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Local News

Latino groups want equitable distribution of one-time funds

A walk-through metal detector inside a building.
Wikemedia Commons
A walk-through metal detector. The county used $35,000 of one-time covid recovery funds to purchase seven metal detectors.

May 3, 2022 — The Board of Supervisors is holding a budget workshop today in preparation for budget hearings on June 7th and 8th. At the hearings, community organizations will have an opportunity to make a case for why they should receive a portion of a $16.8 million award from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), intended to alleviate the long-term impacts of the pandemic. Though the United States Treasury Department urged local governments that received the funds to engage the public in deciding how to allocate them, public outreach has been minimal so far.

And although the deadline for allocating the money is a year and a half away, organizations providing direct services to those who’ve been hardest hit may have only a few leftovers after the budget hearings, according to Interim CEO Darcie Antle, who spoke to KZYX on April 27. “Currently, we’re under the Board’s direction to look internally first,” she said. “And then when the Board considers the 22-23 budget, if there’s funds available and left over, depending on how they want to spend this ARPA money, there could be opportunities. And I know obviously one of their priorities is public safety, which includes fire.”

Close to five million dollars of the award has already been obligated, some of it to the Community Foundation and North Coast Opportunities, which used it to provide food and childcare during the pandemic.* A little over $60,000 went to upgrade the audio and telecom systems in the Board of Supervisors chambers to allow for more accessible hybrid meetings.

But another $266,000 was spent on remodeling the chambers, plus $40,000 for an automatic door system,and $35,000 is slated for the purchase of seven metal detectors.

Eduardo Garcia is the senior policy manager at the San Francisco-based Latino Community Foundation, a statewide organization that advocates for the civic and economic power of Latinos, many of whom continue to be disproportionately affected by the fallout of the pandemic. The Foundation awarded $1.4 million to smaller Latino organizations around the state advocating for transparency and a public process for the equitable distribution of the one-time funds. Garcia says Mendocino County is not alone.

“A lot of these decision makers are using these funds in very questionable ways,” he said. “One troubling trend that we’ve observed across the state is that city and county leaders are spending these dollars, these flexible, unique dollars designed to help California speed up its health and economic recovery, they’re spending this money on police. Which is very concerning, because we know that what our communities need is access to resources to help overcome the hardship that has been the last couple of years.” Antle said with inflation and the loss of cannabis tax revenue, the county budget is lean. “We’re currently trying to work with all of our departments to see how we can keep them full,” she said. “Full meaning fully funded for the coming year, without having to take cuts in certain areas. And it is likely that the Board will have to make some difficult decisions.”

Garcia wants the public to participate in those decisions, including organizations like UVA, Vecinos en Acción, an inland Mendocino County Latino advocacy group which is the recipient of one of the Foundation’s grants. “This is not a simple civic engagement process,” he acknowledged. “And so Vecinos en Accion and non-profit organizations can work with city and county leaders to design a process in which they can collect community input. Obviously providing translation across outreach strategies is critical to reach the hardest to reach communities. There could even be workshops. We have partners in Calexico that helped design community workshops to engage members of the community about ARPA budgeting. So there are a myriad of different outreach strategies that city and county leaders can employ to collect community input. But these processes have to be designed with trusted community members.”

Juan Orozco, co-chair of UVA and a Ukiah City Councilman, says UVA is poised to do just that. “We look into health equity, and what is it that the community needs, and we do surveys, and then provide the information to people,” he said.

Garcia has seen organizations advocate successfully. “There are city and county leaders in certain parts of the state that have adopted, or that are trying to create more transparent processes,” he said. “And some of that has been the result of community organizing led by Latino non-profit organizations. For example, in Merced, in the city council, an organization called 99 Roots successfully advocated for a one million dollar youth jobs program, designed to essentially invest in the workforce development of young people. Knowing that Latino workers during the pandemic were overrepresented in industries that were considered essential; that maybe weren’t paying the very best wages; that were putting workers in very vulnerable situations, right? Earning low wages, taking care of families…Latino women had to drop out of the workforce in really high numbers, because it’s very expensive to send your children to childcare when schools are closed.”

Garcia expects local governments can look forward to more awards soon, from the federal infrastructure plan and the Community Economic Resilience Fund, a covid recovery program that’s still being developed. With a participatory process in place, he believes, “There’s so many opportunities to engage the community so that every Californian has an equal opportunity to share in the state’s prosperity.”

*Molly Rosenthal of North Coast Opportunities provided more detail about the sources of the ARPA funding NCO received and what it was used for. While NCO did receive $1.7 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding, some of it came from state and federal sources to support Head Start and Rural Communities Child Care. The County of Mendocino provided $587,560 of ARPA funds that NCO used the funds to rally more than 250 volunteers for the vaccine clinics, quarantine food delivery, and other pandemic response activities; deliver fresh food boxes to households through the MendoLake Food Hub; and provide financial assistance to households economically-impacted by the pandemic.

While applications are now closed for financial assistance, The City of Ukiah’s Utility Bill Assistance Program is providing support for Ukiah residents with past-due utility bills of up to $1,000. Visit cityofukiah.com for more information.

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.