By Jeong Park
Small and midsize cities in Orange County are lobbying state and federal legislators for more funding, saying the money they’ve received from the first federal coronavirus rescue package is not enough, especially compared with bigger cities such as Anaheim and Santa Ana.
From the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding, the state allocated $500 million to cities. Those under 300,000 in population received about $12 per resident. Bigger cities — Anaheim and Santa Ana in Orange County — received more than $85 per resident.
State officials have said the disparity comes from the bigger cities needing to help their homeless populations during the pandemic. But officials from small and midsize cities in Orange County argue the pandemic has been hitting every municipality, no matter its population.
“Essentially, no cities are immune from this,” said Tony Cardenas, public affairs manager for the League of California Cities’ Orange County chapter.
Under this year’s state budget, the state has allocated $275 million to cities with populations less than 300,000 and $225 million to cities with populations between 300,000 and 500,000. (Cities with populations over 500,000, such as Los Angeles, received money directly from the federal government.) Orange County also got $554 million in federal money. After budgeting for its own current and anticipated expenses, the county distributed some $101 million to its 34 cities, including $75 million in small business assistance.
The money flowing directly from the state to cities has been the greatest help for them in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, from buying masks for their staff to helping even more small businesses, Cardenas said.
The Santa Ana City Council last week approved a plan for how the city plans to spend its $28.6 million in federal CARES Act funds. Nearly $6 million will go toward deploying mobile resource centers targeted at the residents in the most affected ZIP codes, providing free testing, education and protective equipment such as masks, city spokesman Paul Eakins said. The city has been hit hard by the novel coronavirus, seeing on Monday the most cases per 10,000 residents in the past 30 days out of any Orange County city.
Another $300,000 will go toward a free nursing hotline, with help available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese; $300,000 will go toward providing temporary housing for families when a member tests positive for the novel coronavirus. The city also plans for $8 million to go directly to the city’s residents, through help such as rental assistance, small business grants and utility subsidies. One form of rental assistance will have the city pay 80% of tenants’ back rent, with their landlord forgiving the remaining 20%.
“There’s not a one-sizefits- all approach,” Eakins said. “It has to be a comprehensive approach.”
Federal law mandates the funding can’t backfill the city’s lost revenue. But Santa Ana has reserved $7.1 million for it anyway, hoping for a law that would change the rule.
Anaheim received $33 million from the federal government, city spokesman Mike Lyster said. Of that, $15 million of it will be used to reimburse Anaheim for its local recovery program already in place, which included money out of the city’s reserve to help Visit Anaheim, the city’s tourism bureau.
The federal money has helped the city shrink its projected deficit for the year to about $40 million, Lyster said.
Much of the rest of the $33 million is going to paying for the city’s emergency operations center, which ran from March to June, sanitizing City Hall for a partial reopening and providing rental and small business assistance, Lyster said. The money is also helping the city recoup its cost from working with the county to run a large coronavirus test site at the Anaheim Convention Center, he said.
Smaller cities are dealing with similar issues as Anaheim, Lyster said. But he said Anaheim’s scale — the city has four acute care or emergency hospitals and more than 30 skilled nursing facilities — necessitates a larger share of the funding.
“Our thoughts go out to all our neighboring cities,” he said. “The funding you see really reflects the bigger responsibility that comes with a larger city like Anaheim.”
Irvine, which was fewer than 20,000 residents shy of the 300,000 population cutoff, received about $3.5 million from the federal government, with the money going toward helping people pay rent and sanitizing the city’s facilities and protecting its workers. But Mayor Christina Shea said she understands the complexities faced by bigger cities such as Anaheim and Santa Ana.
“They have much more complex social issues,” she said. “I understand the dynamics of major cities, and it’s dramatically different than smaller cities in OC.”
Still, getting more money could help Irvine provide more grants to small businesses or assist with residents’ child care, she said.
“If parents have been out of work and they have barely been able to pay for food,” she said, “how do they have the money to pay for child care?”
And Fullerton Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald said smaller cities like hers don’t have much left after spending the money on protecting its workers and sanitizing its facilities, she said.
“If we had more funding, we can put more funding into business grants, loans, tenants’ vouchers, workforce development services, all the things the larger cities were able to do with the funding they got,” said Fitzgerald, who set up in April the California Mayors’ Coalition of nearly 60 cities across the state, including 25 in Orange County, to lobby state legislators about local funding needs in the pandemic.
And she noted homelessness has been hitting smaller cities such as Fullerton as well. The city had 473 people living without a home according to a 2019 homeless count.
“We have an enormous homeless obligation,” she said. “And quite frankly, we don’t get enough money from the state to adequately fulfill the job the state has given us.”
And without more money distributed more equitably to smaller cities, Fitzgerald said many of them will have to cut the services they provide now, let alone trying to start new programs to help their residents. Given the hit taken to its sales tax and other revenues during the shutdown, Fullerton has already temporarily closed its museum and laid off many of its parttime employees, and cities have already laid off or furloughed some of their employees.
Orange County’s 34 cities face a collective shortfall of $343 million, much of it to be borne by the smaller cities, Cardenas said.
“Essentially, no cities are immune from this,” he said of the pandemic. “We are anticipating this is going to be a significant hit to the city. The direct, flexible funding will help offset the deficit caused by the pandemic.”