To date, the City of Santa Monica has received limited federal support despite having to cut more than 60% of its budget as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But with a new president in office, city leaders hope Santa Monica will see more than the measly $1.4 million it’s been given so far.
At the start of the pandemic, City Hall restructured services and finances to address hundreds of millions of dollars in deficits and officials hoped significant aid would arrive in the coming months. However, it did not.
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which passed in March 2020, set aside $150 billion to stabilize states, territories, tribal, and local governments, but the Act did not include any direct stabilization aid to local governments with populations under 500,000, regardless of public health or economic impacts.
“Not only was the original stimulus population based but there was a cutoff to how much a city could receive,” Interim City Manager Lane Dilg said as she explained how cities with populations under 500,000 are out of the running for direct aid so they instead receive funds allocated to the state that are passed down in a population-based formula.
So while the local municipality received just over $1 million in stimulus funds, cities with populations that are only three to five times the size of Santa Monica received nearly 20 times as much funding.
For context, Bakersfield, a Central Valley city with a population around 375,000, received $33.5 million and Long Beach, which has a population of 360,000, was granted $40.3 million of CARES Act funds.
“Rep. Ted Liu later introduced a bill that would have allocated funds on three factors… and that would have been a much better allocation because it accounts for an economy like ours that out-punches its size,” Dilg added in a recent interview.
The proposal has yet to see a vote in Sacramento, but the City is certainly advocating for a formula like that so a lack of tourism and other economic factors are taken into account.
And it may soon get its wish.
Earlier this month, then President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” which city staff described as an ambitious legislative package that would fund COVID-19 vaccinations, provide direct federal relief to families, and support struggling communities across the US.
The plan includes $350 billion in emergency funding for state and local governments to keep essential frontline workers employed, facilitate continued testing and vaccine distribution, reopen schools, and to aid in our collective economic recovery, said Stephanie Venegas, Santa Monica’s Council & Legislative Affairs Liaison.
“And since the plan’s release, the City has advocated to our federal representatives in Congress and the White House to ensure that the unique needs of smaller cities such as Santa Monica are not left out of the formula that will eventually determine how much aid is delivered to states and local municipalities like ours,” she said.
Like Dilg, Venegas believes case counts, positivity rates, hospitalizations, and budget impacts should be part of the equation to determine COVID-19’s impact on the community and funds should be matched appropriately.
“Our general fund is heavily dependent on our tourism-based economy, which supports our broader region, and the impacts of our revenue loss have been devastating. As a key tourism destination in the Los Angeles area, our recovery supports workers and industries far beyond our city limits and well beyond our population size,” she said.
So, as the American Rescue Plan makes its way through Congress, city leaders are hopeful that smaller cities like Santa Monica, which is fighting every day to provide essential services, rental relief and food assistance, are at the heart of discussions around stimulus allocation.
“If it does come to pass that we receive stimulus funds,” Dilg said, “then those would go directly towards the essential tools that will help us recover from this as a city.”
This article has been updated to reflect Stephanie Venegas’s proper title as Santa Monica’s Council & Legislative Affairs Liaison.