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Report: San Diego spent 64% of federal CARES Act funding on police budget

The San Diego Police Department seal is seen on an officer's uniform in this undated photo.
The San Diego Police Department seal is seen on an officer's uniform in this undated photo.

The federal government poured money into communities to help people navigate the challenges of COVID-19. But an investigation by The Guardian correspondent Sam Levin found San Diego and other large California cities spent more COVID-19 relief funds on law enforcement than housing, food and health services.

According to Levin's investigation San Diego spent about $60M or 64% of its federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, funding on police in fiscal year 2020 and $53M or 33% in fiscal year 2021.

The spending drew sharp criticism from activists who say more funding is needed for rent relief, homelessness and mental health services.


KPBS reached out to the city of San Diego for comment on how they prioritized the spending of federal COVID-19 relief funds.

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"The budgets for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years were crafted by the previous administration," the city said in an emailed statement. "Unlike the American Rescue Plan, the CARES Act was narrowly focused on emergency response, in which our public safety departments played a key role, and expressly barred cities from using the funding to replace lost tax revenue but allowed broad use for public-safety personnel. So, the City funded public safety with CARES Act dollars, freeing up General Fund dollars to replace lost tax revenue for other services."

The city said it spent nearly $33 million in CARES Act funding on Operation Shelter to Home, a homeless shelter at the San Diego Convention Center that was open for a year beginning in April 2020. That doesn't include an additional $10 million in the current city budget above normal allocations for homelessness, the city said. The city has spent $195 million in federal dollars to 16,815 households on rental relief to date.

Levin joined Midday Edition on Tuesday with more on what he found in his reporting.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.