County unveils ARPA spending plan

Tulare County Board of Supervisors passes interim American Rescue Plan Act spending plan

VISALIA – The American Rescue Plan Act—the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden in March to help Americans recover from the perils of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—is injecting money into the economy on a scale many in government haven’t seen in their lifetime.

At the Aug. 24 Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting, the board passed their interim spending plan in a 5-0 vote with a road map for how the over $90 million allotment will be spent.

County Administrative Officer Jason Britt spoke to the board about the interim recovery spending plan. He said he stresses “interim” because everyone is still waiting on a final ruling from the U.S. treasury to set in stone the spending guidelines for ARPA funds.

“Things may change as the final rule is released and implemented,” Britt said.

Per the U.S. Department of the Treasury, ARPA funds may be used for four statutory purposes:

  • To respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality
  • To respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers
  • For the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID-19 public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year prior to the emergency—Britt said the County would not qualify for this criteria.
  • To make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure

“The most flexible parts of the law are not available to us,” Britt said, “so our plan has to be tied to bullets one, two and four.”

Tulare county has received the first tranche of $45,276,457 as of June 14, and the second is expected in a year’s time. The county has budgeted for the full allotment, and aims to close funding gaps for industries that experienced negative economic impacts due to the pandemic that did not receive other sources of funding or relief and fund data-driven, shovel-ready transformational projects that solve ongoing problems and make long-term sustainable differences in the community with one-time uses.

Britt clarified that unlike the first round of CARES Act funding the County received as COVID relief, the ARPA funds are not as flexible and have more requirements to meet. He said since cities also received large ARPA allotments, the county has focused their efforts elsewhere.

“We focused on the unincorporated areas of Tulare County,” Britt said. “We really wanted to focus on county infrastructure and the public health response to the pandemic.”

The county has budgeted $59,495,682, over half of its ARPA funds under the umbrella of public health, with about $2.5 million going to vaccination efforts, $2.5 million for PPE for Tulare County institutions, about $14 million toward capital investments in buildings, radio towers and technology and about $15 million toward parks repairs and upgrades.

Laura Hernandez, who spoke during public comment as a Tulare County resident, SEIU member and county employee, said she did not believe the $5.8 million in premium pay, or $1,500 per public sector employee, was up to snuff with what the U.S. Department of the Treasury had in mind.

“Please take into consideration that many of your essential workers struggle to meet daily needs with the current wages they earn,” Hernandez said. “Inflation—yeah, that word—is pushing the cost of living higher, but wages continue to lag behind, and this critical need is paramount to the daily survival of your county employees.”

The county did choose to allocate over $20 million in payroll to certain public sector employees. Heath and Human Services Agency staff was allocated just shy of $2 million for payroll, $195,000 for emergency staff, over $13 million for fire staff and over $5 million for the sheriff’s department.

Small business, including local restaurants, are included in the $4.4 million allocated for negative economic impacts, as is aid for local nonprofit organizations.

Elena Saldovar from Pixley called in to address the board during public comment. She said her community needs housing now, but they’re told there’s not enough water to accommodate the residential growth.

“Several generations living in one home can be a strain on families,” Saldovar said. “Everyone wants part of the American dream like us, but a lot of people cannot afford or cannot get houses because they don’t have documents. I think we need some housing that would be available to anybody, and that it should be affordable. We are an agriculture community, and that is only seasonal.”

Pixley Public Utilities District is receiving $2 million for a water main extension, as a part of the $14,558,000 allocated to infrastructure projects, mostly allocated towards water infrastructure upgrades for wastewater treatment plants, groundwater wells and storage tanks in unincorporated communities.

A full breakdown of the Tulare County ARPA interim spending plan is available on the Tulare County Board of Supervisors web site in the Aug. 24 regular meeting HTML agenda packet item No. 18.

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