As state officials reported San Mateo County failed to meet the state’s new health equity metric intended to address a disparity of infections in underserved communities, the county Board of Supervisors voiced a commitment to contribute $2 million of additional funding to the Immigrant Relief Fund. 

Though no formal action was taken, during a remote meeting Tuesday supervisors were challenged by John Sobrato, the philanthropic founder of the Sobrato Foundation, to continue funding for the Immigrant Relief Fund program which serves low-income earning residents shut out of federal assistance due to their immigration status. In July, Sobrato contributed $5 million in seed money to create the fund to which supervisors contributed $2 million. 

“We’re not done fulfilling the need. Only about half those qualifying received payments because we’re out of money,” said Sobrato. “The private sector can’t do it alone. We need the board’s leadership to set an example to energize the private community.” 

As of late September the fund had received nearly 23,000 applications with 10,156 applicants qualifying for a one time $1,000 grant. With 96% of the $10.6 million fund spent and thousands of deserving applicants waiting in the queue, supervisors agreed to agendize a resolution for an Oct. 20 meeting to provide an additional $2 million to the fund. 

The county’s interest in assisting immigrant families came in conjunction with news the county failed to meet the state’s health equity metric. The metric took effect Tuesday and grades counties on how efficiently infection disparities are addressed within hard-hit communities, predominantly the Latino community in San Mateo County which accounts for 65% of positive COVID-19 cases. 

“This is an ambitious goal because the root of disparity runs deep and exposure in our most impacted community … is related to being front-line essential workers,” said Chief of Health Louise Rogers.  

For the county to be moved into the next less restrictive tier in the state’s reopening framework, the rate of infections within hard hit communities must fall within 5% of the orange tier positivity rate or 5.25%, a metric San Mateo County failed to meet. 

To enter the red tier, counties in the purple more restrictive tier are required to bring test-positivity rates down to 8% countywide including in hard hit communities. And for counties in the orange tier to move to the least restrictive yellow tier, test-positivity rates in communities experiencing increased infections must reach 2.1%, within 10% of the yellow tier positivity rate requirement. 

Failing to meet the metric will not force a county back into a more restrictive tier but will leave communities at a standstill until infections fall. Adding to a county’s overall test-positivity rate and case rate, the metric will serve as the third criteria used to assess where a county should be within reopening plans. 

Rogers noted the county has already aligned with the metric goals by routinely rotating testing sites in hard-to-reach communities, implementing targeted neighborhood testing and offering financial, housing and food assistance to those who test positive for the virus. The efforts are part of the county’s long-term recovery initiative which centers equity and inclusion as key factors for “creating a better future.” 

In other business, supervisors voted unanimously to support Proposition 15 which would require property value assessments on commercial properties to happen regularly potentially generating between $8 billion and $12.5 billion in revenue annually for schools and governmental bodies. 

“I think we would also agree that the whole subject of school financing is a mystery and it’s not easily understood and I think that’s worth addressing,” said Warren Slocum, president of the Board of Supervisors, who stressed the county Assessor’s Office to prepare for an increase in volume of property value assessment appeals. 

Supervisors also unanimously supported Proposition 16 which would lift a ban on affirmative action, a policy that allows entities to consider race or gender when considering candidates for positions and enrollment. 

“The times are different now then they were in 1996. … We have a much larger population who … isn’t always able to take advantage of educational opportunities, of early job training opportunities and I think that I don’t find it particularly onerous to give somebody just a slight edge. I just don’t find that to be wrong,” said Supervisor Carole Groom who called the proposition controversial. 

A measure intended to encourage San Mateo County employers to permit employees to work from home at least 25% of the work week also gained support from supervisors. Employers will be asked to sign a “cut the commute pledge,” created by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and brought forward by board Vice President David Canepa, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion. 

Supervisor Dave Pine requested county staff return with a plan for how the pledge could be achieved for county employees, an initiative County Manager Mike Callagy said has been a goal of the county pre coronavirus. 

The board also extended Callagy’s county manager contract another four years.

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