Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, sent a letter this week urging California State leadership to ensure special districts can access COVID-19 relief funding provided under the American Rescue Plan Act.
The letter was sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom, State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins. It reads that special district local governments providing millions of Californians with essential services, such as water, wastewater, fire protection, healthcare, parks and more have yet to receive direct access to COVID-19 relief funding.
The American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress and signed into law this spring, provides states transfer authority to open a portion of the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund monies to special districts, a press release from the Congressman’s office said. California will receive $27 billion under the program.
Rep. Carbajal spoke to the significant impact special districts have when it comes to providing essential services to local communities, and sent the letter to underscore the significance opening a share of state funds would have on these local governments.
“Special districts provide essential government services that protect our public health, safety and quality of life. Despite their important role, special districts on the Central Coast and across the country have been left out of federal assistance designed to assist local governments,” Rep. Carbajal said in a statement. “As a result, 42% of special districts have had to scale back the essential services they provide and one out of three special districts have reduced their frontline workforce.
“When special districts are excluded from relief, essential frontline workers and community residents are excluded from relief. The American Rescue Plan gave states the authority to direct a portion of COVID-19 relief dollars to special districts and I encourage our state to lead by example by ensuring special districts have the same level of access to fiscal relief as their local government counterparts.”
Delegation members co-signing the letter include Reps. Ami Bera, Julia Brownley, Jim Costa, Mark DeSaulnier, John Garamendi, Jared Huffman, Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee, Mike Levin, Ted Lieu, Alan Lowenthal, Jerry McNerney, Jimmy Panetta and Jackie Speier.
More than 2,000 special districts provide a variety of specialized services that other units of government do not otherwise provide to millions of Californians. Collectively, local governments anticipate $2.43 billion in pandemic impacts.
The California Special Districts Association is leading state advocacy efforts to secure a portion of the State’s Fiscal Recovery Fund to ensure the local agencies’ ability to continue providing quality services in their communities.
“Special districts across California continue to provide essential services and infrastructure to millions despite mounting impacts of COVID-19 and little access to relief programs open to all other state and local governments,” Neil McCormick, chief executive officer of the California Special Districts Association, stated in the press release. “Congressman Carbajal and the coalition of California’s representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives’ encouragement of State leaders to share funding with special districts is a monumental display of support. On behalf of California’s special districts, we sincerely appreciate everyone fighting for the communities our members work so hard to serve.”
Subsequent guidance from the U.S. Department of Treasury issued on May 10 specifically references special districts in its explanation of why the transfer authority to other units of government was created.
“Congress recognized the importance of providing flexibility to governments seeking to achieve the greatest impact with their funds, including by working with other levels or units of government or private entities to assist recipient governments in carrying out their programs,” the guidance reads. “This includes special-purpose districts that perform specific functions in the community, such as fire, water, sewer or mosquito abatement districts.”
Rep. Carbajal wrote in his letter that fortunately, there is precedent for California to fulfill his request.
“Last year, the states of Colorado and Oregon, for example, included special districts in distributions of Coronavirus Relief Fund monies to local governments,” he wrote. “We hope you, your colleagues and the Administration will follow these examples of distributing critical relief funds.”