L.A. County Unveils $36.2 Billion Budget, Emphasizes Equity

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County's CEO today previewed a $36.2 billion recommended budget for fiscal year 2021-22, highlighting spending to expand safety net services, support economic recovery and address racial and other inequities.

However, the budget may not go far enough to satisfy some social justice advocates. Chief Executive Officer Fesia Davenport has pointed to $100 million in spending on Measure J, for example, as a “down payment'' on the county's promise to address racial injustice. Yet during a March board meeting, community members called the number an “insult'' to voters that fell hundreds of millions short of expectations.

Davenport noted that under the measure approved by voters last November, the county has three years to ramp up allocations so that at least 10% of locally generated, unrestricted funds are invested in community programs and alternatives to incarceration.

“This represents the single largest allocation for a new program in this recommended budget,'' the CEO said.

The Sheriff's Department budget is recommended to remain roughly flat to the prior year, at $3.4 billion, which is also likely to generate pushback from those who have called for shifting dollars from law enforcement to community-based services and programs. Yet Davenport stressed that the overall budget is designed to address the disproportional impact of the pandemic on communities of color and longstanding inequality.

“Clearly, this pandemic has exposed and increased huge inequities between the haves and the have-nots, and the county's safety net was called upon as never before over the last 12 months,'' the CEO said. “This recommended budget is committed to sustaining these efforts using an equity lens while also positioning us for a recovery that makes the county better than before.''

Addressing the growing problem of homelessness remains a central concern. Highlighted spending includes a total of $426.7 million in Measure H funding, which includes an additional $16.6 million to increase the stock of interim housing and motel vouchers as well as more supportive housing services.

Davenport also focused on a mental health crisis that has paralleled the county's COVID-related economic crisis. The county's mental health helpline saw a 30% jump in calls last year, and the budget includes $29.9 million to expand crisis and intervention services.

The county also plans to hire an additional 300 promotors, or community health workers, to handle education and outreach, a quadrupling of the current number.

Of the overall budget, 33% is recommended to fund health programs, 26% for public assistance, 25% for public protection and 16% to cover other costs, including recreation and culture.

New allocations include $35 million for “fair and efficient elections'' and $17.2 million for cybersecurity.

The recommended budget is $2.1 billion less than the prior-year spending plan because of the anticipated end of one-time federal funding related to coronavirus relief. Roughly 40% of the county's total budget comes from federal and state funding.

Davenport said she was “cautiously optimistic'' about the future because of the availability of vaccines and an expected $1.9 billion in federal funding under the latest coronavirus relief package.

But she also stressed, “We're not out of the woods yet,'' pointing to virus variants that could result in surges and vaccine hesitancy that could result in continuing community transmission.

The budget builds off a “leaner baseline'' of cuts implemented last year, but recommends no layoffs in any department. A hard freeze on hiring non-essential personnel remains in place countywide.

The CEO said that departments submitted $2 billion in requests that are not included in the recommendations, but the most critical of those requests -- totaling more than $500 million -- will be considered during future deliberations.

The recommendations will be presented to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday and public budget hearings will be held in May before final budget deliberations in June.

Photo: Getty Images

Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.

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