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Nearly Two Thirds of L.A.’s $1.3 Billion in COVID Relief Funds Went to Cops and Firefighters, Zero Went to Building Housing

Instead of spending on policing, local governments could have used the federal funds to acquire land for future development of affordable housing, provide financial assistance to homeowners or provide loans to affordable housing developers, according to the Treasury Department.

2:44 PM PDT on August 17, 2023

    An LAPD officer stands with a bean bag shotgun in front of a line of President Trump supporters. (Brian Feinzimer)

    Under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the city of Los Angeles received more than $1.2 billion dollars in COVID relief funds. This funding presented local governments with what the U.S Treasury department described as “a once in a generation opportunity” to invest in affordable housing.

    But two years later, the city hasn’t allocated a single cent from the $1.2 billion award towards building temporary shelters or permanent housing for the homeless.

    Instead, nearly two thirds of the money has gone to paying the salaries of police officers and firefighters, according to a July report from the City Administrative Officer (CAO).

    According to the report, more than $317 million ARPA dollars went towards covering Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers’ salaries in 2021 and more than $475 million went to covering the salaries of both sworn and civilian Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) employees in the last two years.

    In total, roughly one billion dollars has been spent or designated to cover the costs of "critical government services."

    ‘Fund The Police’

    Spending COVID relief dollars on the salaries of cops and firefighters is not only permitted under the American Rescue Plan Act, it has been encouraged.

    “The American Rescue Plan… provided $350 billion that cities, states, and counties can use to hire more police, invest in more proven strategies like community violence interruption, trusted messengers,” President Biden said during his 2022 State of the Union speech.

    “We should all agree the answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them. Fund them with the resources and training—resources and training they need to protect our communities.”

    And that’s exactly what most local governments across the country did.

    The Marshall Project found that nearly a third of the $350 billion given to local governments to spend on COVID recovery was designated for law enforcement (as of the first quarter of 2022).

    Instead of spending on policing, local governments could have used their ARPA dollars to acquire land or hotels for the future development of affordable housing, provide financial assistance to homeowners, or provide loans to affordable housing developers, according to a guide from the Treasury Department. 

    Facing a $1.1 billion dollar budget deficit due to the pandemic, the city of Los Angeles made the decision to treat the entire $1.28 billion dollars that they received under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) as general fund revenue to keep the city running. Doing so allowed the city to balance their budget in both 2021 and 2022 without "drawing on reserves or deficit borrowing," according to the CAO report.

    “The overarching aim of the city is to leverage its [ARPA funds] to counter the severe depletion of revenue necessary for carrying out critical government services,” the CAO’s report says. “While also investing in programs and projects that measurably aid in addressing the pandemic’s negative economic and public health impacts among the City’s households, small businesses, non-profits, and neighborhoods more generally.”

    “Core to this approach… is the goal to also assure that funded initiatives are designed to help alleviate historic inequities and barriers to services and assistance that exacerbated the pandemic’s negative impacts across so many of the city’s communities.”

    More than 90 percent of the $1.28 billion in COVID relief funds that the city received has either been spent or allocated as of June 30, according to the CAO report.

    When asked if Mayor Karen Bass would advocate for those remaining funds to be allocated towards building temporary or permanent supportive housing, a spokesperson for Mayor Bass declined to comment on the record for this story.

    Here’s how the city of Los Angeles has spent their COVID relief funds so far:

    Critical Government Services ($1B) - Salaries for cops, firefighters, sanitation workers, and other government employees.

    Healthy Communities ($76M) - Improving city parks and creating green spaces through pop-up play events for children.

    Small Business Recovery ($44M) - $27 million in grants and roughly $13 million in rental assistance for small businesses.

    Household Assistance ($48M) - Senior meals and household financial aid to cover utility costs

    Broadband & Digital Inclusion ($2.9M) - A pilot program targeting parts of the city that lack internet access.

    Economic Recovery ($5M) - A national marketing campaign to boost tourism in the city of Los Angeles.

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