Sacramento shifts CARE COVID funds from sheriff to health

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Wednesday to allocate $45 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to its county health department.

Most of the money – $19.2 million – will go to pay for a badly needed increase in microbiologists and other health staff within the Sacramento County Department of Health Services.

Another $15.3 million will go toward “public outreach and education, and to provide wrap around services to disadvantaged communities.”

And $3.5 million will go toward trying to expand capacity within the county health lab – from providing 5,000 tests per month to 9,500 tests per month.

The allocation comes a week after the revelation that county officials moved millions of federal dollars meant to combat COVID-19 into the budget of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.

“Health officials should not have to fight for this money,” said Flojaune G. Cofer, senior director of policy at Public Health Advocates.

The county received an allocation of $181 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. But $104 million somehow went to cover salaries and benefits for county law enforcement.

An outcry from the public at last week’s board meeting led to Wednesday’s meeting.

Supervisors unsuccessfully tried to learn why Cares Act money was moved to law enforcement, why county health officials felt they couldn’t ask for the money they needed and who was to blame.

Those questions are still unanswered.

But the board did ultimately agree to fund county health $45 million, even though the allocation comes four months after Cares Act funding was distributed to the county.

Supervisors Don Nottoli, Patrick Kennedy and Phil Serna all spoke of being confused as to how the CARES Act money was allocated.

“This is more than a breakdown,” Nottoli said. “This is a disservice to the people we all serve”

Said Kennedy: “We set up a system and it didn’t work. We haven’t had enough information. We are confused up here.”

Several public speakers excoriated all the supervisors for delegating the dispersal of Cares Act funds to County Executive Nav Gill.

“You are elected officials,” said Cofer said. “(Gill) is here to execute your will. You should not give him a blank check.”

Kennedy and Serna both took responsibility.

“There hasn’t been enough supervision by the board,” Serna said.

The question that still needs to answered is: Why has it taken four months for the County of Sacramento to allocate critical money meant for COVID-19 relief?

Several speakers blamed Gill and defended Olivia Kasirye, the county health officer.

At last week’s meeting, Kasiyre said she had been told by people in her department that she couldn’t ask for the $45 million she ultimately received on Wednesday.

Before the board allocated the money, Gill told Supervisors: “We had the money. We were trying to be nimble. We were relying on folks to get us the information.”

But again, callers into Wednesday’s meeting were not buying Gill’s story. Several callers criticized Gill for not placing health officials on a county committee to disperse COVID-19 funds. Several called for Gill to be fired.

Said Chet Hewitt, President and CEO of the Sierra Health Foundation:“A pandemic leaves no room for confusion.”

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Marcos Bretón writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.

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