The most recently passed COVID-19 relief package is expected to bring millions into the county.
Humboldt County as a whole is set to receive $26.29 million from the recently passed American Rescue Plan, according to a March 10 press release from Rep. Jared Huffman’s Office. The legislation allocates an estimated $3,469,232 for Arcata, $234,343 for Blue Lake, $5,027,572 for Eureka, $254,484 for Ferndale and $2,307,488 for Fortuna.
“Californians have been struggling for over a year in the face of this once in a century pandemic and economic collapse,” Huffman said in a statement. ” … The American Rescue Plan is what we need to beat COVID, safely reopen schools, deliver relief, and ensure an equitable recovery for everyone.”
How exactly the funding can be used is still being worked out, but Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer said the money can be used to make up for lost revenue because of COVID-19, necessary infrastructure projects, economic recovery and the COVID-19 response.
For instance, cities were required to provide extra time off to employees during the start of the pandemic and “most private employees were reimbursed for that cost by a reduction in their social security tax allocation,” but “governments were not allowed to take that same deduction,” Diemer said.
“So we have been told we can apply for these funds for use to backpay that,” Diemer said.
Any decision on how to spend the money will need to go through the respective cities’ councils.
Eureka City Manager Miles Slattery said Eureka could use the funds to support programs for hard-hit businesses and struggling residents.
There were also some projects that were pushed to the wayside because of a lack of funding, such as wastewater projects, so those could move forward if the funding allows for it, Slattery said.
“We deferred 5% increases that were part of our rate review for water and sewer,” Slattery said, “and if allowable, that might be something we can use to replenish those enterprise funds.”
One particular project is renovating the U.S. Coast Guard building and converting it into a substation for the Eureka Police Department’s community safety engagement team, he said.
In Arcata, the council identified five priority areas for the city — economic recovery, infrastructure, housing and services for the homeless, mental health and social services, and revitalization of the Valley West neighborhood.
“I think there will be a suite of projects that come out the council’s scoping that could be appropriate for these funds,” Diemer said. “And the city does certainly have loss of revenue associated with our water and sewer accounts, projects that were delayed — we have just a lot of other internal expenses that the city has incurred to respond to COVID.”
The city was fortunate in that it didn’t have to lay off any full-time staff, but it froze vacant positions so Arcata’s down about 12% in overall full-time staffing, Diemer said.
Part-time staff was reduced by 75%, but rebuilding that staff will have to coincide with the reopening of the economy because those individuals were employed in recreation programs and the like, Diemer said.
Diemer estimated that receiving a portion of that distribution will likely take about four months. The federal government has 60 days to send the funds to the state and the state has 30 days to send it to local jurisdictions, though states can file for an extension, Diemer said.
Diemer said she appreciated the support for small rural communities in the most recent round of legislation.
“Every package started with monies for local governments and in every previous package those monies were eliminated,” Diemer said. “Those of us working in the local government have seen that the response to this pandemic has primarily been at the local level, so to be recognized for the perseverance and support we’ve provided to our communities in this pandemic has been really reassuring and desperately needed to keep our economy afloat.”
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.