With low vaccination rates, California City hasn't used thousands in federal funds dedicated for COVID-19 relief

·3 min read

Jun. 20—California City is one of the least vaccinated communities in the state, yet city leaders have not touched hundreds of thousands of dollars that could help address the issue.

Last year, the Kern County Board of Supervisors allocated $6.9 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding to incorporated cities. The $2.2 trillion bill distributed funds to municipalities with populations over 500,000.

As part of the county's $157 million federal allocation, supervisors sent funding to 10 cities that did not otherwise receive allocations from the federal stimulus package.

"Unsolicited, we took the opportunity to set aside and bucket an amount of money to help cities," said County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop. "We did it because we thought it was the right thing to do during the pandemic."

The funds could be used for a variety of needs, such as funding COVID-19 tests, nurses and even vaccination clinics. Most of those cities, like Delano, Ridgecrest and Shafter, have already spent their funding, but California City left $501,288 on the table.

Despite informing the city about the funding, Alsop said the county heard nothing in return.

When asked about the money, California City Mayor Jeanie O'Laughlin said she had not heard it was available.

"I'm terribly disappointed to tell you that I don't know anything about it," she said in a phone interview Thursday. "We should know about it and we should have had a plan to spend it."

As the state moves past COVID-19 restrictions, some areas have proven more adept at vaccinating their populations than others. California City has proven to be one such area.

The 93505 ZIP code associated with the city recorded a vaccination rate of 21.7 percent as of Wednesday, according to data compiled by the California Department of Health and Human Services. That is the 40th worst ranking of more than 1,600 ZIP codes included in the report.

Just 2,534 residents out of an estimated 11,636 in the 12-and-older population is fully vaccinated.

According to the state's COVID-19 dashboard, 56.5 percent of Californians are fully vaccinated.

O'Laughlin previously attributed the city's low vaccination rate to a lack of communication about vaccine opportunities. On Thursday, she said she did not think California City residents knew they could go to places such as Rite Aid to get vaccinated.

But the mayor said she was open to using the CARES Act funding for vaccines.

"We've got things that we could definitely use it for," she said. "I'd like to follow up and see what we can do. I'd definitely like to get some vaccine events here and publicize them."

If California City wants to use its CARES Act allocation, the city will be on a tight schedule. The money must be spent before the end of the year. However, Alsop said that if it appeared California City did not intend to use the money before then, the county could use it for other purposes.

"If it's not spent, the county will pull it back and spend it in another area," he said. "We have the authority to utilize that money for different purposes and we will."

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

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