$39.2 million approved for local COVID-19 resilience projects

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this week approved the allocation of $39.2 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to 27 projects aimed at helping communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic .

The funds are part of a $96 million allocation Sonoma County received under the Federal American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill approved in March 2021 designed to help the U.S. to recover from the effects of COVID-19.

Of that money, $39.2 million was allocated to the county’s Community Resilience Program.

Following unanimous approval by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, the program will help dozens of community organizations, nonprofits and businesses implement projects to help those who have experienced the greatest health and economic disparities during the pandemic.

This designation includes farmhands and other essential workers, as well as students and business owners of color.

Projects serving racial and ethnic communities with the highest rates of local COVID-19 infection, hospitalizations and deaths per capita – Hispanic, Latino, Black, Native American and Alaskan Native, as well as Hawaiian Native and other Pacific Islander – were also prioritized.

The winning proposals range from a program that pays for the training and recruitment of childcare workers to a Small Business Equity & Recovery program for nearly 5,000 small businesses, particularly those run by people of color.

“We’ve never put that much money on the table and I can’t wait to see how it works on the ground and follow it through the year – three years – while also enabling capacity building,” says James, Chief Executive of Sonoma County Said Gore.

Selecting winning projects for the Community Resilience Program is a novel process for the county, said Lindsay Franco, equity and social justice data analyst at the Sonoma County Office of Equity, during Tuesday’s board meeting.

Rather than relying on a call for proposals, which solicited bids from vendors for specific work, county officials elected to use a notification of the availability of funding. This process is easier to manage and allows a wider range of organizations to apply for funding, Franco said.

Meetings with community organizations about available funding and related written information are available in more than one language, Franco said.

In addition, the disproportionate impact on communities facing the highest rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths has been at the forefront of the work.

“People understood that we had to do things differently to get different results,” Franco said.

Each of the project proposals had to fall within 10 priority areas identified by the county, such as: B. Educational Disparities, Nutritional Assistance, Mental Health, Housing, and Help for Small Businesses and Nonprofit Organizations.

Proposals were reviewed by 33 volunteers from diverse backgrounds, who assigned each application item based on specific criteria such as program design, level of proposed collaboration with other organizations, and service to census tracts disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The Sonoma County Portrait, a community wellness report that uses data to show differences between different demographic groups, was presented to each volunteer prior to the review. While the report revealed some benefits for residents of the county as a whole, it also highlighted gaps in health, education and wealth across racial, ethnic, gender and geographic lines.

A review committee, composed of six volunteers from the larger group of 33, made the final project recommendations based on the total amount requested in each of the priority areas versus the amount of funding available.

Once the money is awarded, the organizations running the projects must work with the county to develop performance metrics that track the impact of each program, county officials said.

“We will ensure that these proposals … do what they promise and serve the communities they say will serve them,” said Oscar Chavez, the associate director of the Sonoma County Department of Human Services.

Among the projects funded is one of the Russian River Alliance, which has awarded $390,000 to build a public Wi-Fi mesh network in the rural communities of Jenner, Bodega Bay, Bodega, Forestville and Cazadero in western Sonoma County for five years had received.

The project is an extension of a pilot program the alliance plans to launch in downtown Guerneville this June, said Bryan Hughes, the organization’s chief financial officer.

It addresses issues that emerged during the pandemic, when inexpensive internet access became a barrier for students and staff working remotely.

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