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Small counties shortchanged on COVID-19 funding

Nevada County and its cities were only allocated about half the per-person coronavirus relief funding the state distributed to its largest counties, a state audit found.

According to the audit, when the state set aside more than $1 billion of its federal CARES Act funding for counties last June, it failed to take into account the funding larger cities and counties — with more than 500,000 residents — were already receiving directly from the U.S. Treasury due to the bill.

“Consequently, by not equitably providing counties with funds, there is greater risk that more small counties’ COVID-19-related funding needs were unmet,” State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote in a letter to the governor and lawmakers this week.



Nevada County received just over $10 million in state coronavirus relief funds, but if it were funded at the same rate the state funded 11 of the largest counties, its allocation would have been more than $19 million.

The audit found of the state’s 16 largest counties, 11 were allocated $197 per person and 5 were allocated $190 per person, compared to just $102 per person for the other 42 smallest counties.




In a release Wednesday, Assemblywoman Megan Dahle, whose district includes Nevada County, said the report is proof of the systemic unequal treatment of rural counties.

“While large counties got their funds expeditiously and nearly double the amount per person than did small counties, the 42 counties with fewer than 500,000 residents were forced to beg and plead with the Governor to get their entitled funds,” Dahle said.

Board of Supervisors Chair Dan Miller, who also serves as vice chair for the Rural County Representatives of California, said the RCRC is calling on all future federal allocations to go directly to counties, bypassing the governor.

Miller said the RCRC was formed to give rural counties a voice at the state level, which he said are skeptical of the governor’s decision making.

“That doesn’t surprise me that Newsom would do something like this, because he caters to the large population centers anyway since that’s where he gets his votes,” Miller said.

“He held (the funding) over the rural counties like a hammer, and that is just one of the reasons that rural counties have been asking for local control. Because we don’t trust the governor and the governor making decisions for rural counties.”

According to the report, one explanation for the distribution is that the state Department of Finance, responsible for distributing the funds, “indicated that it believed there was a higher spread of COVID-19 in the 16 larger counties because of their greater population density.”

However case rate data over the summer showed small counties’ needs “were at least the same if not greater than the needs of large counties,” the report concluded.

Dahle is calling for the state to reimburse small counties, though Miller said he’s not optimistic about that.

“It is unconscionable that some Californians received nearly double the CRF funds than others, depending on their zip code,” Dahle said. “While COVID-19 did not discriminate in the communities it ravaged throughout California, our governor did.“

CITIES

Grass Valley, Nevada City and Truckee were each allocated $158,846, $50,000, and $200,369, respectively, from the state last year. Those figures would have nearly doubled with per person funding equitable to larger cities and counties.

According to city officials, Nevada City spent more than $21,000 of its allocation on public health, which can include expenses ranging from attorney fees to work on enforcement ordinances to cleaning supplies and park closure materials.

The city spent nearly $15,000 on small business assistance, including donations to the Nevada County Relief Fund.

It also spent more than $9,000 to improve telework abilities for public employees and over $3,500 on personal protective equipment. Less than $500 went toward testing and contact tracing.

Truckee put nearly $100,000 toward food programs and more than $50,000 on housing assistance, according to town officials.

It allocated about $20,000 to improving employee telework capabilities, $15,000 on small business assistance, and just under $15,000 on public health expenses.

The town also received $400,000 from the state via the Nevada County Relief Fund, which funded its “Winter Wonderland” space meant to support businesses in downtown Truckee, and developed in conjunction with the Truckee Chamber of Commerce, the Sierra Business Council, and the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation.

Grass Valley’s expenditures through last year were not immediately available, though incomplete figures up to Sept. 30 were posted by the state.

At that time, the city had spent just over $82,000 of its allocation, with more than $36,000 dedicated to improving employee telework.

The city spent $18,000 on economic support other than small business, housing, or food assistance, and $15,000 on administrative expenses.

Nearly $11,000 was spent on public health expenses and almost $2,000 on personal protective equipment.

Those expenditures may have been amended in the report covering the entire year.

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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