Sonoma County government, cities in line for $160 million in federal aid under new stimulus bill
Under legislation pushed by President Joe Biden and passed by Congress Wednesday, local governments in Sonoma County are slated to receive about $160 million in federal stimulus aid to shore up public coffers amid economic wreckage from the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden, who hailed the bill’s advance as a “historic victory,” signed the bill into law Thursday before a national address to mark the year anniversary of the start of the pandemic in the United States.
Sonoma County is set to receive an estimated $96 million from the legislation, followed by Santa Rosa, Sonoma County’s largest city, which is line for a little more than $36 million, according to a chart posted online by the Democratic caucus of the U.S. Senate.
It’s estimated Petaluma will receive $8.75 million and Rohnert Park just over $8 million. Windsor should receive $5 million, Healdsburg $2.2 million and Cotati $1.4 million.
“Californians have been struggling for over a year in the face of this once in a century pandemic and economic collapse,” Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said in a Wednesday afternoon statement. The relief package “is what we need to beat COVID, safely reopen schools, deliver relief, and ensure an equitable recovery for everyone,” Huffman said.
The bill passed with unified support from Democrats — including Sonoma County’s other congressman, Mike Thompson of St. Helena — but without any Republicans voting in its favor.
Biden, touting the biggest legislative achievement of his still-young presidency, said help was now on the way to struggling Americans, though some political observers have warned the sprawling relief package’s more complex elements could take time to implement.
The sums headed to Sonoma County represent the first direct distribution of federal aid money to government coffers here since COVID-19 began sickening and killing North Bay residents and throttling the local economy. The long-sought relief was welcome to local officials seeking to plug gaps in budgets battered by plummeting sales and lodging tax dollars.
The aid is “a big deal,” for Healdsburg with its tourism-based economy, said Jeff Kay, the city manager.
“Our revenues have really taken a massive hit,” Kay said.
Biden’s American Rescue Plan includes $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments, part of the larger $1.9 trillion package meant to support individuals and families, school districts, industries, public health programs and tenants, to name just a few of the beneficiaries.
The bill includes $130 billion for primary and secondary schools, $45 billion for rental, utility and mortgage payment assistance, small business grants and a range of other relief programs. It provides $1,400 stimulus payments for individual adults making less than $75,000 a year and couples making under $150,000. The government will distribute another $1,400 per child to parents with children who are dependents.
The package extends a $300-a-week federal unemployment payment, and an additional payment to cover needs for children of jobless individuals. Those supplementary payments have been extended to at least September.
It is the third federal relief package since the pandemic began, but the first to send money directly to local governments in Sonoma County, which missed out on previous disbursements due to the region not qualifying under minimum population thresholds.
As the pandemic continues, the aid is “very much welcome,” Sonoma County Administrator Sheryl Bratton said.
County officials were devastated when the first federal relief package last spring unleashed $2.2 trillion in aid but capped distributions to county governments with more than 500,000 people. The county was over that population threshold as recently as 2017, but has lost ground since then in part from people leaving in the face of a series of catastrophic wildfires.
Sonoma County and city governments still received assistance from that program, the CARES Act, but did so through the state or specific federal programs like housing and money for COVID-19 testing. Those dollars didn’t even come close to filling the need, county officials said.
Sonoma County received $50.2 million in CARES dollars through the state, Bratton said.
“It’s like every disaster where you get reimbursed and you get these dollars to cover the expenses,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, “but you realize along the way that everything costs you more.”
While the county and Santa Rosa have spent millions of dollars to respond to the pandemic, officials also estimated they’ve taken in less revenue — equating to a combined $130 million in losses and unforeseen expenses between the two jurisdictions, according to the county and city.