San Jose approves a new coronavirus relief fund
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo announces Silicon Valley Strong, a new initiative aimed at centralizing resources for the COVID-19 response in this file photo. Photo by Janice Bitters.

With public dollars stretched thin and the need for food and shelter growing, San Jose leaders on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan to create a coronavirus relief fund that will help the city receive federal resources for those affected by the pandemic.

The fund will allow the city to continue operating its temporary emergency shelters, food distribution efforts across Santa Clara County and other essential services such as providing workers with personal protective equipment. The new fund will also allow the city to seek the maximum amount of reimbursement from the federal government by accurately categorizing and documenting expenses.

“As our community was hit by the economic effects caused by the public health measures to slow and reduce the spread of COVID-19, the team has been able to sprint and provide food and necessities for our most vulnerable throughout the county,” said Lee Wilcox, chief of staff to the city manager.

The fund will primarily rely on the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $178 million from the CARES Act, which pays for expenses for public safety, health care, human services and similar employees or operations tied to the pandemic.

But city officials Tuesday expressed frustration with FEMA, as many of the city’s operations — which extend beyond the scope of FEMA’s guidelines — will not be reimbursed. That means FEMA will not pay the bulk of the city’s food distribution efforts.

The agency has said it will not reimburse San Jose for meals provided to people who live outside the city or for residents who are not high risk, exposed to or infected with COVID-19, leaving out hundreds of thousands of Santa Clara County residents who are unemployed or facing an economic hardship, Wilcox said.

“The effects of COVID-19 go far beyond these populations,” he said. “However, a great number of our residents that have been economically impacted by the necessary shelter in place still need to be fed.”

To offset the city’s hefty bill, officials are pursuing other revenue streams by using emergency reserves and seeking reimbursements through agreements with the county and neighboring cities. The goal is to avoid relying on the city’s general budget fund for coronavirus-related operations, Wilcox said.

“Not only is FEMA telling us they’re not going to reimburse most of those meals, which are serving families who don’t have paychecks as opposed to people who are actually infected, but the CARES Act funding can’t fund any of the meals beyond our city limits,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “So that agreement (with the county) is going to be so important.”

The city’s food distribution network provides upwards of 500,000 meals a day through community organizations, schools and private sector partners, but those resources are running low. To meet the needs of the county’s residents, the city has made agreements to provide 130,000 meals a day with national school lunch provider Revolution Foods and 20,000 meals through San Jose Unified School District.

The city will also work with Team San Jose, World Kitchen and the Health Trust to provide meals to certain high-risk residents.

Small mom and pop restaurants that want to partner with the city to provide meals should apply through the city’s website or be referred by an existing food service provider, Deputy City Manager Angel Rios said, though only a handful will be selected.

Councilmember Maya Esparza raised concern about discontinuing food distribution programs without compromising the needs of some of the city’s most vulnerable and food-insecure residents.

“We need to have a plan for what happens next,” she said. “We want to ensure that people are being served.”

Rios said the city is planning to continue its food distribution until Dec. 31, and will monitor the fiscal impact of that work before handing off the responsibility to the county.

“Our goal is that over the next few weeks we finalize a good transition plan,” he said. “We’re still seeing the need increase. The good news is that it’s not increasing as drastically as it had in the first few weeks, so we’re hoping that continues.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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