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California State Auditor's report shows bigger counties received more COVID-19 relief funds

Posted at 11:09 PM, Jan 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 04:00:17-05

The state may have shortchanged small counties money for coronavirus relief, according to a new report from the California State Auditor's office.

The state received $15.3 billion from the CARES Act back in May, to be used for expenses in response to the pandemic.

This new report argues more money was given to 16 of the state's biggest counties, with counties like San Luis Obispo now concerned for its financial future.

SLO County administrators say expenses add up quickly when it comes to a pandemic.

"The federal government provided guidelines of costs that could be projected and were appropriate to apply the CARES Act money to. So for instance, public safety response was a category of costs we could allocate funding to," Guy Savage, Assistant County Administrative Officer for San Luis Obispo County, said.

Counties like San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara turned to the state for money for coronavirus relief and while they were allocated funding, a new report from the state auditor's office reveals larger counties received more money — even when they had fewer cases of COVID-19.

"It is unfortunate that our county did not get our fair share for the population we do have. With the money we did receive, we did our best in really standing up a robust COVID-19 response effort," Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, Director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, said.

The auditor's office says 16 large counties received in some cases $90 more per person in relief. These types of funds are used for things like contact tracing and testing for COVID-19.

Now with the vaccine distributions underway, San Luis Obispo County's Administrative Office says more state funding is needed, with a projected $12-22 million gap in the county's budget.

"There's certainly a situation evolving now wherein as we begin to ramp up vaccine and vaccine inoculations of citizens in our county, we could use more funding — there's no question about that. So the difference between what the reports says and what we received would go a long way to help with our vaccination efforts," Savage said.

The report alleges the state also did not consistently evaluate cities’ adherence to state public health orders, which was a factor in cities receiving funding.

The state auditor's office recommends if California receives more federal funding, Finance should ensure equal treatment of local governments in part by: "Proposing a method to the legislature to provide equitable funding to counties on a per-person basis or other basis that treats counties fairly and equitably."