The state auditor said Tuesday that California’s finance department has massively shortchanged smaller counties, including Santa Barbara, of federal COVID-19 relief funds.
A report issued by State Auditor Elaine Howle concluded that the methodology used to distribute $1.3 billion in funding gave a disproportionate amount to California’s 16 most populous counties, with relief totals amounting to $190 per resident in those areas compared to $102 per person in the 42 smaller counties.
While California received a total $15.3 billion in CARES Act assistance ― most of which went directly from the federal government to cities and counties, or from the state Legislature to schools ― the report focused on the $1.3 billion state officials were then responsible for doling out.
The report also rebutted the finance department’s explanation for the uneven disbursement ― officials claimed bigger communities had higher virus transmission rates and therefore needed more money. “Based on the COVID-19 case data for all counties, the needs of many small counties, as reflected in case rates, were at least the same if not greater than the needs of large counties,” the report says.
Jeff Frapwell with Santa Barbara County’s Executive Office said Tuesday that he’d reviewed Howle’s findings. “We concur with the Auditor’s conclusion that California counties with populations under 500,000 were disadvantaged by the methodology used to allocate the [Coronavirus Relief Fund] funding passed through the State,” he said. “We are hopeful that any future financial aid from the federal government in support of our response to the current pandemic be allocated on a more equitable basis.”
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