Fresno · Highlight

Fresno Co. shrugs off Latino legislators’ push for coronavirus spending probe

Seeking to direct spending of coronavirus relief funding, California’s Latino Legislative Caucus is appealing to Gov. Gavin Newsom to ratchet up pressure with an intense focus on Fresno County officials.

Meanwhile, Fresno County officials see the push as the continuation of a growing feud with State Asm. Joaquin Arambula (D–Fresno).

In a letter sent Tuesday, the Latino Legislative Caucus pushed Newsom to initiate audits into coronavirus relief spending at the local level, with one county – Fresno – specifically targeted.

“In Fresno County…funds are not being allocated to disproportionally hard hit communities – incidentally, those with the highest concentrations of Latino residents,” the letter reads.

In May, Fresno County received roughly $81 million in CARES Act funding directly from the U.S. Treasury Department as part of the Federal government’s response to coronavirus.

On Tuesday, County officials largely shrugged off the call by Latino legislators to audit Fresno County’s coronavirus spending.

The reason? Following the December deadline to expend the coronavirus funds from the Treasury, Fresno County would have to undergo a mandatory Federal audit on the $81 million sum.

Meanwhile, Federal and state officials speaking to The Sun argued that an audit initiated by the State of California over those funds would be fruitless, as the state has no jurisdiction over the funding.

“So what are they going to audit?” Fresno County Board of Supervisors Chairman Buddy Mendes said.

“Some of our programs are a model for the state,” he added, referring to collaborations between the County’s public health department and the Fresno County Farm Bureau.

Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magisg said that the state-level push for a targeted audit of the county’s Federal spending was particularly worrisome as an attempt to “strong arm another entity” into making specific spending decisions. 

Meanwhile, just a week ago, California’s Department of Finance announced that Fresno County would receive a separate, $16 million share of the Golden State’s CARES Act funding.

Those funds could be subject to state audit.

However, Mendes added that, given the recency of the funding announcement, Fresno County has not prepared a spending plan on the state-issued funds.

“We’ve got a lot of bears to feed,” Mendes said of the county’s coronavirus response. “And we will be feeding these bears clear into the new year. This epidemic is not going to go away.”

Alex Tavlian contributed to this report.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.