The Shafter Press - Serving the community since 1922

Couch's Corner:

 


Last year, state and local governments nationwide encountered a once-in- a-generation global pandemic.

Our community remained resilient, and the Kern County Department of Public Health ensured combating the virus was a top priority with the successful implementation of the state’s vaccination schedule and outreach to our most vulnerable communities susceptible to covid-19.

In March of 2020, the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund provided Kern County the ability to invest relief dollars in a fiscally responsible way that kept Kern residents healthy and safe. The collaboration between the Board of Supervisors and County Administrative Office resulted in innovative and effective methods to administer the funds. For example, the county provided $30 million in small business forgivable loans to 938 businesses and grants to local nonprofits.

In addition, the board expanded safety net services by providing rental and mortgage assistance, PPE to the community at no cost, and support for the homeless. When hospitalizations surged last year, the board enhanced pandemic mitigation by allocating funds to expand isolation units and ICU capacity. Furthermore, we were able to provide public service support to special districts and cities in the county with direct funding since they were not eligible for direct allocations under the CARES Act.

Today, we are emerging from the virus and embarking on a recovery effort to rebuild our economy. During March of this year, Congress adopted the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). In the landmark legislation, $350 billion is earmarked for state and local government. $65 billion is allocated to counties and $65 billion is allocated to cities. (Section 603 of ARPA contains the Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.) Unlike the CARES Act, all branches of government, including territories and tribal governments, will see direct funding from the federal government. Kern County’s direct allocation from ARPA is $174.8 million.

The U.S. Department of Treasury is responsible for developing administrative rules and guidance on implementation of ARPA. The guidance from the Treasury Department will determine how the county expends the funding. The eligible expenditure start date is March 3, 2021. Funds must be fully obligated by Dec. 31, 2024, and fully expended by Dec. 31, 2026.

There are four eligible uses for Local Fiscal Recovery Fund under Section 603 of the legislation. On June 8, the County Administrative Office presented Kern County’s ARPA Initial Utilization Plan outlining how the county intends on expending the relief funding to meet each of those four eligible uses. The draft plan includes funds to respond to the public health emergency, provide premium pay for our essential workers, an allocation to remove financial pressure from our county departments by backfilling lost revenue, and funds for water, wastewater, and broadband infrastructure.

The CAO is waiting on the Department of Treasury to release guidance on how to calculate the amount of funding dedicated toward backfilling lost revenue for county departments. This plan is the first step in coordinating a utilization plan that is based on the eligible uses. The CAO will need to return to the board to make adjustments based on new information, new unmet needs, and changing landscape of the pandemic.

One of the major resources for District Four in the plan is $10 million earmarked toward Lamont stormwater/flood mitigation. The flooding from Caliente Creek has caused considerable hardship to the communities and can affect the cost-effectiveness of bringing businesses and development into the area. Solving this problem has been and is a District 4 priority. I look forward to continuing to work with all county departments to execute the plan that protects the area from flood waters and promotes economic development.

With the assistance of the American Rescue Plan and the state budget, we are on track to make necessary investments in our infrastructure such as the Lamont flood mitigation project, outfit all county parks with public Wifi, restaff our county libraries, support tourism, advance initiatives to reduce homelessness, mitigate economic impacts on the county public hospital authority, and much more. With an economic recovery happening at full steam, Kern County’s future is boundless and the opportunities for District Four are numerous.

Feel free to contact the District 4 office at 661-868-3680 or at [email protected] if you have any ideas, suggestions or questions regarding this or any county matter.

 

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