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California

Expecting deep cuts due to coronavirus, L.A. County OKs $35.5-billion budget

Los Angeles County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas
Los Angeles County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a recommended $35.5-billion budget for the coming fiscal year — a spending plan that is expected to change substantially over the next few months as the county continues to navigate the coronavirus outbreak and its significant drain on funds.

Already, the county is projecting that it will lose $2 billion in tax revenue — $1 billion by the end of the fiscal year in June and an additional $1 billion in revenue in 2020-21, according to the county executive’s office.

The county’s chief executive, Sachi A. Hamai, predicted a budget process “unlike any we’ve ever faced.”

“We are in a profoundly challenging economic environment that may get worse before it gets better,” Hamai said in a statement. “There are many factors outside the county’s control, including the length and severity of the COVID-19 crisis, and the amount of assistance we will receive from the state and federal governments.”

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Compared with the previous year’s adopted budget, the proposed 2020-21 budget of $35.5 billion reflects a decrease of $594 million in total requirements.

Among its recommendations:

  • Provide $50 million in one-time funding to set aside a total of $100 million for affordable housing for “extremely low-income or homeless households. The money also will pay for rental assistance, rapid re-housing, home-ownership services and move-in assistance.
  • Provide $430 million for homeless services, although, the county noted, there likely will be less money from Measure H available going forward because of the pandemic’s impact on sales tax revenue.
  • Provide $28.4 million for the planning and development of additional mental health beds and services.

The approval of the budget by the supervisors is the first step in the county’s annual process. Public hearings start May 13, and the board is expected to have final deliberations and adopt a budget by June 29.

Despite the coming challenges, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said Tuesday that the county shouldn’t lose its focus on expanding affordable housing and financing alternatives to jail and prison.

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“Affordable housing cannot be something we only support when our balance sheet looks good,” she said.

County officials also must think about the post-pandemic world, Kuehl said, adding that this isn’t the time to back off of sustainability initiatives.

Although Hamai has already imposed hard freezes on hiring and purchasing and directed county department heads to prepare for “a range of potential program reductions in the coming fiscal year,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said the county must avoid layoffs and furloughs whenever possible.

The county must remember that it’s the safety net, Hahn said.

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“We’re responsible for helping people in need who have nowhere else to turn, whether they’re poor, sick, hungry, homeless,” she said. “And I think what we’ve found through this crisis is there are more and more and more and more people who have felt like they have nowhere else to turn.”


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