Legislation leaves out rural counties like Tulare

Counties with populations less than 500,000 were not eligible for direct funding in CARES Act stimulus package

By Reggie Ellis

TULARE COUNTY – The advantages to being a rural county while fighting a deadly virus spread in close proximity were oversold by experts and now the money to help those rural counties is being underdelivered. 

When Congress passed the CARES Act on March 27, the largest economic stimulus package in U.S. history set aside $150 billion of its $1.8 trillion in total funding for unanticipated expenditures for states and local governments battling the coronavirus pandemic. But unlike its neighboring counties to the north and south, none of that money came to Tulare County, despite being one of just 22 public health labs in the state named an official testing center for the virus, which included samples from both Fresno and Kern counties.

Built into the CARES Act was a provision that counties with populations less than 500,000 (Tulare County was just under 480,000 as of Jan. 1) were not eligible for direct funding, making them reliant on the state government. To address the inequity, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved a letter at its April 28 meeting supporting direct and flexible funding to county governments of all sizes.

“Tulare County continues to serve at the front lines of this crisis through increasing COVID-19 testing capacities, communicable disease contact tracing, jail management, 911 services, human and social services, veteran’s services, and the ‘last of the first responders’ with coroners and medical examiners,” the letter stated. “This is just a small list of essential functions Tulare County provides.”

Counties play a unique role in providing community response to this pandemic. Tulare County is responsible for the Emergency Operations Center overseeing the local response to the pandemic. This includes providing human services to vulnerable populations and a growing number of consumers seeking behavioral health, food assistance, and employment services and programs due to the pandemic.  

“Given the unique role of counties in our nation’s public health and overall community response to this pandemic, we again respectfully urge you to support efforts to allocate resources directly to all counties,” stated the letter addressed to Tulare County’s delegation of federal legislators. 

The letter also noted that the federal government’s metrics for funding would leaves some urban counties stranded without funding by subtracting the populations within cities from a county’s overall population even though county programs are mandated to provide critical public health functions for the entire geographic area.

“At the very least, Congress could rewrite the CARES Act to require that each state must set aside a portion of its allocation, such as 10%, for local governments below 500,000 in population size,” the letter pleads.

Prior to the vote, Supervisor Kuyler Crocker amended the letter by asking for infrastructure dollars for broadband internet, water and transportation in the upcoming round of federal funding packages for COVID-19 relief.

The amended letter was unanimously approved. 

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