Merced County CA supervisors lay out COVID-19 spending

The Merced County Board of Supervisors approved a plan for its $28.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief on Tuesday, including small business support.

But amid the ongoing pandemic, advocates say the county’s CARES Act plan doesn’t go far enough to help people whose pocketbooks are hurting.

The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act is the federal government’s $2 trillion economic relief package dedicated to helping the public recover from the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

The larger split of Merced County’s CARES Act funds — $18.6 million — is going toward community and emergency response, which covers salaries for county employees. The money also supports making facilities safer during the pandemic, improving technology and other projects.

Another $7.2 million is aimed at community support, which includes rental assistance, small business assistance and coronavirus education. The remaining $3 million is a contingency plan to be assigned later.

The plan passed with a 4-1 vote. Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza cast the sole “no” vote, saying he wanted more money from the contingency put toward services like rental assistance.

“When you quarantine your whole household, everybody is suffering,” he said.

Community advocates’ concerns

A number of advocates at the meeting, and some who called in, said the plan does not do enough for people who are hurting economically. Some are struggling to pay the rent or cover other household expenses.

The coronavirus has disproportionately affected people of color. Plus, advocates say undocumented immigrants are putting themselves in danger as essential workers.

That’s why the CARES Act money should support people first, according to Alejandro Jurado, program coordinator for Youth Leadership Institute.

“It’s heavily focused on businesses,” he said. “The plan seems to be a relief for businesses rather than for workers. In that situation, you’re forcing workers to risk their lives every day.”

Merced County officials said $4 million in the plan supports people with rental assistance and other expenses. About $1 million of that is available to undocumented people, officials say.

The people suffering the most during the pandemic need the help first, according to Gabriela Spiva, lead administrator and organizer for Merced People of Color.

“This CARES Act is a chance to really show people that you are prioritizing people who are the most vulnerable,” she told the supervisors.

Supervisor Daron McDaniel said he supported keeping the contingency money at $3 million, noting that officials can decide later to use it wherever needed. “I think it’s there for good ideas we come up with as we move forward,” he said.

The county approved $3.1 million in amounts up to $50,000 per company for small businesses with 25 or fewer employees. How to apply for the money was not immediately available.

By the numbers: Merced County’s CARES Act plan

Community and emergency response, $18.6 million and $3 million in contingency

Community support, $7.2 million

$3.1 million — Small business support$400,000 — Healthcare support$200,000 — Food assistance$2.2 million — Homelessness and housing$1 million — Outreach and education$265,000 — Community and veterans halls
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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.

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