San Mateo County’s revised budget increases spending to $3.8 billion after a windfall of around $90 million worth of state and federal money came through to fund programs that combat the COVID-19 pandemic and restart the local economy.
Chief Financial Officer Roberto Manchia said, while the county has removed most pandemic-related business restrictions, business as normal will take time to bounce back.
That’s why the county is using some of its $74.4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, which constitutes the year’s portion — half of the $148 million — it is set to receive from the federal government in COVID-19-related relief, to support businesses directly through aid programs and fee relief. Other large investments include money for COVID-19 vaccination events and investments in the county’s Aging and Adult Services, Family Health Services and Public Health, Policy and Planning departments to aid in COVID-19 relief.
The second half of the pot of federal money, Manchia said, will come in May 2022. The county has yet to decide how it will spend that money due to changing COVID-19 and economic circumstances.
“We really want to see how this is going with the new variants going on,” Manchia said. “We want to make sure we don't move too fast and spend everything.”
One priority baked into the budget is combatting homelessness, with $20 million of the federal dollars plus $5 million in capital funds to go to purchasing additional hotels to convert into homeless shelters. The county is also pursuing creating a homelessness navigation center in Redwood City to help move residents into established housing, Manchia said.
“What we’ve learned throughout the pandemic is, in many ways, it's better to try to get people into their own established places and move them into a system,” Manchia said.
The biggest focus in the budget appears to be on the COVID-19 health response, with millions invested in programs to support vaccine outreach, including $2.5 million from the state going directly to administering COVID-19 vaccines in high-risk communities. Manchia said while the county has allocated funds to administer booster doses should the federal government authorize them for the general public, its focus remains on getting first-round doses to the estimated 7 percent of residents, or around 150,000 residents, who remain unvaccinated.
Most of the rest of the state and federal money, Manchia said, has gone to bolster existing county programs like the SMC Strong Fund and the Great Plates Delivered program, allowing them to continue with the support of external funds.
“We’re trying to make sure we don't lose the people we found through this pandemic who were hungry and needed meals,” Manchia said.
Looking ahead, Manchia said his team is monitoring the county’s industries to get a grasp on what the future might hold. So far, he said the economic comeback has been slow. With business convention, hotel and air traffic stalling and the future of remote work still up in the air, Manchia expects a full recovery to take time.
“It's about really keeping an ongoing eye on everything and trying to project out to the future,” Manchia said.