COVID-19 · Madera

Madera Co. receives pushback for controversial $1.3mil contracts for vaccine outreach

Despite ever-diminishing vaccination rates, Madera County is doubling down on efforts to get residents vaccinated, even reaching as far as to dole out seven figures to controversial community groups to make it happen.

Tuesday, the Madera County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved six contracts that start at a baseline of $290,000, but that total can reach nearly $1.3 million if the county requires the organizations to provide the services through the end of next year. 

The organizations include United Farm Workers and the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, and the funds come from the federal and state COVID-19 response stimulus packages.

The state has directed local health departments to use funds to work with community based organizations for vaccine outreach and support.

Madera County Public Health Director Sara Bosse said the nonprofits help the county with vaccine clinics. Each organization is assigned to canvas the area near a specific clinic to register people and help answer any questions. 

In response to a question posed by Supervisor Leticia Gonzalez regarding the measured success of the organizations, Bosse said the county looks at the numbers of people going to each clinic to determine the success of each organization. 

Before the board took a vote, Madera County Farm Bureau Executive Director Christina Beckstead shared concerns about the contracts given what she pointed to as a lack of transparency from the nonprofits through the course of the last year. 

“From the Ag side of it, we are asked from some of these groups on a regular basis to be transparent about who we’ve communicated with, how many people we’ve communicated with, what we’ve done,” Beckstead said. 

“And now I’ve turned around and said, ‘I want you to give me transparency.’ And we haven’t been able to get that. As staff has asked on some of the calls for updates on where things are, what the plan is for the week, where are they going – there’s been maybe one or two that will give an update and then it’s crickets from the rest.” 

These interactions have been part of the Farm Bureau’s work with the county’s COVID-19 agriculture task force. 

Beckstead said the Farm Bureau assisted a local businessman for two weeks to set up vaccination clinics, and the bureau helped fill the spots. But later when the county asked him to host another clinic, several other agencies were not able to find enough people to fill the time slots, causing the clinic to be cancelled. 

Beckstead suggested that the board demands more transparency from these organizations and keep tabs on their operations. 

“If these agencies are expecting everyone else to be held to a higher regard in whatever other instance is going on, I would demand the same from them,” Beckstead said. 

The board took Bosse’s comments to heart and discussed the need to hold the community based organizations accountable and keep track of their success and failure. 

Supervisor David Rogers invoked President Ronald Reagan, saying the county needs to “trust but verify.” 

“They might be trusted in the community, but we’re talking about a lot of money here,” Rogers said. “And we have the responsibility to oversee that money and make sure that it’s doing what it was supposed to do. The only way to do that is to trust but verify.” 

The six contracts have been signed with the following organizations: 

  • Central California Environmental Justice Network (initial budget of $15,994 with a maximum total of $96,000)
  • Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability (initial budget of $58,411 with a maximum total of $282,000)
  • California Farmworker Foundation (initial budget of $75,768 with a maximum total of $360,000)
  • Madera Coalition for Community Justice (initial budget of $13,785 with a maximum total of $60,000
  • Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indigena Oaxaqueno (initial budget of $73,512 with a maximum total of $360,000
  • United Farm Workers of America (initial budget of $51,792 with a maximum total of $135,000)
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.