The Barbed Wire: SPECIAL EDITION - April 22, 2020

April 22, 2020
Federal Direct Funding to Small Counties Bill Introduced in Congress
Counties Urge the Governor to Allocate Federal Funds Based on Responsibility for Pandemic Response
State Assembly Focuses on State Response to Coronavirus Pandemic
Governor Announces Efforts to Address Distance Learning Issues
RCRC Supports Efforts to Expedite $19 million CARES Act/Community Development Block Grant Funding

Federal Direct Funding to Small Counties Bill Introduced in Congress

Last week, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D- California) introduced the Coronavirus Community Relief Act (Act) in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Act, which RCRC strongly supports, would provide $250 billion in stabilization funds directly to counties and cities with a population of 500,000 or less that are struggling amidst the pandemic.

Most states, including California, mandate the implementation of public health and emergency response responsibilities to the county governments. While the recently-enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides direct monies to counties (and cities within) with populations in excess of 500,000, smaller counties are required to obtain allocations through the state. To date, RCRC has received nearly a dozen letters from member counties that provide first-hand accounts of the resulting hardship and fiscal strain this has caused for low-population counties.

RCRC expressed appreciation to Senator Feinstein in a letter, for addressing what RCRC believes is an oversight in the CARES Act and for promoting relief funds to rural counties. RCRC further requested that any future legislation enacted in the coming weeks recognize that counties’ front-line activities are greatly impacted by the pandemic; thus, the overwhelming share of any subsequent low-population funding should be forwarded directly to counties.

Senator Feinstein’s bill is the latest in a series of actions taken by members of Congress to address the need for direct federal stabilization funds to local governments during the outbreak, and for the recovery that must follow. A week prior, Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colorado) introduced a similar effort, H.R. 6467, the “Coronavirus Community Relief Act,” which was strongly supported by RCRC. Earlier this month, RCRC urged direct stabilization funding in a letter to U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).

RCRC continues to closely monitor and advocate for legislation to provide direct federal funding to California’s rural counties as they face the challenges of this pandemic. At the time of this writing, a second round of federal aid has been adopted by the U.S. Senate and is expected to pass the House of Representatives in the coming days; however, the focus of this effort is to further capitalize a small business loan/assistance program as well as assist hospitals with their funding needs. As such, a second round of direct federal aid to state and local governments is NOT contained in the new package.

Counties Urge the Governor to Allocate Federal Funds Based on Responsibility for Pandemic Response

Last Friday, RCRC joined a coalition of county stakeholders to urge Governor Newsom to allocate federal funding provided by the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) based on direct service responsibilities for local pandemic response. Some cities are requesting that federal funds be diverted from critical county services to address significant city revenue losses (losses which counties are also experiencing). And, while all of local governments are currently struggling, counties cannot afford to move critical federal funding away from public health and social safety net programs.

The full letter from the coalition may be viewed here.

County funding for coronavirus response is receiving a great deal of attention in state and federal relief efforts. While counties seek continued conversations with the Newsom Administration about how to allocate the remaining amount of local government funding in the CRF, RCRC continues to pursue direct federal funding for counties below 500,000 in population in the upcoming relief package(s) being negotiated Washington D.C. An update on those efforts can also be found in this special edition of The Barbed Wire.

State Assembly Focuses on State Response to Coronavirus Pandemic

On Monday, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Budget Process, Oversight, and Program Evaluation convened to address the State of California’s progress on addressing coronavirus (COVID-19). Chaired by Assembly Member Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), the subcommittee included several rural legislators - Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear Lake), Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), Adam Gray (D-Merced), Devon Mathis (R-Visalia) and Dr. Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa).

Similar to last week’s Senate hearing, this subcommittee hearing was informational to receive updates from the Legislative Analyst Office, the Department of Finance (DOF), the Office of Emergency Services, and the Health and Human Services Agency related to COVID-19 with a particular focus on the Administration’s expenditure of funds appropriated under Senate Bill 89, which was enacted several weeks ago. As noted in other reports, Members were particularly concerned about the contract with BYD (Personal Protective Equipment manufacturer) negotiated by the Newsom Administration for the acquisition of PPE.

RCRC extends special recognition and thanks to Assembly Member Wood and Assembly Member Gray for their comments addressing the concern that, with local government funding under the CARES Act restricted to those jurisdictions of 500,000 population or more, many areas are not eligible for federal assistance. In fact, NO jurisdiction in Dr. Wood’s district is eligible and MOST jurisdictions in Mr. Gray’s district are not eligible. Following that revelation, both Wood and Gray repeatedly questioned the DOF about how the Administration plans to meet the needs of small jurisdictions. Both also pressed about the need for support in these smaller jurisdictions, given the significant demand on local resources as a result of the pandemic. The DOF responded that it hopes Congress will make an adjustment in the next round of federal funding.

RCRC has joined with county partners to ensure that low-population counties receive appropriate funding as a result of actions by Congress and through implementation by the Newsom Administration. Updates on those advocacy efforts are contained in this special edition of The Barbed Wire.

Governor Announces Efforts to Address Distance Learning Issues

On Monday, Governor Newsom announced his latest efforts to support students and teachers continuing to struggle with distance learning amid COVID-19 school closures. The Governor’s announcement outlined two distinct facets of the Administration’s actions aimed at addressing the most severely impacted school districts in the state, utilizing both existing public funding, as well as new private resources.

Specifically, the Governor announced equipment donations by technology companies, including laptops, Chromebooks, tablets and mobile hotspots, as well as large monetary donations by individuals, businesses and organizations. In addition, several internet service providers committed to offering connectivity to students at discount rates. All donations will be managed by the private nonprofit Californians Dedicated to Education (CDE) Foundation and will be distributed to low-income and rural school districts.

The Governor also announced the availability of $25 million from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Teleconnect Fund for rural, small, and medium school districts, to cover 50 percent of the cost for mobile hotspots and monthly internet service for student households. The Teleconnect Fund was created to provide qualifying K-12 schools, community colleges, libraries, hospitals, health clinics, and community-based organizations discounts for telecommunications services.

In addition to the Teleconnect Fund allocation, the Governor cited the availability of another $5 million in funding from the CPUC California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) for computer equipment and mobile hotspots, to be expended by the California Department of Education in order to leverage bulk purchasing of equipment for distribution. RCRC has strongly advocated for the utilization of existing broadband funding to triage distance learning connectivity issues during the current crisis, while maintaining that such an investment is not in lieu of addressing the continued need for reliable, high quality fiber networks in rural communities. The CASF funding proposal will come before the CPUC on May 7, 2020 for a final decision. The CPUC Resolution can be found here and the RCRC comments submitted April 9th can be found here.

The full text of the Governor’s April 20, 2020 press release can be found here.

RCRC Supports Efforts to Expedite $19 million CARES Act/Community Development Block Grant Funding

The Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) released proposed changes to its method to distribute approximately $19 million in CARES Act Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to cities with populations of less than 50,000 and counties with populations of less than 200,000. In place of the lengthy and cumbersome existing application process to access these funds, HCD is developing a formulaic disbursement method and streamlined process to quickly get CDBG funds out-the-door for certain COVID-19 related prevention, preparation, and response activities, as summarized here. The public comment period on HCD’s plan amendment closes today and RCRC’s comments can be found here. While RCRC is strongly supportive of many of HCD’s proposed changes, RCRC suggested modifying the allocation formula to take into consideration the higher level of state mandates imposed on county governments to implement public health and emergency response programs. If HCD’s changes are quickly approved, funds may be available by or before mid-May.


Coronavirus (COVID-19) County Resource Page Available

The California State Association of Counties (CSAC), RCRC’s local government partner, continues to provide excellent up-to-date state and federal information to counties on this ever-changing pandemic event. We encourage visiting CSAC’s COVID-19 resource page, which contains vital links to all CSAC COVID-19 advocacy letters and resources. CSAC’s staff continues to work around the clock to update activities so that all of California’s counties can remain properly informed.


Economic Development Resources for Communities and Businesses Impacted by the Coronavirus

The California Association for Local Economic Development (CALED) has assembled resources for communities and business impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19). The page will be continually evolving as new resources become available. To go directly to the CALED resources, click here.


Use of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Funds for Infectious Disease Response

Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds may be used for a range of eligible activities that prevent and respond to the spread of infectious diseases such as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Check out the Quick Guide to CDBG Eligible Activities to Support Infectious Disease Response for guidance and additional information.


Federal Disaster Loan Assistance Available from the Small Business Administration

Applications are now being accepted by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for federal disaster loans to help alleviate economic injury caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19). All fifty-eight (58) California counties are designated as eligible. To apply, please visit SBA’s Disaster Loan Assistance portal here.