Napa County isn't rushing to spend $9 million in federal COVID-19 relief money it has allotted for community needs, with the goal of maximum impact.
The Board of Supervisors took up the issue of American Rescue Plan Act money again this month. Some issues came to the forefront.
“I already know an area I want to be super laser focused on. It's child care,” Board Chairperson Alfredo Pedroza said. “We know that’s a huge need in our community.”
Yet supervisors didn’t immediately create a grant program and invite applications from local nonprofits, which was an option before them. They wanted to study and strategically address social service gaps.
County staff will identify needs and resources currently available and return after the holidays with recommendations, County Executive Officer Minh Tran said. This is a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make transformational, impactful, meaningful, permanent changes to improve the community, he said.
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“So we definitely want to take the time to do this right,” Tran said.
Supervisors heard from several nonprofit groups during a Nov. 16 public hearing.
Liz Marks of Mentis asked supervisors to make mental health a priority. The American Rescue Plan funds are coming at a crucial time, she said.
“All the data and studies are showing us the levels of depression and anxiety have doubled since the pandemic,” Marks said.
Mary Palmer of the Napa County Commission on Aging said senior transportation to such destinations as doctor appointments is an issue. The need was revealed in studies done in 2005 and 2015.
“Now we’re talking about doing another study,” she said. “I understand we need the information from right now. But we need an action plan. We need something to happen after the study is done.”
Michele Grupe of Cope Family Center represented the Community Leaders Coalition. She urged the county to take time to plan and not rush.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to leverage money from other sources and really get the biggest bang for our buck,” she said.
Supervisors weren’t inclined to rush.
“It’s so easy to just go in and invest the money because there are so many great causes, but it’s rare where you can pause and look at it globally,” Pedroza said.
Yet some issues such as the need for child care are easy to identify, Pedroza said. He suggested a hybrid approach.
Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht wanted to look at how state, local and other federal money can be brought to bear. Perhaps an issue such as senior transportation can be solved by sitting at a table with others involved, he said.
“Usually when we come with money, everyone says, ‘I want mine now,’ ” Wagenknecht said. “That’s not necessarily what I heard.”
The county is getting a total of $26.8 million from the federal government in American Rescue Plan Act funds. It previously divided this money into three buckets — county public health response, community and equity investment and infrastructure investment.
Last week's session focused on the $9 million community and equity investment bucket.
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