How Have State Local and Fiscal Recovery Funds Been Leveraged to Advance Equity in the Bay Area?
March 7, 2023
The Bay Area Recovery Dollars Tracker provides data on how cities and counties across the nine-county region have allocated federal recovery funds and the amount of resources that remain unobligated. This powerful tool can guide local government and advocacy efforts to advance a just and equitable recovery.
By Michelle Huang, Jennifer Tran, and Ryan Fukumori
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) established the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) program to provide state, local, and tribal governments with resources to support their pandemic response efforts. Cities and counties across the Bay Area region collectively received more than $3 billion in flexible resources to spend over five years to help build a stronger, more equitable economy during the recovery.
These resources offered a unique opportunity for regional leaders to make transformative investments and advance racial equity in the region by addressing the needs of the Black and brown communities most harmed by Covid-19 as well as the systemic barriers that preceded the pandemic. In alignment with the Biden Administration’s day-one executive order that centered equity — “the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment” — in all federal policies, the US Treasury’s final rule aimed “to promote and streamline the provision of assistance to individuals and communities in greatest need, particularly communities that have been historically underserved and have experienced disproportionate impacts of the Covid-19 crisis.” In the Bay Area, local recovery task forces in Contra Costa County, Oakland, San Francisco, San Mateo County, and Silicon Valley outlined aspirations to achieve an inclusive economic recovery. These task forces laid out priorities that included investing in small businesses and workforce development initiatives; supporting underinvested communities by increasing digital inclusion and ensuring universal childcare access; and strengthening tenant protections and housing affordability. Yet to date, there has not been a comprehensive analysis of how local jurisdictions allocated resources and investments to support communities during the region’s recovery.
Our research examines the allocation of SLFRF funds in the Bay Area to assess if and how these federal resources were used to support equitable regional recovery efforts. This analysis shares key insights from the dashboard, using data pulled from the most recent US Treasury quarterly report available, which captures spending decisions through September 30, 2022, for all nine counties and 33 large cities in the Bay Area; performance reports submitted by large cities and counties to the US Treasury, which detail the equity considerations and community engagement processes localities used in selecting and approving SLFRF projects; and conversations with individuals running select projects funded through SLFRF dollars and members of our cross-sector committee of local advocacy organizations. To learn more about the data and our methodology, delve into this overview.
Our key findings include the following:
Bay Area municipal governments have made plans to spend $1.88 billion (62 percent) of the $3 billion SLFRF funds allocated to the region. There was a remaining $1.1 billion (38 percent) that was not yet obligated.
The large majority of funded projects (82 percent) are still in progress or have yet to launch.
Local governments in the Bay Area largely used SLFRF dollars to offset declines in their revenue. Nearly half (43 percent) of obligated dollars have gone to revenue replacement, which is the largest category of decided funding.
In addition to revenue replacement, many jurisdictions made sizable investments to support communities weathering the financial and health challenges of the pandemic. This included 20 percent of obligated funding to public health projects that were responding directly to Covid, 7 percent to advance housing justice, 6 percent for cash supports, and 5 percent for projects to advance food security and bolster government infrastructure and services.
Some Bay Area governments leveraged SLFRF funds to fund new, equity-oriented pilot programs and initiatives. Examples of these include small-scale subsidy programs to prevent families from becoming unhoused, guaranteed income pilot programs, and public health campaigns that targeted communities most impacted by the pandemic, including Black, Latinx, Native American, and Pacific Islander residents.
A handful of municipalities used SLFRF dollars for policing and incarceration, which does not align with the stated intent of using these funds to advance equity. The cities of San Mateo and Santa Clara spent a combined $34 million on police salaries and services.
Local governments employed various strategies to engage impacted communities and gather community input in the allocation of SLFRF dollars. These strategies included conducting community surveys, commissioning working groups and task forces, hosting community feedback meetings and focus groups, and partnering with trusted community partners.
To ensure lasting security and stability for all Bay Area residents and communities and to rectify the systemic barriers that preceded the pandemic, we encourage local governments to take the following recommendations into consideration as they allocate their final SLFRF funds:
Invest remaining resources in programs that support the Black and brown communities who continue to experience the lingering impacts of the pandemic.
Make targeted, permanent investments to sustain the impact of these initial investments.
Develop equitable decision-making and transparency in spending decisions.
Evaluate the disbursal of SLFRF funds and programmatic impacts using an equity lens.
Data and Methods
In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) established the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) program to provide state, local, and tribal governments with resources to support their pandemic response efforts and ensure an equitable economic recovery. SLFRF dollars were distributed to local governments through the US Department of the Treasury (US Treasury), and jurisdictions have been encouraged through the US Treasury’s interim and final rule to target resources to the communities of color, tribal communities, and low-income communities disproportionately negatively impacted by the pandemic, while also “addressing the systemic public health and economic challenges that may have contributed to more severe impacts of the pandemic among low-income communities and people of color.”
Local governments are allowed to use SLFRF funds to:
Replace lost public sector revenue: Provide government services up to the amount of revenue lost due to the pandemic
Respond to the far-reaching public health and negative economic impacts of the pandemic: Support the health of communities and assist households, small businesses, impacted industries, nonprofits, and the public sector in recovering from the pandemic’s economic impacts
Provide premium pay for essential workers: Offer additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical sectors
Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure: Make necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, support vital wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and expand affordable access to broadband internet
Within each of these four allowable categories of uses, jurisdictions can exercise flexibility in how they allocate SLFRF dollars. The first tranche of dollars was distributed in May 2021 and the second tranche was distributed in May 2022. Cities and counties have until December 31, 2024, to obligate their SLFRF dollars; they are required to expend them by December 31, 2026.
The dashboard and analysis use data and information from the following sources:
The most recent US Treasury report on SLFRF projects and expenditures, which includes data for all nine counties and 33 large cities in the Bay Area through September 30, 2022;
The Recovery Plan Performance Reports submitted by large cities and counties to the US Treasury, which detail the equity considerations and community engagement processes localities used in selecting and approving SLFRF projects; and
Conversations with individuals running select projects funded through SLFRF dollars and members of our cross-sector committee of the region’s advocacy organizations.
Note: The dashboard was last updated on March 17, 2023 — and it reflects US Treasury reporting data through December 31, 2023. The latest reporting data includes Gilroy, bringing the total number of cities to 34.
Classification of Expenditure Categories
The data that undergirds the Bay Area Recovery Dollars Tracker comes from the US Treasury’s quarterly reports on the projects and expenditures of SLFRF recipients. Jurisdictions with populations greater than 250,000 residents and metropolitan cities and counties with populations less than 250,000 residents that were allocated more than $10 million are required to submit quarterly project and expenditure reports to the US Treasury that detail the use of their dollars. The aggregate dataset of those quarterly reports is published on the US Treasury website.
To analyze the data submitted by jurisdictions to the US Treasury in a uniform approach across Bay Area cities and counties, we tried to make consistent, qualitative decisions about how local projects fit into various categories. This alignment process required interpreting the information presented by jurisdictions in their project descriptions and coding them in a way that allows us to make consistent comparisons across geographies.
We assigned projects to expenditure categories based on project descriptions. We also highlighted some expenditure categories as a “targeted equity investment area” for projects that primarily focus on supporting specific communities and groups disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and structural racism, including low-income communities, people of color, formerly incarcerated people, undocumented immigrants, refugees, and entrepreneurs of color.
Projects do not always fit neatly into one single category. However, in the interest of comparability, we assigned the best-fit category for each project based on the Treasury’s categories, our interpretation of the project description, and input from members of our advisory group.
Assessment of Community Engagement
To assess how local governments engaged impacted communities and gathered community input in the allocation of SLFRF dollars, we reviewed 10 of the performance reports that were submitted to the US Treasury by jurisdictions as well as presentation materials or information published on the jurisdictions’ websites. We also reached out to government officials in the 23 jurisdictions without performance reports to request an on-the-record comment about their community engagement processes. Only jurisdictions with populations greater than 250,000 residents are required to submit these annual reports, and each jurisdiction is required to make its quarterly and annual performance reports publicly available.
Of the 10 reports reviewed, seven jurisdictions reported community engagement activities and the other three jurisdictions did not include community engagement activities because they obligated all of their SLFRF funding to revenue replacement or Covid-related response.
2022 Local Fiscal Recovery Fund Performance Reports Reviewed:
To learn more about the implementation of select pilot projects in the region, we also spoke to the following individuals:
Shallow Subsidies for Homelessness Prevention: Amy Cole-Bloom, Management Analyst, City of Hayward
Shop Local Voucher Program: Heather Ruiz, Management Analyst, Economic & Community Development Department, South San Francisco
Digital Divide and Broadband Infrastructure Enhancement Project: Michael Sinor, Chief Technology Officer, City of San Leandro
Guaranteed Income Pilot Program (Phase 1): Elida Sobalvarro, Director, YMCA of San Francisco
Alameda County Vaccination Programs: Kimi Watkins-Tartt, Director, Alameda County Public Health Department
Regional Recovery Community Advisory Committee
Throughout this project, we consulted and received guidance and feedback from an advisory group of local advocacy organizations. Their insights helped refine and inform our definitions, how we classified projects, and the expenditure categories we sorted them into; guide our recommendations; shape the development of the dashboard; and provide additional local context.
Here are the advisory committee members:
Oraiu Amoni, Director, Jobs with Justice San Francisco
Louise Auerhahn, Director of Economic and Workforce Policy, Working Partnerships USA
Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Co-Founder, The Maven Collaborative
Monet Boyd, Senior Planner, BARHII
Tracey Brieger, Campaign Director, Jobs with Justice San Francisco
Omar Carrera, Chief Executive Officer, Canal Alliance
Kung Feng, Lead Organizer, Jobs with Justice San Francisco (former)
Dan Geiger, Coordinator, Contra Costa Budget Justice Coalition
Sara Gurdian, Program Manager, Contra Costa Budget Justice Coalition
Alina Harway, Communications Director, Non-Profit Housing
Edie Irons, Director of Communications, All Home
Melissa Jones, Executive Director, BARHII
Joanne Karchamer, Chief Impact Officer, All Home
Kim Kruckel, Executive Director, Child Care Law Center
Karina Laigo, Staff Attorney, Child Care Law Center
Derecka Mehrens, Executive Director, Working Partnerships USA
Mariana Moore, Director, Ensuring Opportunity Campaign to End Poverty in Contra Costa
Madison Roberts, Narrative Specialist, Non-Profit Housing
Chris Schildt, Director of Housing Justice, Urban Habitat
Ellen Wu, Executive Director, Urban Habitat
Darris Young, Impact Manager of African Americans and Pacific Islanders, BARHII
As of September 30, 2022, Bay Area municipal governments have made plans to spend $1.88 billion of the SLFRF funds allocated to the region.
By the end of the third quarter in 2022, Bay Area governments had allocated $1.88 billion (62 percent) of the $3 billion dollars that were dispersed throughout the region. However, there is a large variation in the percentage of obligated funds across the nine-county region. Among county governments, only Marin County had decided on spending allocations for 100 percent of its SLFRF allotment, while Solano County had the highest share of undecided funding (60 percent). Four other counties — Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara Counties — had yet to finalize spending decisions on approximately half of their SLFRF dollars.
Among cities and towns, 13 jurisdictions have obligated all of their SLFRF dollars, while five cities have all or the vast majority of their dollars unallocated. Both Pittsburg and Rohnert Park do not have any SLFRF dollars obligated yet. Antioch has obligated just over $1,000, which is less than 1 percent of its $21.6 million allocation. The City of Vacaville also has barely obligated any of its funds — 96 percent of its allocation is still undecided. And 77 percent ($21.2 million) of Richmond’s $27.7 million allocation remains unobligated.
The large majority of funded projects (82 percent) are still in progress or have yet to launch.
While a majority of SLFRF dollars have been decided in the Bay Area, just one-sixth (16 percent) of funded projects have been completed. As of September 2022, Bay Area municipalities reported that one-quarter of designated projects had yet to start, over one-third were less than half complete, and about one in five projects were over half finished. A small percentage (2 percent) of projects had been canceled by the time of reporting.
Nearly half (43 percent) of obligated dollars have gone to revenue replacement.
Local governments in the Bay Area overwhelmingly used SLFRF dollars to offset declines in their revenue. Sustaining local revenue can help prevent cuts in services and programs, which has been crucial as pandemic-related illness and job losses created a widespread financial crisis and worsened food insecurity. As of September 2022, only three of the nine Bay Area counties (Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Solano Counties) and 14 of the 33 cities included in this analysis had not obligated any SLFRF funds to revenue replacement. Eight cities across the region had already decided to allocate 100 percent of their SLFRF funds to revenue replacement, and several jurisdictions, such as San Francisco and Pittsburg, are planning to put the rest of their undecided funds toward revenue replacement pending approval.
Bay Area municipalities allocated a sizeable portion of SLFRF funds to support communities weathering the financial and health challenges of the pandemic.
After revenue replacement, the next-largest share of obligated funding went to support public health projects that were responding directly to Covid (20 percent of all obligated funding). Public health funding is most pronounced at the county level, as public health agencies are county government institutions. Three counties — Contra Costa, Marin, and Santa Clara Counties — used a majority of their SLFRF funds for public health activities related to Covid-19. These were investments that went directly towards addressing pandemic-related public health needs, such as vaccination efforts; Covid prevention, testing, and contact tracing; air filtration system upgrades; and outreach and engagement to the communities most impacted by the pandemic to reduce disparities.
While a majority of SLFRF funds have been designated to replacing lost government revenue and addressing the pandemic, Bay Area city and county governments also applied portions of SLFRF funds to a mix of community-centered initiatives:
- Housing Justice: $128 million (7 percent of all obligated funds) across 16 jurisdictions have been allocated to support housing security for low-income households. These included investments related to affordable housing production and preservation, community ownership models, rent relief, assistance for low-income homeowners, eviction protections/anti-displacement strategies, and homelessness prevention and diversion.
For example, the City of San Jose dedicated $38 million to housing — the largest investment in housing justice in the region. More than half of that amount was to build emergency housing that would increase housing security for low-income households.
Other spending examples include the creation of a housing trust fund in Solano County; the acquisition of a hotel in San Mateo County to provide interim housing; and funding legal aid for tenants facing rent increases, discrimination and/or eviction in anticipation of the eviction moratorium ending in San Leandro.
- Cash Supports: Seven local governments across the region dedicated $105 million (6 percent of all obligated funds) to fund income-based programs that provide cash assistance for low-income individuals and families, including guaranteed income programs as well as premium pay for essential workers. These programs included a mix of pandemic pay for city and county employees as well as emergency financial assistance to provide low-income communities with cash to cover rent, childcare, utilities, and food expenses.
Two localities, Sonoma County and South San Francisco, both made investments in guaranteed basic income pilot programs. Richmond also created a basic income pilot program embedded in its SLFRF housing investments. Alameda County and Daly City leveraged their resources to provide paid sick leave to residents and employees who were impacted by Covid-19.
- Food Security: Across the region, eight local governments spent a combined $97.4 million (5 percent of all obligated funds) to increase food security through projects that ranged from supporting food banks to preparing and delivering meals and groceries. Approximately half of that amount was spent by Alameda County. Alameda County dedicated $50 million — the largest allocation to food security in the region — to its emergency food distribution and meal program, which provides meals and food distribution services to residents experiencing food insecurity due to Covid-19.
The cities of Alameda and South San Francisco also developed projects that aimed to address food insecurity while supporting local small businesses. Alameda worked with local restaurants to provide weekly meals for residents who were facing food insecurity, while South San Francisco provided vouchers for low-income households to support local merchants who had also been financially impacted by the pandemic.
In addition, small percentages (1 percent or less) of all obligated funding went to other targeted efforts, such as supporting community-based organizations working with communities that have been impacted by Covid; job training and placement support programs; inclusive business development programs for micro and small businesses; training and resources to increase access to childcare; programs for youth between the ages of 18 and 24; and investments to increase access to broadband.
Some Bay Area governments have leveraged SLFRF funds to seed equity-oriented pilot programs and initiatives.
Among the many Bay Area initiatives supported by SLFRF funds, there was a mix of projects that sought to create new services and supports for community members who were most impacted by the pandemic. These included a range of investments like the Community Recovery Bank in Napa, which allowed nonprofits and community organizations to apply for funds to support the community’s recovery from Covid; investments in broadband infrastructure in San Leandro to support digital inclusion of underserved households and businesses; the creation of the Sonoma County Black Therapy Fund for free, culturally responsive mental health services; and historic pay increases to in-home care providers in Santa Clara County, most of whom are women of color.
Here is a closer look at a few of these novel efforts that are underway or completed:
- City of Hayward: Shallow Subsidies for Homelessness Prevention
The City of Hayward has devoted $1.5 million in SLFRF funds to a small-scale pilot program to keep local families from becoming unhoused. The program supports housing costs for up to 40 families a year over a three-year period. Each participating family received up to $800 a month, case management services, and optional connections to other supports (e.g., behavioral health, employment, education, and benefits access) for 12 to 18 months. In order to be eligible, a household must be extremely low income (have a household income that’s less than 30 percent of the area median income), spend upwards of 50 percent of their income on housing costs, and have prior experiences of homelessness. Households that live in high-need neighborhoods are prioritized.
As of November 2022, the shallow subsidies program had enrolled 20 families. Many of these initial participants had previously participated in the city’s emergency rental assistance program; city officials used the list of participants to conduct outreach for the pilot. Hayward officials also partnered with a local family resource center to inform residents of the program.
While the program has limited funding for just three years, city officials hope that the preliminary outcomes for participant families can demonstrate the efficacy of the pilot and attract future funding.
- City of South San Francisco: Guaranteed Income Pilot Program
The City of South San Francisco combined $1 million in SLFRF dollars with philanthropic funding to launch a pilot program that provided eligible low-income households with $500 a month for a 12-month period. The program, which concluded in the fall of 2022, included 160 participating households. The city prioritized households making less than 30 percent of the area median income, residents ineligible for public assistance or stimulus checks (e.g., due to immigration status), single-parent households, residents formerly involved in the foster care system, and people living in lower income Census tracts.
Mayor Mark Nagales championed this effort and modeled the pilot program after a basic income initiative launched by the City of Stockton, California, which had demonstrated promising results prior to the pandemic. The pandemic exacerbated the financial challenges many South San Francisco residents faced, prompting local officials to launch the pilot. At the time of publication, however, no plans for a new funding and application cycle exist.
- Alameda County: Public Health Campaign
As part of a comprehensive public health campaign to address the negative health and social impacts of Covid-19, the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) is overseeing nearly $67 million in SLFRF funds. These projects include vaccination and testing programs, hoteling for unhoused residents, employing registry nurses for Covid-19 care and outreach, and increased navigation assistance to connect residents with public health services. These programs are operated under a racial and geographic framework to reach community members hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic and communities that have been harder for county agencies to reach, especially Black, Latinx, Native American, and Pacific Islander residents. The county has applied an array of supports — end-to-end mobile testing and vaccination centers, on-the-ground outreach, and additional staffing — particularly in areas where local public health data showed high rates of Covid transmission and/or lower rates of vaccination.
A key component of this initiative is partnering with city governments and community institutions, like direct service providers and faith-based organizations, to coordinate vaccine messaging and distribution with residents of color, residents with limited English proficiency, and other heavily impacted communities. Local partnerships helped ACPHD make inroads into communities where financial, language or cultural circumstances have deterred some residents from getting vaccinated. For instance, these collaborations enabled the county to fund a door-to-door vaccine information outreach campaign, recruiting local residents as public health liaisons in order to build trust with community members. While some organizations have long partnered with local and/or county government agencies, other groups were new to these formal partnerships or had only newly formed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
While these pilot projects represent promising efforts to support the families and workers who have struggled to make ends meet, advancing equity across the Bay Area will require sustained and holistic investments. The fact that low-income families, low-wage workers, and residents of color disproportionately suffered from the financial and health consequences of Covid-19 was an outgrowth of generations-old structural inequities in housing, employment, education, health, and many other domains of civic society. It is important that community investments during the pandemic take stock of the inequities that long preceded Covid-19, and apply lessons learned during this period to create upstream interventions in advance of future crises.
Some municipalities used SLFRF dollars for policing and incarceration, which does not align with the stated intent of the dollars to advance equity.
As of September 2022, a handful of local governments in the Bay Area have designated a combined $34.8 million in SLFRF funds toward police departments and the carceral system.1 The decision to subsidize the racially inequitable systems of policing and prisons is a misapplication of an equity-oriented funding pool like SLFRF. The South Bay cities of San Mateo (100 percent of its obligated funds) and Santa Clara (57 percent of its obligated funds) devoted particularly large sums of money to policing and the carceral system. Together, the two cities account for more than $34 million of the nearly $35 million that has been allocated toward policing. San Mateo reported that all of its $19.3 million SLFRF dollars would be used for police services. Santa Clara used its funds to cover salary costs for officers. Three cities — Vallejo, Napa, and San Leandro — have also dedicated smaller amounts to policing.
While $34.8 million represents only 2 percent of obligated funding across the Bay Area, it should be noted that this figure is an undercount, as it only includes projects specifically and completely obligated for policing and/or incarceration and does not include cities that are not required to report their spending to the US Treasury. For instance, the City of Sunnyvale included an unspecified amount of funding for police as part of a larger disbursement for public safety services, including fire. The City of Napa designated an additional $1.1 million toward infrastructure and airflow improvements in government buildings that include the police department as well as other agencies. Not included in this analysis is Walnut Creek, which reportedly allocated $2 million to hire new police officers and increase surveillance in the city’s downtown area. It is also possible that other municipalities included police and justice system employees in their larger pools of money obligated for revenue replacement.
These funding decisions stand out in light of the nationwide racial justice protests in 2020, where advocates and concerned residents drew connections between the structural racism of overpolicing and police brutality and the disproportionate harm Covid-19 inflicted on Black and brown communities. This movement — the largest protest movement in American history — demonstrated how structural racism enables willful acts of injustice and preventable tragedies. These particular funding decisions are inconsistent with the SLFRF program’s intended purpose of promoting an equitable recovery.
Local governments employed various strategies to engage impacted communities and gather community input in the allocation of SLFRF dollars.
Based on the performance reports submitted to the US Treasury, jurisdictions reported employing various methods of engaging community members to generate feedback and inform the allocation of SLFRF dollars. Of the 10 Bay Area cities and counties that submitted reports with information on their community engagement processes, seven reported activities such as community surveys, working groups and task forces, community feedback meetings, focus groups, and engaging with trusted community partners. The other three jurisdictions with reports obligated all of their SLFRF funding to revenue replacement or Covid-related responses. From a scan of published materials on government websites and outreach to the 23 jurisdictions without performance reports, we found two places (Concord and Richmond) that employed community engagement activities to inform spending decisions.
One approach included using community surveys that could be disseminated through in-person outreach and working groups or made available on a local government’s website. For example, the City of Concord surveyed residents, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to assess challenges caused by the pandemic as well as how SLFRF funds could best support each group’s recovery. Surveys were conducted in both English and Spanish. The city received almost 900 responses, and the results were presented to the city council in April 2022.
Jurisdictions also convened working groups to bring together community members, stakeholders, and leaders to solicit their input on how to best respond to the pressing needs of all communities. These working groups were sometimes organized by issue areas such as housing and homelessness, direct assistance, workforce development, childcare, and public safety. Community feedback was summarized and presented to city councils and boards of supervisors to inform funding obligations. The City of San Jose, for example, convened monthly meetings with live interpretation available in Vietnamese and Spanish. This approach expanded access for more of the city’s residents to provide input. These task forces were responsible for gathering community feedback and advising the city council on issues, including revitalizing small businesses, improving workforce development initiatives, and strengthening the safety net for families and working people. San Mateo County formed the San Mateo Recovery Initiative (SMRI) in 2020 to conduct 14 working group meetings while convening subject matter experts, government employees, and nonprofit and civic leaders to put together a series of recommendations for the board of supervisors. In partnership with Stanford University’s John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Families, the county conducted focus groups and online forums to ensure its priorities aligned with the community’s most pressing needs and the ultimate goal of promoting inclusive and equitable growth.
In some cases, local governments described working with trusted partners to help bridge the gap with hard-to-reach populations, including undocumented and immigrant communities. For example, the City of Richmond worked with community service organizations and local businesses to distribute surveys soliciting resident input on SLFRF spending. The city also coordinated with community organizations to recruit underrepresented community members to participate in compensated focus groups.
Additionally, jurisdictions reported a mix of strategies to promote equitable outcomes. Alameda County, San Francisco, and San Mateo County referenced using data to identify neighborhoods and communities that had been disproportionately impacted. San Jose, San Mateo County, and Sonoma County described operationalizing racial equity in their budgeting, review, and design processes. The County of Solano created a website to share information on SLFRF dollars, funding opportunities, and their process for determining the use of SLFRF funds with the broader public, while Santa Clara County created a Covid-19 recovery webpage to provide new information and resources for residents, workers, and businesses.
Low-income residents and working families disproportionately have weathered the high financial and health consequences of Covid-19. As we know, these disparities did not emerge overnight. The pandemic laid bare the deep structural racial inequities in our region that have long existed. An equity-first focus on pandemic recovery must take into account the long-term impacts of racially exclusionary policies and practices from past generations, and understand the pandemic as part of a longer continuum of racial and economic inequity. To ensure lasting security and stability for Bay Area residents and communities and to rectify the systemic barriers that preceded the pandemic, we urge local governments to consider the following recommendations as they decide how to allocate their final SLFRF funds:
Invest remaining resources in programs that support the Black and brown communities who continue to experience the lingering impacts of the pandemic. Recent data tracking the recovery in the region shows that Bay Area residents of color continue to experience the financial consequences of pandemic-related job and income loss at higher proportions than white residents because of the disparities that were present before Covid-19. Even before the pandemic, some local residents, particularly those from immigrant families, were systematically excluded from safety net programs and federal relief programs like unemployment insurance. By addressing the needs of the Black and brown communities most harmed by the challenges we face today and the systemic barriers that preceded the pandemic, local governments can set the region up for a better tomorrow where nobody is left out or left behind.
Make targeted, permanent investments to sustain the impact of these initial investments. Local decision-makers should prioritize long-term investments and/or combine SLFRF funding with other funding streams to prolong the impact of these initial efforts. While short-term infusions of money helped many thousands of households navigate the pandemic, many more families across the Bay Area continue to struggle to make ends meet. They face structural disparities that cannot be undone overnight. Long-term, permanent, targeted investments must reach communities that have long been underfunded. These SLFRF dollars served as a downpayment on an equitable future, so local governments should secure future funding and dedicate portions of the budget to build on promising SLFRF-funded programs, as these overdue investments will also help address the long-standing inequities in the region that preceded the pandemic.
Develop equitable decision-making and transparency in spending decisions. Alameda County Public Health’s decision to partner with local community organizations for their vaccination project demonstrates the importance of sustained community engagement to reach and serve those with the greatest level of need. In implementing the as-yet unobligated shares of SLFRF funds and in future budgeting processes, local governments should continue to seek community input to guide spending priorities, structure services, plan for outreach, and build trust with residents. Robust and authentic engagement can help build the power of communities of color whose voices are often left out of decision-making processes.
Evaluate the disbursal of SLFRF funds and programmatic impacts using an equity lens. All SLFRF-funded programs should include an evaluation component to keep local governments accountable to the stated goal of advancing equity with SLFRF dollars. Program evaluations should track outcomes (Whom did the project benefit? To what extent did program outcomes align with initial goals?) as well as internal processes (Which organizations and communities received SLFRF funds to carry out their work? Which community members were included in discussions around budgeting, program design, and other key elements?). Robust data analysis and reporting are crucial elements of any plans for the extension or expansion of these pandemic-era programs.
Although California is projected to face a budget deficit that could threaten the livelihood of residents with low incomes and residents of color who rely on essential state-funded services and supports, there are actionable steps that state and local governments can take to provide sustained relief and address the structural failures that created these pre-existing inequitable conditions. With an economy that is projected to be the fourth largest in the world, California is home to a tremendous amount of individual and corporate wealth. Government leaders can choose a different path forward by investing in lasting security and stability for Bay Area residents and addressing the deep-seated inequities in the regional economy that existed before the pandemic.
The equity considerations and processes that localities engaged in for SLFRF dollars can serve as key lessons for dealing with state budget shortfalls as well as allocating future federal dollars and in city and county budgeting processes. Forthcoming federal investments in communities present another opportunity for equitable investments throughout the region. The historic $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), $300 billion in deficit reduction, and $369 billion in Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to promote energy security and climate change programs will be an opportunity to address structural and environmental racism and lay the groundwork for an equitable, clean energy future.
Whether safeguarding existing programs from budget cuts or advancing new endeavors with new funding opportunities, it is crucial that city and county governments continue to prioritize the communities that have faced the greatest barriers in all future budget decisions. Some of the SLFRF investments made by government leaders demonstrated the ability to cut through the red tape to support those who’ve been most in need during the pandemic, and they can continue to move quickly and boldly beyond a crisis to make permanent, positive change in the lives of all Californians.
1 This is a conservative estimate as smaller jurisdictions are not required to report their SLFRF spending to the US Treasury. For example, the City of Walnut Creek’s decision to spend $2 million in ARPA resources — half of its remaining unobligated dollars — on policing is not captured in the data.
Michelle Huang, Associate, PolicyLink
Jennifer Tran, Director of the National Equity Atlas, PolicyLink
Ryan Fukumori, Senior Associate, PolicyLink
We appreciate the many individuals and advisers who provided invaluable guidance and insights on this research. We are honored and grateful to have partnered with every member of the Regional Recovery Community Advisory Committee on this research project: Oraiu Amoni of Jobs with Justice San Francisco; Louise Auerhahn of Working Partnerships USA; Jhumpa Bhattacharya of The Maven Collaborative; Monet Boyd of BARHII; Tracey Brieger of Jobs with Justice San Francisco; Omar Carrera of Canal Alliance; Kung Feng, formerly of Jobs with Justice San Francisco; Dan Geiger of the Contra Costa Budget Justice Coalition; Sara Gurdian of the Contra Costa Budget Justice Coalition; Alina Harway of Non-Profit Housing; Edie Irons of All Home; Melissa Jones of BARHII; Joanne Karchamer of All Home; Kim Kruckel of Child Care Law Center; Karina Laigo of Child Care Law Center; Derecka Mehrens of Working Partnerships USA; Mariana Moore of the Ensuring Opportunity Campaign to End Poverty in Contra Costa; Madison Roberts of Non-Profit Housing; Chris Schildt of Urban Habitat; Ellen Wu of Urban Habitat; and Darris Young of BARHII. A special thanks to our colleagues, Christa Brown of the San Francisco Foundation, for contributing her policy and advocacy expertise; Marc Tafolla of the San Francisco Foundation, for providing communications guidance; Gabriel Charles Tyler of PolicyLink, for his assistance with editing materials and developing the release strategy; and Selena Tan of PolicyLink, for providing additional support with the dashboard. We also thank Change Consulting — especially Bilen Mesfin, Kay Cuajunco, Dina Sigal, and Mariah Cochran — for providing communications support. And we thank Sarah Treuhaft of the Institute on Race, Power, and Political Economy at The New School, who guided the initial phase of this project; Carlo David for his contributions to the background research; Adrian Gonzalez and David Amaral of All Home California and Matt Vander Sluis of BARHII for their thoughtful reviews and suggestions; and Jes Montesinos for their partnership in facilitating the advisory group in its early stages.