County’s leftover pandemic relief money will fund affordable housing, mental health

The San Diego County Administration Center.
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego County has spent about a third of its federal pandemic relief money and will set aside some remaining funds for long-term housing and mental health programs, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday.

The American Rescue Plan Act, the nearly $2 trillion federal pandemic stimulus package President Biden signed early last year, provided relief to individuals and also distributed $360 billion to state and local governments to offset the costs of pandemic response.

San Diego County received $653 million and expects to spend most of that by 2024-25. However, financial projections show that the county would still have $119 million left that year. On Tuesday supervisors decided how to reallocate that money, with more than half of the balance designated for a potential fund to promote affordable housing.

Last year, county officials designated $311.5 million — almost half of the county’s total federal pandemic relief from the federal package — to cover COVID-19 response efforts, such as testing, tracing and vaccination.

The county also allocated $85 million for homeless services, $56 million for small business and nonprofit stimulus, $36 million for premium pay for county essential workers, $32 million for mental health services, $32 million for infrastructure, and additional funds for food assistance, senior and youth services, childcare subsidies and legal services.

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So far, San Diego County has spent $233 million of the federal dollars and expects to spend $534.5 million by 2024-25. Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to use the $119 million projected balance to cover existing services and to seed “evergreen” funds to improve mental health care and build affordable housing.

Supervisors directed $40 million of the projected balance to existing or planned programs.

That will include $7.5 million for a pilot program that provides monthly subsidies and other county services to families with children at risk of entering foster care, said Tammy Glenn, assistant communications director for the county. The board also voted to dedicate $7.5 million to provide mental health screenings for middle-school students, $13.4 million for homeless services programs and $100,000 for legal services.

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In other cases, the board decided on broad spending priorities but asked staff to return with detailed program proposals.

Supervisors voted to spend $10 million on cash assistance to “populations disproportionately affected” by the pandemic. The county hasn’t determined who would be eligible, but staff will return to the board with proposals, Glenn said.

Another $1.5 million will go to to assistance for home workers and child care workers; the board asked staff for recommendations on how to structure that aid as well.

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The remaining $79 million of the projected balance would go to seed long-term programs that supervisors said could provide public benefits for years to come.

Supervisors voted to spend $15 million on an existing program, the Workforce Partnership, designed to recruit and train behavioral health workers needed in San Diego, including psychologists and psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, marriage and family therapists, psychiatric nurses and other specialists.

They reserved $64 million of the projected remaining pandemic relief funds to develop an affordable housing program and asked staff to provide proposals.

The board didn’t specify what the housing program would include. Supervisor Nora Vargas said she would like to consider ways to create housing opportunities for county employees, and Supervisor Joel Anderson said he wants to increase the housing inventory.