SACRAMENTO—Today Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) and Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom, signed by a bipartisan group of 50 legislators, asking the state of California to assure funding for rural counties that have been left out of federal COVID-19 assistance programs because their populations are smaller than 500,000. Legislators are hearing from many smaller local governments about the financial impact the COVID pandemic has had on the counties and cities they represent. When the letter was sent to the Governor today, it included individual letters from local governments detailing the actual and extraordinary costs they have incurred because of COVID-19.
“Every county I represent has a population smaller than 500,000, and unlike larger counties, have received nothing in the way of funding assistance in any of the federal COVID assistance legislation,” said Wood. “Del Norte, Humboldt, Trinity, Mendocino and Sonoma counties have experienced the same hits to their budgets as larger counties and they deserve equity. The state needs to make sure that some of the federal funding it has received is allocated to the local governments that fall under the 500,000 threshold.”
“This virus doesn’t discriminate based off of population size,” said McGuire. “Smaller cities and rural counties need just as much help responding to the crushing needs of the coronavirus and digging out of its financial impacts. 500,000 is a completely arbitrary number and we need to find a way to assist communities in every corner of the Golden State, not just metropolitan centers. I’m grateful to be joining with Assemblymember Wood on this important request.”
Cities remain on the frontline providing services to keep residents safe and in their homes, delivering emergency services, and supporting local businesses and community organizations. COVID-19 has resulted in increased county and city costs and seriously declining local revenues. Ninety percent of cities project that the COVID-related costs will not only affect their ability to respond to COVID needs but will also reduce their ability to provide core city services including police, fire service, emergency management and housing. Local government surveys report that a decline in local revenue, without assistance, could result in lay-offs or furloughs, further impacting core city services for residents.
“Only six of California’s 482 cities and 16 of California’s 58 counties have received a portion of the $15.3 billion available through the Cares Act,” said Wood. “Even though the five counties I represent have received nothing, they are stretching their current budgets to continue to meet the demands in public health, emergency response and other essential services without financial assistance. Meanwhile, they are watching their local revenues in a severe decline, so something has to give.”
California is eligible for $15.3 billion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, shared between the state and local governments, with funding for local governments capped at 45 percent of the state’s overall amount but none of that funding is for counties with a population less than 500,000. “Before the wildfires in 2017, Sonoma County’s population met the 500,000 population threshold for funding, but today it falls just under that threshold, making it ineligible for current federal assistance,” said Wood. “And after what this county has experienced in the past several years with wildfires and floods, that’s just a huge kick in the gut.”
Smaller towns like Windsor, with a population of 27,000, report spending more than $1.4 million to respond to COVID-19, for activating emergency operations, purchase of personal protective equipment, establishing virtual technology to maintain essential services remotely, a waiver of late charges and fees on utility billings and food for distribution to families in need.
Counties will need to continue increasing COVID-19 testing, ordering personal protective equipment while also beginning the process of contact tracing, so that reopening plans can be prepared.
“The growing COVID-related costs on counties have been disproportionate compared to larger counties and are devastating,” said Wood. “These counties have been left stranded and are meeting the COVID-19 crisis no differently than the largest cities and counties. Senator McGuire and I, along with our colleagues, won’t stop fighting for equity for the smaller local governments across this state.”
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