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Staff at Santa Cruz Valley Regional Hospital in Green Valley await a flyover May 13, 2020, on the helicopter pad. The 355th Wing (Davis-Monthan Air Force Base) and the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing honored Pima County’s first responders and medical professionals fighting COVID-19.

A report released Monday gives Pima County residents a first look at how the county has spent nearly $9 million of its first tranche of federal COVID-19 relief money, and the plans in store for recovery programs moving forward.

The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law March 11, 2021, allocated $203,421,688 to Pima County for use in a variety of pandemic relief measures, including support for households, small businesses, essential workers and communities hardest hit by the crisis.

On Aug. 10, the Board of Supervisors approved a spending plan for about $76 million of the first batch of funds on projects such as public health, response to negative economic impacts of the pandemic, and revenue replacement.

As of the first reporting period, which spans May 10 through July 31, the county had spent just over $8.9 million – the vast majority of which (over $8.5 million) was used to defray supplies and services costs incurred by the health department. These included items such as personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, as well as payroll and benefit expenses for public health, safety and other public sector staff responding to the pandemic.

About $365,000 had been spent on COVID-19 and community recovery communications, which included disseminating information on vaccination sites, boosters and vaccine hesitancy.

Another $55,000 was allocated to the county’s Emergency Eviction Legal Defense Services, a program that provides eligible tenants with access to free legal counsel and representation in eviction proceedings.

To support the various grant-funded initiatives under the ARPA, the county also used about $4,800 to expand its Grant Management and Innovation Team to build out its financial management, research, analysis and evaluation capacity.

More ahead

The county has until December 2024 to spend the rest of its ARPA funds, and based on an earlier plan approved by the Board of Supervisors, investments in broader public health initiatives are likely.

In total, county administration has carved out about $125 million for public health projects, representing about 62 percent of the county’s total ARPA funds.

Most of that will continue to offset the health department’s personnel expenses and COVID-related supplies and services, but some capital investments – such as repairing the Curley School Gymnasium in Ajo, expanding public health and employment services with a Northwest Services Center on Miracle Mile, and outfitting the Office of the Medical Examiner with appropriate furniture and equipment in response to the increased services provided during the pandemic – have also been suggested.

Noting that fire districts and their EMT services were excluded from support under earlier federal COVID-19 funding, the county has also proposed about $1 million for rural fire districts to support their pandemic response and mitigation efforts.

A majority of the remaining share of ARPA funds – about $75 million – is slated for a variety of projects aimed at addressing the negative economic impacts of the pandemic, with a focus on increasing employment opportunities and addressing racial and ethnic health inequities.

The Emergency Eviction Legal Services Program, which is specifically designed to help protect the rights of vulnerable Pima County residents at risk for eviction, will see a $2 million investment once all ARPA funds have been distributed.

JobPath, which helps students and lower-income workers advance their careers by obtaining diplomas and/or technical certificates, is set to get about $3 million to expand its program participation to help displaced workers. Pima Community College may also see about $5.3 million for new equipment and software to enhance its job training programs to include health and IT infrastructure programs.

Investments in new technology and infrastructure for both the public health system and the courts system is also likely to see about $12 million, and another $30 million is budgeted for early childhood education programs.

The county will continue to report its progress with these programs and expenditures as part of the ARPA in 12-month periods through December 2026, and is set to submit its next report on Jan. 21.

Mary Glen Hatcher | 520-547-9740

Mary Glen is a North Carolina native who's excited to explore the Tucson area through her reporting with Green Valley News. She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media in 2019.

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