Las Vegas officials plan to utilize significant funds allocated through the CARES Act to pay for public safety personnel in a move that could make the city a little safer. These funds will go towards hiring personnel and purchasing equipment designed to bolster the city’s preparedness for events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s too early to say that the decision will improve public safety, there is every possibility that it may.
The CARES Act is the largest stimulus package in American history. When it was signed into law in March 2020, the bill contained nearly $2 trillion in various programs. These included tax rebates and credits, cash payouts, small business loans, unemployment benefits, and funds for cities to invest in critical infrastructure.
Initially, Nevada healthcare providers received approximately $315 million in grants. In May, another $70 million was granted. Of this, $18.7 million went to urban healthcare providers, while $51.5 million, or nearly two-thirds of which was allocated to 21 rural healthcare facilities. In total, the $385 million received is being utilized to purchase personal protective equipment, respirators, diagnostic equipment, and to retain and hire nurses, doctors, and other essential employees.
CARES in Clark County
Clark County has allocated roughly $295 million for coronavirus relief efforts. As of last month, the county planned to spend $73.6 million for public health and emergency-related expenses. This includes $13 million to purchase personal protective equipment, and $21.3 million to bolster COVID-19 testing programs throughout the county.
Clark County is also planning to use nearly $121.1 million of CARES funds for human services programs in the city. This includes providing $13.5 million to keep the homeless facility operational. The city is also planning to provide $16 million to the University Medical Center which is similar to financial assistance provided in past years.
Under consideration are plans to provide $25.5 million in funds to be applied towards municipal expenses. These include modifying city buildings including the Clark County Detention Center and police stations in the city. These upgrades and improvements include purchasing plexiglass, building/maintaining homeless isolation and quarantine facilities, and purchasing personal protective equipment for firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, and other city employees and volunteers who may come into contact with COVID-19 during the course of their work-related duties.
Does Funding Impact Public Safety?
From COVID-19 to the Las Vegas Shooting, the city has had our share of significant events in the past decade. These have tested the limits and capacity of area law enforcement, firefighters, and healthcare professionals to effectively respond to the city’s needs.
CARES funding may go a long way towards helping Las Vegas and other communities prepare for future catastrophic events. It could also help ensure that critical infrastructure and personnel are available to handle the city’s regular, day to day needs.
There are plenty of studies that show a direct correlation between funding levels and public safety. Las Vegas is no exception and the data shows that budgets decline, the quality and responsiveness of law enforcement, EMS services, healthcare services, and fire protection services decline. At the same time, DUI rates, hit-and-run accidents, and other public safety risks increase.
CARES Funding and the Economy
One critical issue that the city needs to address as soon as possible is the dramatic increase in unemployment. In February, unemployment was 3.9%. Since the peak of 10.1% in September 2010, the unemployment rate underwent a steady decline and reached a low not seen since 2006. By March, the unemployment rate reached 7.2%, and skyrocketed to 33.9% in April.
History has shown that high unemployment rates never bode well for a city. High unemployment means less tax revenue, urban blight, and increased crime rates. In May, Clark County commissioners cut the city’s budget significantly in anticipation of a nearly $150 million deficit over the coming year. While CARES provides a much-needed shot in the arm, the inflow of funds may not be enough to counter the full effects of the coronavirus pandemic on safety within the city. Indeed, it may be some years before the city is able to fully fund many of the critical infrastructure and social services that were planned prior to the pandemic.
December 31st Deadline & Future Funding
Clark County officials have until December 30th to determine how and where to spend coronavirus relief funds. However, it does look like the city will determine how to use its full allotment by the end of June.
If, as is currently expected, congress passes additional funding measures later this year, it is possible that these funds could be allocated towards public safety initiatives. These could include funds specifically targeted for the construction of health clinics, administration of health education programs, alcohol/drug diversion programs, etc. that could improve public health and reduce the crime rate.