SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — The findings of a nearly year-long secret investigation by the Sacramento County Grand Jury is calling into question how Sacramento County officials maneuvered hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding meant to provide relief from the coronavirus pandemic.
Congress passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March of 2020, provided economic relief to municipalities across the nation. Sacramento County received $181 million from the relief bill.
Officials spent most of the $181 million they received on the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department payroll with $104 million going to the sheriff's department, $21.6 million to the probation department and $6.2 million to the health services department, according to a county report. That report showed about $4 million went towards buying Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), such as masks and hand sanitizer, and only $10,000 was allocated for contact tracing. The Sacramento County Sheriff's Office payroll is paid for through the county's general fund.
$104 million was then transferred back into the county’s general fund, which the Grand Jury says is, at least, confusing and possibly illegal.
Then-executive for Sacramento County, Nav Gill, said the funds were being used to balance the budget. Hundreds of members of the public voiced opposition to that decision, saying funds needed to go directly to coronavirus mitigation.
“The County Chief Executive has argued that the budget move was legal, however the Grand Jury has not been able to make that determination,” says Grand Jury Foreperson Deanna Hanson. “We are calling for an independent audit, because Sacramento County residents deserve answers.”
The latest Grand Jury report says while CARES act funding was allowed to be used for public safety, the move violated the spirit of the intent by not using the funds for direct community challenges related to COVID.
Berry Accius, a Sacramento activist with Voice of the Youth, has been sounding the alarm since the funding was first considered. As a result of failures to fund areas in the community most hit by the pandemic, he says there has been a serious cause and effect.
Accius, who has spent decades advocating for Sacramento’s Black and Brown community, says homelessness, crime, and poverty have only worsened as a result of elected leadership.
In the Sacramento Grand Jury report, it points out that in contrast, the City of Sacramento directed nearly all its CARES Act funding directly to community agencies and businesses to provide pandemic relief.
Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli has not yet reviewed the report, but is looking forward to that and providing a detailed response.
“I don’t think we did anything wrong," Notolli said. We were trying to preserve the dollars.”
At the time, local officials at County and City levels were unsure how the pandemic would impact the economy and their tax revenue.
“Otherwise those dollars would have been potentially lost," Notolli said.
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors are expected to respond to the report within 60 days.