Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Nonprofits and other agencies providing housing, food and other basic support to people struggling through the COVID-19 crisis could get a $1 million infusion.
The Albuquerque City Council on Monday approved a new “coronavirus community support and recovery fund” to cover $1 million in contracts with organizations working to help low-income and at-risk populations during the pandemic and resulting economic shutdown.
But the 9-0 vote that sends the bill to Mayor Tim Keller’s desk was one of the few cohesive moments during a special city council meeting that turned into a lengthy debate about the equitable distribution of resources and power.
Councilors Klarissa Peña and Cynthia Borrego first raised concerns as the council discussed the new $1 million support fund sponsored by Councilors Pat Davis and Lan Sena. Peña successfully lobbied to change the bill to say the committee evaluating funding applications will consider recommendations “to achieve economic, demographic and social equity.”
That amendment passed 6-3.
But Borrego and Peña achieved less traction with similar arguments on a proposal to create a new “oversight committee” to make recommendations about how the city spends the money it gets via the federal government’s $2.2 trillion CARES Act and other coronavirus-related relief packages.
The bill, sponsored by Davis, Isaac Benton and Trudy Jones, ultimately passed 5-4 with additional votes from Diane Gibson and Brook Bassan.
It establishes a committee to consider how to allocate the federal dollars. Officials say the city could qualify for up to $150 million in reimbursement for coronavirus-related expenses; there are also millions more available for transit, housing and other specific programs.
Neither the mayor nor the council is required to accept the committee’s advice, but the sponsors say getting the legislative and executive branches together early in the process could expedite final decisions about the federal funds.
The committee would include the council president – Davis – and two other councilors he appoints, plus the city’s chief financial officer and two people selected by Keller.
But Borrego, who represents a Northwest Albuquerque district, argued the committee should have four councilors – one for each quadrant in the city.
Peña, meanwhile, said the council’s representation on the committee should include a “person of color.”
“I’m very, very uncomfortable having three councilors or four councilors talking about what is going to impact my community in … the realm of the sheer number of $200 million,” Peña said.
But the duo’s amendment failed.
Jones helped strike it down, contending that the committee and the council itself should not focus on individual areas or populations but rather what is best for the entire city since coronavirus knows no boundaries.
“It’s not an us against them; it’s an us trying to take care of as many people and hopefully all that we can,” Jones said.
Benton subsequently introduced a similar amendment to make the committee reflect “the diversity” of the city, but it also failed.
In voting against the amendment, Gibson questioned what constitutes diversity, while Davis said the council is inherently diverse in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation and more.
“I don’t like the assumption that for whatever reason I can’t have the best interest of the city of Albuquerque at heart because I’m an LGBT person or because I’m male or because I lived in Ridgecrest and not another neighborhood,” he said. “Not all of us have the ability to check all those boxes for everybody in the city, and we’ve all shown an ability to get business for the city done.”