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San Diego County Supervisors OK $7.2B Budget For 21-22 Fiscal Year

 July 6, 2021 at 11:56 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego county supervisors approved a $7.2 billion budget. Last week. It includes funding for public health, mental health services and the pandemic recovery. This year, the county budget also includes more than half a billion dollars. It received in federal aid, KPBS reporter, Andrew Bowen spoke with county supervisor Terra Lawson reamer to discuss what's in the county's budget and why this Speaker 2: 00:23 Is the first budget that county has approved since the board of supervisors became majority Democrat. Of course, you're a part of that democratic majority. How do you see that new political dynamic reflected in the county spending? Speaker 3: 00:36 It's a night and day? Uh, we have a budget for the first time in a generation that really looks to invest in San Diego family, San Diego, community, San Diego businesses, to be there for our community when our community needs the county the most, um, and looking at all the places in ways that we can support our economy locally, uh, get back on track, um, in the wake of the pandemic, as well as address the massive health impacts of the pandemic, Speaker 2: 01:05 The county's health and human services agency makes up the largest portion of the budget and it always does. And it also saw the largest increase compared to the original budget proposal from about two months ago, where is all of this new money going? Speaker 3: 01:20 So there's a number of initiatives. Um, so obviously our first priority, um, it remains addressing the pandemic. Um, you know, we still have to continue our vaccination efforts, um, but there's also a number of businesses and, and renters and landlords and workers whose, uh, economic lives have been really devastated over the last stuff, 15, 16 months. Um, so we have a lot of programs to help working families to help businesses get back on their feet, including a small business stimulus grant program and rental assistance, food assistance, you know, just a range of, of really vital programs, uh, to help out our community at this, at this difficult time. But we also are doubling down on a number of programs that I think have been, um, too long overdue. Uh, one of them is, um, the mobile crisis response teams, which looks to bring an alternative to armed law enforcement. Speaker 3: 02:16 Uh, when you have a homeless person or someone experiencing a mental health crisis, we know that, uh, when you, when you car call our law enforcement too often, the results are really tragic in those circumstances. So we've, uh, rolled out something called the mobile crisis response teams so that we have an alternative to our, our law enforcement in those kinds of situations. Uh, we're also looking at increasing investments in our foster care system and foster youth and supporting, uh, as well, our homeless population too, and our unhoused population to get the services and support that they need to get back on their feet. Um, so, so we're really looking at how we invest in addressing some of the root causes of the challenges that, um, a lot of people for far too long have experienced in San Diego county. And, um, you know, now we finally have a trans to, to turn things around Speaker 2: 03:06 KPBS spoke recently with county public health officer Wilma Wooten and the health and human services agency, director, Nick mashy own. And they said that public health departments across the nation have been underfunded for decades. Now in light of the county's experience with COVID-19 will the increased funding for public health be ongoing. And is it sustainable? Speaker 3: 03:29 Uh, most of the, I think most vital increases in our, uh, public health funding are going to be sustainable. I mean, there's certainly some portion that is looking to cover these one-time expenses for, for COVID. Uh, and most of that's been covered by funds received, uh, from the federal government. Uh, but in terms of our, our ongoing investments, you know, this is certainly one of my priorities. I know it's a priority of my colleagues on the board and, um, there's, there's definitely funding throughout the budget for that, or that's long-term investments. And, you know, there's nothing that is a better demonstration of a longterm investment than when you, you hire people who are going to be around to do the job, to serve our community. So we have hundreds of new positions in mental health, behavioral health, and public health, and in the kinds of jobs that are on the front lines of any kind of future pandemic response. And so this is a long-term staffing investment to ensure that we have the resources, the people, the expertise in house, um, to better serve our community. Speaker 2: 04:30 The county received more than half a billion dollars from president Biden's American rescue plan act, but the county didn't even spend all of the money that it had budgeted for in the last fiscal year. There's this sort of carry over balance that you're including in this next fiscal year's budget. Did the county really need this big infusion of cash from the federal government? Speaker 3: 04:51 Well, I'm talking to the constituents day in, day out and people, you know, people are hurting. Um, one of the things I'm most proud of in this budget is our small business stimulus grants program. Um, and I'll tell you out in my community, um, there are just so many businesses, who've put their life savings into starting, starting their business, and we're doing well. Uh, but just getting by and the pandemic has just put them under water, um, and being able to help these small businesses that are really the linchpin of our local economy get back on their feet is absolutely vital. I don't think anyone would ever say that, that we don't need those resources. I mean, similarly, I've been speaking to landlords whose tenants haven't been able to pay rent and tenants who haven't been able to pay rent because they've lost jobs and livelihoods or family members due to COVID. Speaker 3: 05:36 And the resources that we have received from the federal government are absolutely vital to helping those people as well, get back on their feet so that as we come out of COVID on the other side, that we can move forward, um, and leave this really dark time behind us and not, you know, not being pulled down in debt for the rest of people's lives. Uh, so I think on the economic, there's no doubt that it's been incredibly important. Um, also there's a lot, a huge need. Um, that's been revealed and it exists in our community for a long time, but, you know, became really real to many families, um, during COVID of the need for better support for childcare and childcare for working families and childcare for working moms in particular. Um, so that's another place that we're going to be in that this budget, um, really doubles down and invest. So in my opinion, I mean, honestly, I wish we could do more, you know, I think the budget, the budget does a good job, but, you know, we have a lot of needs in our community and a need to invest in order to, uh, grow our economy and also, you know, address some of the deep inequities and injustices that people have experienced Speaker 2: 06:42 San Diego mayor, Todd Gloria faced backlash from some Progressive's for his increase to the city's police budget. Now the San Diego county Sheriff's department has an even bigger budget than the city's police department. And the Sheriff's budget is also going up. Why does the Sheriff's department need more money Speaker 3: 07:00 From my point of view, um, you know, taking a careful look at the Sheriff's budget, um, and looking to right-size that budget, um, in the future is a, is a top priority. This, uh, this increase is important because it's an investment in particularly mineral and behavioral health, uh, workers and nurses for our county jails, which have been radically understaffed for a very long time. Certainly one of my priorities, I think the priorities I share with my colleagues is to do everything we can to address these terrible tragedies in our county jails, um, that have resulted in large part because of understaffing and, um, lack of adequate services. So the increased budget for the sheriffs is really looking at, um, increasing the services in our county jails for, um, mental health issues and to try to make sure that these tragedies don't happen again. Um, there's also some additional funds there, um, for juvenile rehabilitation programs. And I know that as I think about where the future of, of what I hope to see police and sheriff department look like in San Diego county, you know, definitely increasing our support for alternatives to incarceration and juvenile rehabilitation in particular is a, is a big priority. And those programs take resources. You've Speaker 2: 08:20 Said this budget, prioritizes climate action. Tell us more about that. What is the increase in funding for climate action and what exactly will that money be spent on? Speaker 3: 08:30 This is a issue that's I think vitally important. And in fact was one of the reasons I ran for this office in the first place, because we have a moral obligation to take action on climate for future generations. Um, you know, I think about my daughter and I think about the world she's going to inherit. I think about wildfires. I think about floods. I think about the catastrophic increases in a world, temperatures in, in global. So there's a lot that we need to do. I think this budget is a step in the right direction. I'm looking forward to that, those taking those steps even further in the next couple of years. Um, so this budget invest in a couple of things. First of all, the beginning of original sustainability plan, which we've never had in San Diego county, the county has always looked to do basically the bare minimum that was mandated by the state or mandated by the courts. Speaker 3: 09:19 And we're taking the opposite approach. We're saying what's the most ambitious plan we can put in place. What are the most ambitious measures we can take on climate action? So we're investing in putting together a regional sustainability plan. That's going to be looking at, you know, all sorts of different kinds of measures, um, including, um, mitigation measures and measures around how and where we build and supporting affordable housing closer to places of work and transit. So we can cut down on greenhouse gas emissions from cars. Uh, so that's where we're going on this front. You know, frankly, it's, it's a pretty controversial, um, it's a really big departure from an old board whose primary goal was to basically just build sprawl development and pave over our open space and, and do as little as possible on climate action. So I'm excited to see us going in this direction, and I think it's a step in the right direction, but it's only the beginning Speaker 2: 10:13 Speaking with San Diego county supervisor, Terra Lawson, reamer and supervisor. Thanks for joining us.

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San Diego County supervisors last week approved a $7.2 billion budget with funding for mental health services and the pandemic recovery. For years the county has maintained hefty reserves. This year it also received more than half a billion dollars in federal aid.
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