Long Beach to receive another $27 million in federal funds; questions remain about how it can be used

Mayor Robert Garcia announced Thursday that Long Beach was allocated an additional $27 million in federal assistance this week, but city management is warning that the full extent of how the money can be spent is not known.

Garcia said that $15 million of this new money is restricted to be spent at the Long Beach Airport, but the remaining $12 million would add to the large pool of largely unrestricted federal money the city is set to receive as part of the American Rescue Plan.

The bill was signed into law by President Joe Biden Thursday.

The mayor announced the new funds during a meeting of the city’s Federal Legislative Committee, the body’s first look at the $151 million Long Beach Recovery Act Garcia unveiled Monday morning. The full council will consider the proposed plan Tuesday and could vote to approve it.

However, federal guidelines are currently vague on how the money can be spent, and City Manager Tom Modica said the council should proceed with caution.

“I strongly encourage you to wait for official guidance before you start spending this money,” Modica said.

One of the largest proposed allocations Garcia unveiled Monday was $83.2 million going toward plugging holes in the city’s reserves, which it had to tap in order to balance budget deficits created by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The money would also be used to balance the upcoming year’s budget.

Modica said that the city believes that use of the funds would be allowed, but the full guidelines have yet to be released. It could be a considerable amount of time before all of the proposed programs get off the ground.

The city will receive half of the funds in the first 60 days, once the federal government starts distributions, but the other half won’t come until a year after that, Modica said. 
Having an additional $12 million to work with going into Tuesday’s meeting could provide the council some flexibility to fund new programs not included in Garcia’s plan, or increase existing ones.

James Suazo, the executive director of Long Beach Forward, which is part of a coalition of groups pushing for more funding to community-based programs, said that Garcia’s announcement of extra funding was welcome news.

Suazo’s group sent a letter to the city last week asking for roughly $15 million in funding for increased language access for residents who don’t speak English fluently, legal defense and economic assistance for immigrants, a rental housing division to help with tenant-landlord relations and the formation of a community land trust to address ongoing affordable housing needs, among other needs.

About $2.3 million was clearly allocated to those causes in Garcia’s plan, but an itemized list has yet to be made public.

“A wise person once said ‘mo money mo problems,’ and thankfully your community is here to work with you and offer tangible solutions to allocate these resources and address the needs of those who are directly impacted by this public health crisis,” Suazo said.

Councilman Rex Richardson noted that language access was an issue, pointing to translation problems that occurred during the meeting Thursday in which Spanish-speaking members of the public were not accurately having their words relayed to the committee.

Richardson said he would make sure to raise that point during Tuesday’s meeting to make sure that the issues that played out Thursday “never happen again.”

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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