts, electric vehicle infrastructure and environmental benefits, which are all in keeping with National City’s recent priorities.

“We have to be ready for the next emergency,— we live in earthquake country and a desert where fires break out. The pandemic shed light on people not having access to food or shelter and the challenges of access to healthcare,” Sotelo-Solis said.

Citing the 2021 State of National City address, the mayor reiterated a comment she made during that presentation: there is a 70-30 split in National City with 70% of the population renting a home while only 30% can afford to be homeowners. Improving those statistics requires multi-layered changes, she said, some of which might be attainable with this new influx of funding.

“I’d love to move that needle even 5% but that means having good wages, which means people need access to education opportunities; it’s also about lowering our carbon footprint which means making sure jobs aren’t two hours away sitting in traffic,” Sotelo-Solis said.
Fletcher said he plans to create a framework plan for the county that “prioritizes communities and populations that have historically been left behind” through racial justice, health equity, economic opportunity, environmental protection, government transparency, and fundamental changes to county operations. Some of those county-level changes could bode well for National City, which, according to San Diego’s Environmental Health Coalition, has higher than average levels of toxic and hazardous gases in the air as well as above-average levels of pollution and an asthma-related hospital admission rate in children that is significantly higher than other parts of the county.

The Mayor said President Biden’s focus on infrastructure will likely also benefit the city as funding directed toward health disparities and lowering the city’s carbon footprint could come from there as well, as the nation moves toward greener energy in conjunction with COVID-19 economic recovery.

Finally, Sotelo-Solis cautioned against the city using any money on items that would require ongoing funding, as this is a one-time payout.

“It gives you a two-year window but what happens after the funding runs out? If we don’t have the ongoing revenues, we need to address what we’re willing to give up,” Sotelo-Solis said, and remain “open and nimble” as the city allocates funding.

COVID-19  relief gets big boost