Kern County is set to receive $314 million under the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11.
Through its child tax credit, officials believe the plan will lift 533,000 California children out of poverty.
Newly minted U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla held a press conference Tuesday with Community Action Partnership of Kern and the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission to highlight the benefits the Democrat-backed spending bill is expected to have on the Central Valley.
A native of the San Fernando Valley, Padilla spoke to the plan’s intentions of helping disadvantaged communities that have been particularly hard hit from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been a tough year to put it mildly. We know that COVID has taken the lives of more than 540,000 people in this country,” Padilla said during the press conference. “But the good news is, both hope and help are on the way.”
In Kern County, hunger and poverty increased in 2020 as families struggled to make ends meet due to the economic shutdowns brought on by the pandemic. CAPK needed to increase the amount of food it provided to needy families from 20 million pounds to 33 million pounds.
The county already has high poverty levels, especially among children. In 2019, 73,800 children were living below the poverty line, 29.1 percent of the total. Of that, 29,575 were five years old or younger.
“The American Rescue Plan means hope for children and low income families throughout Kern County,” CAPK CEO Jeremy Tobias said during the press conference. “Through expanded partnerships and funding, the goal of lifting children out of poverty can be realized.”
Cities throughout Kern County, as well as the county itself, will receive tens of millions of dollars as part of the American Rescue Plan, with Bakersfield in particular getting a huge boost from around $96.3 million in funding, three times higher than the amount it received from the CARES Act.
Kern County is slated to receive around $174.6 million, slightly higher than the $157 million it received from the CARES Act.
Used to fund popular programs like rent and utilities assistance and forgivable loans to small businesses, the CARES Act funding has mostly been spent. Informed of the funding only recently, city officials have not yet cemented spending plans, according to Bakersfield city spokesman Joe Conroy.
"The funding will provide significant resources to augment the City’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic," he wrote in an email to The Californian, "including direct cost reimbursements, lost revenue recovery and to support our local business community in much needed economic recovery efforts. Funding may also be utilized by cities to invest in key infrastructure areas, such as wastewater, sewer and broadband."
Kern County spokeswoman Ally Triolo said the county was waiting on details from the U.S. Treasury on how the funding could be spent. While a tentative plan is in place, it cannot be brought before the Board of Supervisors before the guidelines are released.
She added the county hoped to receive the details within the next two weeks.
Whatever the rules end up being, the plan will likely touch people's lives in multiple ways.
“It was intentional to have a very comprehensive package,” Padilla said in response to criticism from Reps. David Valadao and Kevin McCarthy on the bill’s scope and spending priorities. “Most economists agree the danger was not having a dollar figure that was too big, but having a dollar figure that was too small.”
Cities throughout Kern County will receive millions of dollars as part of the plan. As efforts to vaccinate the country’s entire adult population get underway this summer, a significant portion of the funding will be dedicated to getting the nation to herd immunity.
“We hope this is the last significant package that we need,” Padilla said.