Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti offered his vision on Monday for helping the city emerge from the financial devastation of COVID-19, saying city leaders should commit to economic justice by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into relief programs and ramping up initiatives that keep residents safe, employed and out of poverty.
In his annual State of the City address, Garcetti promised to spend nearly $1 billion on initiatives for addressing homelessness, as well as increased funding for gang intervention workers, sidewalk vending programs, arts activities and relief for businesses.
The mayor, appearing in front of a tiny audience next to commanding views outside the Griffith Observatory, laid out plans for delivering $1,000 per month to 2,000 of the city’s neediest households over the next year, as part of a “basic guaranteed income” pilot program that he described as the biggest of any city in America.
The proposals reflect the political shift that has taken place at City Hall since last spring and summer, when Angelenos filled the streets to protest police brutality and racial inequality that traces back to the city’s origins. They also serve as the mayor’s acknowledgment that COVID-19, which has left nearly 24,000 dead across Los Angeles County, had a devastating and disproportionate impact on the region’s Black and Latino families, especially those who are working class.
“We saw how unfair the world still was,” Garcetti said. “The pandemic hit us all, but it hit some of us worse, taking too many of our seniors and too many of our sick, too many of our poor in too many communities of color. And it reminded us how much work we still have left to do.”
Garcetti described his upcoming spending plan, which will cover the year that starts July 1, as a “justice budget” that would be the most progressive of any municipal spending plan in the U.S.
The hopeful tone of Monday’s speech — with its promises of expanded city spending and newly created relief programs — bore little resemblance to the message he delivered last year. In April 2020, one month into L.A.'s COVID-19 crisis, Garcetti gave what was by far the bleakest State of the City speech in at least a generation, reporting grimly that Angelenos were “under attack,” worn down by the coronavirus and mourning their dead.
Since then, Garcetti has focused almost exclusively on two goals: responding to the coronavirus outbreak — setting up free testing sites, amplifying new public health rules and finally, opening vaccination centers — while also struggling to keep the city financially afloat.
The pandemic and the accompanying shutdowns walloped several big sources of revenue for the city, including the taxes generated by tourism and the hotel industry. The city’s financial outlook had been dire until March, when the Biden administration threw the city a lifeline — a $1.35-billion rescue package to help it recover from its financial losses triggered by the pandemic.
Since then, community groups from some of the city’s lower-income neighborhoods quickly urged city leaders to pour that money into aid for the most impoverished families. But the city’s financial analysts argued that the first big chunk of that money — more than $600 million — was needed to stabilize the city’s finances, replenishing its emergency reserves and canceling a loan that could have damaged the city’s credit rating had it been finalized.
Still, Garcetti intends to tap $300 million from the Biden rescue package for relief programs, such as those that can help residents pay their rent and their mortgages. The move would bring the total amount of direct assistance to $700 million, he said.
The mayor also announced plans for issuing $5,000 “comeback checks” to 5,000 businesses — money that’s designed to “help L.A. businesses roar back.”
If approved, Garcetti’s basic guaranteed income program would be accompanied by a similar initiative being prepared by the City Council, which would provide $11 million in financial aid to residents fighting to escape poverty in South Los Angeles and portions of the San Fernando Valley.
Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., said his group opposes such programs if they are financed with taxpayer funds. A government program to “give away free money” discounts the value of work and will give L.A.’s elected officials a new way to buy votes when they run for reelection.
“When you can rob Peter to pay Paul, you can always count on the vote of Paul,” he said.
Garcetti offered a sharp defense of the guaranteed income program, saying it has already been tried by the federal government last year and led to concrete results.
“When you give money to people who are poor, it creates better outcomes,” he said in prepared remarks. “It covers child care and puts food on the table. It leads to more high school graduations and better health.”