You are the owner of this article.
Tucson council approves plan to distribute $96 million in federal coronavirus funding

Tucson council approves plan to distribute $96 million in federal coronavirus funding

From the May's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: Cases rise, judge rules that state can keep nursing home data from public series

Tucson City Hall

A plan to distribute $95.7 million in federal CARES Act funding to help Tucson recover from the impact of COVID-19 has been approved by the city council.

Passed by Congress on March 27, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act provides emergency payments to state, local and tribal governments through the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund. Tucson qualified for funding to cover pandemic related expenses incurred between March 1 and December 30, 2020.

The plan approved Wednesday by the council includes $22 million in community aid, $38 million in funding for the continuity of city operations and services and $33 million in reserves in anticipation of a potential resurgence of the coronavirus.

“This plan reflects the values and priorities of mayor and council, making sure that economic relief reaches every member of our community,” said Tucson Mayor Regina Romero. “Our budget is a moral document. Through this strategic plan, we are making it loud and clear that we believe that the best investment we can make is in our community — whether it be helping small businesses and non-profits make payroll, aiding Tucsonans with their utility and rental payments, or investing in domestic violence prevention and childcare.”

On May 12, City Manager Michael Ortega provided the council with his own recommendations for how the funding should be distributed. Council member Lane Santa Cruz, however, took the lead on developing a strategic plan that she said focuses on equity and protecting Tucson’s most vulnerable populations.

“Centering equity as a priority in how we allocate our CARES Act funding means that we as policy makers will account for the different needs, challenges, and histories of the communities we serve,” Santa Cruz said. “This public health crisis shows us that we can no longer ignore the structural barriers that have resulted in pervasive economic, health and racial disparities in our city. We have to act, and we have to act now.”

Santa Cruz presented several changes to the allocations that were recommended by Ortega, including $15 million less in city operation expenses and $20 million more in reserves.

Councilman Steve Kozachik said he appreciated the work of Santa Cruz and welcomed the idea of bringing equity into the funding allocations, but didn’t agree with dismissing the city manager’s recommendations.

“Ortega and his staff made specific recommendations that I think if we just toss aside, it undermines the authority and the role that he brings to the table,”

Kozachik also expressed concern that there are strict rules regarding the way that the federal funds can be used and warned that if they did not use them correctly, those funds could be taken away.

“This is a federal emergency grant and if we don’t use it correctly, we’ll get those dollars clawed back we can’t just assume those dollars are simply going to be there,” he said.

Ultimately, the council voted 4-3 to adopt the strategic plan.

Community aid

With $22 million allocated toward community aid, the council will distribute $3.5 million to small businesses and nonprofits to help support their continued operation through the pandemic. Another $5 million will provide up to two months of utility assistance and one month of rent or mortgage assistance for qualifying individuals and businesses.

The community aid plan also allocates $5 million for the care of vulnerable populations, which includes workers and their families, victims of domestic violence, the elderly and people experiencing homelessness.

Among other items, the council also outlined $3.5 million in funding for community-wide coronavirus testing and contact tracing.

City operations

Under the strategic plan, the Council allocated nearly $38 million toward operation costs, including $500,000 for coronavirus testing and contact tracing for employees, $4 million in personal protective equipment and enforcement costs and $24 million for payroll expense reimbursements.

The plan also provides $3 million for telework and e-government expenses so that city employees can continue to work from home through the pandemic. During the Wednesday meeting, Ortega said they should “look at telecommuting as the new normal” and that finding ways to improve their technology and teleworking capabilities should be a priority.

Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at jdemers@tucson.com

On Twitter: @JasmineADemers

Concerned about COVID-19?

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News