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Pima County creates eviction legal defense program, maintains free COVID-19 testing
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Pima County creates eviction legal defense program, maintains free COVID-19 testing

Pima County is only conducting about 375 COVID-19 tests a day compared to about 3,000 tests daily during height of pandemic.

In another 4-1 vote, the Pima County Board of Supervisors entered into a new contract to continue the county’s free COVID-19 testing program.

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The Pima County supervisors voted for two separate measures Tuesday to extend coronavirus relief throughout the county.

The Board of Supervisors voted to direct up to $2 million to support legal defense costs for residents facing eviction, and it also entered into a new contract with several testing contractors to continue the county’s free COVID-19 testing program.

Both actions were approved 4-1 with Supervisor Steve Christy opposing in each vote.

The eviction defense motion, proposed by Supervisor Matt Heinz, will create a program funded by federal coronavirus relief money to provide eviction-related legal counsel for tenants while increasing marketing and outreach for eviction prevention clinics.

The CDC’s federal eviction moratorium expires March 31. On April 1, eviction judgments issued within the last 45 days will become enforceable. Landlords can ask to restore a court’s order if the judgment exceeds 45 days.

In Pima County, there are 4,376 outstanding eviction orders dating back to March 1, 2020, data from the county constables’ office shows.

Help for landlords during the coronavirus crisis is coming to an end but so many people fear they will now struggle to pay rent.

As an onslaught of eviction cases is expected in early April, the new program will reimburse private law firms and nonprofit organizations to provide defense for tenants in legal proceedings regarding their evictions.

Eligible residents must attest they’ve suffered financial loss due to the pandemic, are unable to afford counsel and are facing eviction for nonpayment or noncompliance to their leases.

”This is incredibly meaningful to keep some of these families who are at risk of temporarily experiencing homelessness in a safe and stable home,” Heinz said. “It’s very meaningful for for the community, and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to find a way to make this program, which is now just based on federal funding, more permanent.”

In a separate action, the supervisors unanimously approved $15 million for rental and utility assistance for tenants and landlords to apply for through the Community Investment Corp. The application is available at tucsonpimaep.com.

The board also approved a $33 million contract to fund the county’s COVID-19 testing program using money from the new American Rescue Plan. Before the relief package was passed, the county was at risk of suspending the program due to a lack of funding from the state.

The stimulus package signed into law last week could provide up to $7.4 billion to local governments, according to Arizona’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

While the county’s free testing locations have been significantly downsized, it’s continuing to provide free testing at the Kino Event Center, 2805 E. Ajo Way, and has moved its Udall testing site to 6009 E. Grant Road. The county also holds periodic pop-up testing events.

Other sites have been taken over by ASU’s saliva testing mechanism that the state pays for, including the Ellie Towne Center and El Pueblo Center.

As the spread of coronavirus slows, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the county is conducting only about 375 tests a day. At the height of the pandemic, it conducted up to 3,000 tests daily.

But the county is still struggling to be reimbursed for millions of dollars it’s spent from its general fund to pay for coronavirus testing during a peak time for COVID-19 cases.

Huckelberry says the county’s requested $30.3 million to reimburse its testing costs since Dec. 21, but the state is refusing to cover the $7.6 million incurred from Dec. 21 to Jan. 15. The state asked the county to shrink the total reimbursement cost down to $14.3 million, according to the county administrator.

The state health department agreed to give the county $14.36 million of the $419 million it received from the CDC for testing costs at the end of January, but the county has yet to receive the funds.

Contact Nicole Ludden at nludden@tucson.com. On Twitter: @nicolemludden


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