At height of funding era, LA received $600 million in COVID relief, half went to LAPD

About half of all COVID-19 relief funds sent to the city of Los Angeles last year under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) quietly went into the pockets of police officers while members of the public called for resources to be diverted from law enforcement. . City officials say the spending was necessary and within guidelines set out in the legislation.

The city received about $1.3 billion under ARPA, the trillion-dollar economic stimulus package championed by the Biden administration, providing unemployment checks and benefits to millions of Americans. According to city officials, $680 million was transferred to the city last year, of which approximately $317 million went to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for “salary expenses,” according to city officials.

Outside of public safety, the city said it spent less than $13 million in grants to support local businesses and boost hiring in underserved areas.

Kenneth Mejia, a certified public accountant and activist candidate for city comptroller, first reported this last week after receiving the public records request filed earlier this month with the Office of the City Comptroller (the comptroller from the city). The city comptroller previously released a report outlining how ARPA funds are being spent. “ARPA funds support current programs and will fund key investments to reduce homelessness, create neighborhood equity initiatives, aid the ongoing COVID-19 response, and more,” the report states. .

But Mejia found gaps in the data. “I was looking to see details of what we spent with our federal COVID-19 relief funds from the US bailout. When I couldn’t find it online on the controller’s website, I decided to do a CPRA to find out,” Mejia said. THE TACO this week. Although it has received half of the funds so far, the LAPD is missing from the city comptroller’s ARPA report. The police department is not included in the data dashboard which allows users to see how money is distributed to more than 20 city agencies and what it is spent on. They are also not referenced elsewhere in the report.

Similarly, a 32-page Chief Executive Officer (CAO) report detailing how the city plans to spend its relief funds only mentions “LAPD” once and “police” twice. There is no reference to ARPA funds being used for police salaries. In response to Mejia’s request for public records, an analyst from the City Comptroller’s Office admits that the data was not included in their dashboard, but says it will be published in another report later this year.

Benjamin Ceja, an Assistant City Administrative Officer (CAO), told LA TACO that they could not confirm any of the data from the City Comptroller’s dashboard. “To our knowledge, the information on the comptroller’s website is based on figures from the budget proposed by the mayor for the financial year 2021-2022 which were subsequently modified when the budget was adopted. Ceja added that the ARPA expenditures listed in the proposed budget “were based on potential eligible uses that we later determined were ineligible or required further consideration.” Ceja directed us to the city comptroller for further comment.

A spokesperson for the City Comptroller, an office that prides itself on accountability and transparency, did not respond to multiple requests from LA TACO for comment on this story.

In a report submitted to the Treasury Department last year, the city made it clear that it intended to use ARPA funds “to address the negative economic and health impacts of the pandemic, and to do so in a way that enables the city to act as an engine of equity, targeting and serving disadvantaged and traditionally underserved communities.

So how did nearly all of ARPA’s first batch of relief funds go to the LAPD?

Cities can use ARPA funds to help with pandemic-related expenses like free COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and rental assistance, but they can also be used for the “delivery of government services.” “.

To be clear, expenditures for public safety services and general government services are eligible expenditures and consistent with the intent of the funds,” Ceja, the city’s financial analyst, told us. According to their estimate, the city lost more than $1.2 billion in revenue in the first ten months of the pandemic. The loss was so great that the city was forced to dip into reserves and initial funding costs.

“Based on our calculations using the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s methodology, the city’s general fund revenue losses due to the negative economic impact of the pandemic will exceed $1.28 billion,” Ceja explained. “Given this huge income gap, the city has addressed [all ARPA funds] as a replacement for general fund revenue. This allowed the city to balance the general fund budget for two fiscal years (FY21 and FY22) without drawing on reserves or borrowing in deficit (using long-term debt to pay for short-term needs).

In addition to providing unemployment and housing assistance funds for Americans, the American Rescue Plan Act also earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars for local governments to “keep frontline public workers working and paid.” “.

Under the legislation, “funding may be used to pay for ‘government services in an amount equal to the recipient’s loss of income due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.’ These services include” any service traditionally provided by a government, including the construction of roads and other infrastructure, the provision of public security and other services, and health and education services”.

“This means that, as with property taxes, sales taxes, and other general fund revenue sources, ARPA supports day-to-day city government services, including LAPD payroll.” With $1.3 billion in annual payroll expenses (before overtime and personal benefits), the LAPD has the highest payroll in the city. But in a city where thousands of people live on the streets, one might ask: why not use the money to house people or prevent people from becoming homeless?

Ceja called public safety spending “necessary.”

We did not have enough income from our general fund to cover all of our expenses for the 2020-21 fiscal year. As such, federal funds were used to cover the cost of city government services, particularly the LAPD payroll.

Federal guidelines were unclear when this decision was made, but the city felt the interim guidelines were sufficiently clear that “public safety services” was an eligible use, Ceja told LA TACO. “As such, to avoid the risk of expenses being deemed ineligible, LAPD salary expenses have been reported as ARPA-funded expenses.”

So far, the city has only reported expenditures ARPA$12.4 million on other programs outside of law enforcement. This money is being used to support initiatives under the “Adverse Economic Impacts” category, which includes providing technology and rental assistance grants to help businesses impacted by COVID-19. As well as providing funding to small businesses located in disadvantaged communities to set up parklets for outdoor dining under the “Al Fresco” program. In its subsequent report to the Treasury Department, the city hopes to report additional spending in this category, Ceja told us.

“IIn addition to general government services, we will report on other more specific expenditures in their support for families and businesses struggling with the negative economic impacts of the pandemic. We will provide details of these expenses in our future reports,” Ceja said in a statement to LA TACO. For police critics who have fought to take resources away from law enforcement, finding out that hundreds of millions of dollars secretly went to the LAPD while so many Angelenos are suffering is a slap in the face. The lack of transparency regarding the distribution of COVID relief funds seems intentionally misleading to some.

We could have purchased buildings to use to permanently house our homeless people,” one Twitter user wrote below Mejia’s post.

This type of information needs to be released en masse in hopes of systemic change to follow closely,” another Twitter user said.

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