California drought-relief money remains in government bank accounts

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- More than a quarter of a billion dollars meant for drought-stricken communities is sitting idle in government bank accounts. Angry farmers and Central Valley leaders say rural communities need that money now.

When Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency last year, almost $700 million was set aside to help those most devastated by the drought. But nearly half of it hasn't been awarded or spent, according to the state Finance Department, and is sitting in government bank accounts.

"Some of the money that has been appropriated by the legislature because of the drought is for projects that are going to take longer than a couple of days or a couple of weeks to put into place, things like pipelines, things like water treatment plants. That money has been set aside and is going to be put to use as soon as the cash is needed," said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Finance Department.

Palmer says millions of dollars were given to Central Valley communities right after the drought-assistance package was created. But they say other funds haven't been awarded yet because many projects need local government fund matching.

In the last year, $25 million was given to food banks in counties where drought-related job losses were high.

"Nobody wants to stand in a food line for hours and hours to get a box of food for two weeks. That's not what they want. The real issue is having action that somehow will bring some degree of water that puts some people back to work," said Mario Santoyo, executive director for the California Latino Water Coalition.

Santoyo says because of the drought, many low-income families in the Central Valley don't have a place to work.

And Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League says it affects farmers too. "How do we keep our employees here and safe? But how do I stay alive as a farmer? Because if I can't afford that and I go down, where does he or she go?" he said.

In late April, Democrats in the state Senate urged Gov. Brown to spend relief funds faster.
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