State budget could lead to more dollars for homeless projects

State includes a $12 billion allotment to help address homelessness in state, $2 billion for county and city efforts

VISALIA – Help with homelessness is right around the corner after the state passed their historically huge 2021-2022 budget last week.

Paul Yoder with Shaw, Yoder, Antwih, Schmelzer & Lang, an association management firm, delivered his biannual rundown of the state budget to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. He said he had never seen a state budget this big—$226 billion—with so many programs getting advanced.

“And the thing that amazes me is…it is literally throughout the spectrum of the state budget,” Yoder said. “New programs are being advanced or programs are being expanded to the tune of…at least half a billion dollars over and over and over again.”

The state is throwing an unprecedented amount of money at the state’s rampant homeless problem. According to Gov. Newsom’s office, this is the largest investment of its kind in state history. Newsom’s statement adds that it will provide 65,000 people with housing placement, more than 300,000 people with housing stability and create 46,000 new housing units. He also made the whopping claim that his plan would “end family homelessness within five years.”

The governor’s office stated that part of the $12 billion will build on Project Homekey that was created during the pandemic to help shield homeless residents from COVID-19. In all 36,000 homeless Californians took advantage of the program, and 6,000 affordable housing units were constructed.

More importantly for cities and the county, the state is tossing $2 billion over the next two fiscal years to help tackle homelessness at the local level. District 2 board supervisor Pete Vander Poel asked Yoder if the money could be spent on facilities for homeless. Yoder said virtually every kind of facility that the county wants to buy, rehab or construct could be funded under the current proposal.

To help create more affordable housing, Yoder said $1.7 billion will be kicked in to address the backlog of credits for low-income housing projects.

“That’ll get those projects that are shelf ready. All they need is the additional funding and they should be able to get built. So that’s significant to address the housing crisis in the state,” Yoder said.

In a statement Newsom noted that his California Comeback Plan includes almost $50 million in targeted programs and grants to local government, to move people out of unsafe, unhealthy encampments and into safer, more stable housing. Newsom plans to provide stable housing for vulnerable aged youth experiencing homelessness or at-risk of homelessness by targeting resources through Project Homekey and supporting youth-focused grant programs.

Yoder covered more the salient aspects of the budget, choosing to focus on the items that were half-a-billion dollars or more. He stated that the state is putting $730 million toward drought relief in the budget. However, Yoder said that he had to shake people out of their malaise over drought. Specifically he said he had to “wake people up” to remind them that droughts are not just about drinking water, they are about water for agriculture as well.

Yoder added that thanks to some county help he believes the right people have been made aware, and “are on speed dial.”

In Tulare County, homelessness and drought are not the only problems governments face: wildfires have become much more prevalent. In this year’s budget the state has dedicated $260 million to help fight wildfires.

“We do believe that the money that was proposed in the May revise for Cal Fire fire crews, that is actually going to stay in the budget. We think that’s incredibly important for some of the valley counties to help prevent fires in the first place and then fight them when God forbid, they break out,” Yoder said.

Newsom has been roasted by the Sacramento press for misrepresenting his accomplishments over mitigating wildfires. CalMatters, a nonprofit news agency, reported that Capital Public Radio (CapRadio) and National Public Radio’s California Newsroom found “a deep chasm” between reality and what Newsom promised and later claimed to have achieved.

They found that Newsom “misrepresented” his accomplishments and even “disinvested in wildfire prevention.”

“The investigation found Newsom overstated, by an astounding 690% the number of acres treated with fuel breaks and prescribed burns in the very forestry projects he said needed to be prioritized to protect the state’s most vulnerable communities,” the CapRadio and National Public Radio report stated.

The report went on to say that Newsom claimed that 35 “priority projects” carried out as a result of a executive order resulted in fire prevention work on 90,000 acres. But the state’s own data show the actual number is 11,399.

Yoder noted that there is $1.1 billion for highway improvements in the 2021-2022 budget. Vander Poel went on to ask what state funds would be available for roads in this year’s budget.

“Are we going to be able to access any of these monies to help us repair any of our local roads? Because we have significant needs,” Vander Poel said.

Yoder responded that he wouldn’t get his hopes up.

“To the extent streets and roads will get funded…supervisor, I think you can have some hopes, [but] I wouldn’t,” Yoder said.

Yoder went on to say that there may be some money coming down the pike for Highway 99, one of the county’s arterial corridors.

“I do think there’s the potential for more improvements to 99… And I think to the extent the roads are tying in to 99. That may be also something that Tulare County can avail itself of,” Yoder said.

Other projects the state passed were $1 billion for the Olympics, the 2028 Olympics, $1 billion for rail and transit projects, $500 million for city and county active transportation projects, $500 million for grade separation projects and $400 million for a state and local transportation infrastructure climate adaptation grant program.

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