The Long Beach City Council asked city management Tuesday to look into whether the city can use federal and state COVID-19 recovery funding to help pay for cultural events.

Long Beach has received over $200 million in state and federal aid since the start of the pandemic, with much of that funding tied to specific programs like rental assistance, airport operations and COVID-19 testing.

A smaller portion of that was available for flexible spending, like replenishing city reserves, cleaning up corridors and creating programs to help local businesses and nonprofits.

The council is expected to receive a report next month that could determine if those funds could also be used to help pay for cultural events like the annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade, Hispanic Heritage Month and others.

“I think it’s only right to look at opportunities to support some of these cultural events that really define our city,” said Councilman Al Austin, the author of the request.

Austin’s memo pointed to a $7.5 million allocation that the city set aside in the originally adopted in the March 2021 Long Beach Recovery Act that was earmarked for economic inclusion.

The text of the rescue plan the city adopted in 2021 said a significant portion of the $7.5 million would be used to establish economic empowerment zones to address inequities experienced by minority business owners.

Other parts of that funding were earmarked to provide support by offering digital literacy training to help bring businesses up to speed with modern technologies and developing an empowerment fund to provide financial services for underserved communities.

Austin’s request said that using this money for cultural events could directly impact minority-owned businesses and help jumpstart an economic return from the pandemic.

Traditionally, cultural events have been funded in part with money that City Council members contribute from their district accounts, which every member of the council receives during the budget cycle to be used on one-time contributions to the neighborhoods they serve. Those funds can be used for anything from fixing curbs to financially supporting a public celebration.

Last year, for example, Councilwoman Mary Zendejas gave $50,000 to the Downtown’s Dia de los Muertos event, and Councilwoman Suely Saro directed $59,000 of her one-time funds to this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. parade.

That parade, though, was canceled as the omicron variant led to a record surge in COVID-19 cases in the city, and this week the council approved a refund of some of that money back to Saro’s account.

But even if the city determines that it’s OK to use federal and state recovery funding for these kinds of celebrations, it’s unclear how much of that money remains available. The city opened up applications for $4 million in business grants last week that will come from Recovery Act money.

The city also had to recalibrate its spending plan after learning late last year that it had received $18 million less in flexible funds than it had originally planned for.

Long Beach cuts recovery programs after receiving less federal funds

A year after approval, Long Beach Recovery Act grants are available for small businesses

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.