Orange County Details Pandemic Spending

Friday, February 26, 2021

Main News Photo

(Orange County Register)

Over about nine months of last year, Orange County spent more than $500 million in coronavirus aid money to address the need for COVID-19 testing, food assistance, grants to struggling small businesses, places for the homeless to quarantine, help to prevent or manage nursing home outbreaks, and preparations for county employees to work remotely.

Funding from the federal CARES Act (intended to cover pandemic-related public health and safety measures) had to be spent by the end of 2020. The Board of Supervisors authorized county CEO Frank Kim in March to bypass typical procedures so he could more nimbly deal with the emergency, so many of the contracts for pandemic needs weren’t publicly discussed or voted on by supervisors.

Now – after some questions about transparency with tax dollars – the county has released contracts worth several hundred million dollars (they were first published by the Voice of OC), and Kim said going forward he’ll put them on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda so anyone who wants to can see them without having to make a special request.

In an interview Monday, Feb. 22, Kim said he added the latest contracts he’s due to sign to the board’s Tuesday agenda and he’ll continue that practice. But most other counties he knows have delegated spending authority to the chief executive, he said, so he doesn’t understand the recent “narrative that these contracts are so secretive.”

Asked why he didn’t start making pandemic-related spending information public sooner, Kim said, “Honestly I didn’t know that there was this type of interest in it.”

Kim noted that all the federal and state aid dollars are subject to audits to make sure they were used appropriately, and he said the state has already audited some of the funds it provided. As the one approving the contracts, he said, he’s confident the public can feel comfortable that the money has gone toward serving the taxpayers.

So how did the county spend the federal and state aid money it received? In the first few months of the pandemic, millions went to COVID-19 testing, food programs for vulnerable seniors, and case management and quarantine facilities for homeless residents.

By summer, the county was putting millions more toward testing, food boxes for seniors and veterans, and homeless aid and housing, as well as special outreach to parts of Santa Ana and Anaheim that were seeing higher case counts than the rest of the county.

In the fall, the county paid for a study of COVID-19 cases at in-person K-12 schools, care for seniors with dementia who test positive, additional testing and contact tracing for infected people, and creation of the vaccine scheduling platform.

Around May, county supervisors also used about $75 million to give grants to small businesses that had to close or reduce their capacity, and in October they offered another $10 million for grants to child care providers.

Illustrating the community need for assistance, the county’s Social Services Agency said in December that the number of families using the supplemental food program CalFresh grew nearly 11% from November 2019 to November 2020. During the first stay-home order (mid-March through June 2020) applications for the program spiked 48% compared with the same period in 2019.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do said some spending didn’t go through typical procedures because it can take several weeks to prepare an item for the board agenda, and some needs have been immediate, such as COVID-19 testing facilities and getting protective equipment including masks and gloves.

“Situations change daily,” and that’s why the board gave Kim the ability to sign contracts as needed, Do said.

Supervisors have worried about how they’ll pay for ongoing expenses such as testing and vaccine clinics, but they’re continuing to offer those services (patients’ health insurance covers some of those costs) for the foreseeable future.

Orange County officials are anticipating additional federal aid under the new presidential administration. And the earlier funding is still paying for some services, since the county signed or extended some contracts to run through mid-2021.

Here are details on some of the biggest chunks of Orange County’s pandemic relief spending, based on the recently released contracts.

  • COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, vaccinations and medical staffing
  • Fulgent Therapeutics: $7.5 million for lab testing services from June 2020-June 2021; plus $21.25 million for home test kits
  • Ambry Genetics: $19.25 million for home test kits
  • AM Trace: $34 million for outreach, education and contact tracing; an additional $1 million for quality assurance, support and data management for vaccination sites
  • Composite Apps: $1.2 million for creation and management of Othena vaccine scheduling app
  • 360 Clinic: $5 million for lab testing
  • AMN Healthcare, Heluna Health, and Maxim Healthcare: $11.7 million for medical staffing
  • Other testing contracts include Labcorp, UC Irvine, and Consolidated Medical Bio-Analysis

Housing and other help for homeless, youth, and seniors

  • Illumination Foundation: $20.28 million for alternative housing and services for homeless
  • City Net: $2.86 million for case management and housing assistance for people exiting Project Roomkey, which offered housing options for homeless people needing to isolate
  • Stanton Inn and Suites: $156,250 per month for rooms for homeless at risk from COVID-19
  • ALO Hotel: $457,200 per month for housing for at-risk homeless
  • Central County Senior Services: $1.5 million for care for COVID-19 positive seniors with memory impairment
  • Western Youth Services: $2.65 million for youth and family mental health services
  • Friendship Shelter: $1.2 million for case management and housing services for people exiting Project Roomkey

Aid to hospitals and nursing homes

  • 33 acute care hospitals and 73 skilled nursing facilities: $50 million in grants for surge preparations, personal protective equipment and training
  • Skilled nursing facilities and community clinics: $4.5 million for supplies, staffing and training
  • Expert Stewardship: $806,248 for consultation and guidance for skilled nursing facilities regarding COVID-19

Meals and food assistance

  • Age Well Senior Services: $8.12 million for Great Plates Delivered program providing meals for seniors from local restaurants
  • Meals on Wheels: $3.74 million for delivery of healthy meals to seniors
  • Orange County Food Bank and Second Harvest Food Bank: $6 million for food boxes for families in need
  • DTN Tech and Hand to Hand Relief Organization: $1 million each for “nutrition gap” food assistance

Public outreach, advertising and data collection

  • CHOC: $999,988 for a study of safe reopening of K-12 schools
  • Latino Health Access: $2.99 million for community outreach, contact tracing and education in “hot spot” neighborhoods
  • Korean Community Services: $500,000 for COVID-19 testing, education and outreach
  • Pulsar Advertising: $2 million for public outreach and advertising campaign

Category: COVID-19, County of Orange