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Nearly Two-Thirds of $1 Billion L.A. COVID Relief Funding Went To Police and Firefighters’ Salaries

A scrimmage line of LAPD officers stand nearby a trailer with a “Trump Unity” sign. (Brian Feinzimer)

A new report from the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of Los Angeles reveals how the city has spent the more than $1 billion received under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The report shows that the majority of the money went to pay the salaries of police, firefighters, park rangers and other city employees. None of the money was allocated toward building housing for the homeless or health initiatives like vaccines.

The two city departments with the highest payrolls, the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Fire Department collected nearly two-thirds of the $1.08 billion that the City of Los Angeles has been awarded thus far. By comparison, the four other city departments that were granted funds to cover salaries received less than half that amount. 

In March, Ben Ceja, Assistant City Administrative Officer, told L.A. TACO that using the ARPA funds to cover police salaries was both justified and “necessary.” “We did not have enough of our General Fund revenue to cover all of our expenses for Fiscal Year 2020-21. As such, the federal funds were used to cover the cost of City government services, specifically LAPD payroll.”

Under the legislation, ARPA funding can be used for a variety of purposes, including covering government employees' salaries, but it can also be used to pay healthcare workers and invest in infrastructure for small businesses. 

But across the country, many governments used the majority or at least a significant portion of the money to cover police salaries. Not only did the American Rescue Plan Act specifically allow for local governments to do this, but it also encouraged it. In May, President Biden called for cities across the US to “fund the police.” 

A data analysis by The Guardian found that many other major California cities also funneled a significant portion of their federal funding to law enforcement. Nearly 50 percent of San Francisco’s ARPA funds in 2020 went to their police department, and in Long Beach, the majority of their funding went to the LBPD.

The two other biggest spending categories outside of covering city employee salaries were $75 million for recreations and park improvements, $20 million for licensed preschool centers, and about $30 million for restaurants and small businesses, according to the CAO report. While most of the money for businesses has been accounted for, the majority of the funds for parks and preschools have not been expended yet. As of June 30, less than three million dollars has been spent on park improvements and licensed preschools. Ceja said this is due to the fact that those projects “must undergo various phases of construction including design and vendor selection.” The assistant city admin said that “expenditures will follow according to the project schedule.”

Despite the growing homeless crisis in Los Angeles, the CAO report shows that, so far, $0 dollars have been designated for solutions to homelessness like shelters, permanent supportive housing, or homeless services. “At this time, the City has not designated any [ARPA funds] for shelters, temporary housing, or permanent housing,” Ceja said. However, Ceja pointed out that separate from the funds that the city was awarded under the ARPA-State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program, they received an ARPA-HOME grant for $100 million. According to Ceja and a Los Angeles City Council file, those funds were “allocated to programs under the categories of Development and Support of Affordable Housing, provision of Supportive Services; and Program Administration.”

So far, the city has received roughly 85 percent of the $1.2 billion they were awarded, leaving about $117 million owed. You can read the CAO’s full report here.

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