BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Kern County is working to allocate and use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to help communities recover from the impacts of the pandemic.
Last year, Congress passed a $1.9 trillion spending package. Of that, $350 billion went to the coronavirus state and local fiscal recovery fund, $65 billion of it was allocated to counties, and Kern County got nearly $175 million.
James Zervis, Chief Operations Officer with Kern County, said that money is being used in a variety of ways, including to help reopen libraries and keep them staffed. $15 million is also going to fund a multi-departmental effort to address homelessness, behavioral health, and substance abuse.
“That’s a pretty significant amount of funding and it has a little more flexibility than some of the prior stimulus funding that has been made available to the county and local government,” explained Zervis. “Our efforts to team behavioral health workers with law enforcement. To be able to go out and really try to bring assistance to some of the people that are really struggling out there with mental health, behavioral health-type issues and get them connected and off the streets and into some supportive housing situation where they can get some of the assistance they need.”
The county is getting the relief amount in two payments. Half of that was given out last year and the next installment is coming in May. Earlier this week at the board of supervisors meeting, Zervis presented plans for using the remaining funds based on public input and comment.
“A change to that plan based on feedback and really changing implementation guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department and we’re going to be taking $5 million of that funding to invest in parks in qualified census tracks, disadvantaged communities throughout Kern County.”
The money will also be used to improve water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure and help train employees who were impacted due to COVID.
“Investing a pretty significant amount of money into transitional job training, so getting people an opportunity that maybe have been displaced during the pandemic. To get them training opportunities and get them plugged in back into the workforce.”
Zervis said the guidelines on how the money is used aren’t too strict, but there are some limitations.
“You’re not allowed to put it in a rainy day fund or just kind of squirrel it away. Really the intent by the federal government is they don’t want you paying down debt or hoarding this money. They want it to go out into the community and be used to deal with some of these impacts from COVID-19.”
In terms of accountability, Zervis said the county will have to send detailed reports to us treasury about how the funds have been spent, can have an independent audit of the records, and the county auditor controller’s office will oversee that the funds do have to be allocated by 2024 and fully used by 2026.