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In Bay Area, Biden-Harris Inauguration Sparks Cautious Optimism

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

  • Bay Area leaders lauded the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who took office on Wednesday alongside a Democratic-led Congress

  • Among other plans, Biden plans to allocate billions to fight the COVID-19 pandemic through a national vaccination campaign, wider testing, medical research and healthcare jobs

  • The White House issued a memo to FEMA to extend reimbursement to state and local governments for non-congregate shelters, childcare facilities, transit systems and other eligible emergency expenses related to COVID

With this week's transfer of power in both the White House and the Senate, Bay Area leaders are hopeful for federal action that will finally bring an end to the pandemic and kickstart the local economy.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, an Oakland native and former District Attorney of San Francisco, were sworn in on Wednesday at a socially distanced and heavily secured ceremony just two weeks after a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. Wednesday's ceremonies also marked a consequential changeover in the U.S. Senate, with Democrats now holding a narrow majority given Harris's power to issue tie-breaking votes in that chamber.

Bay Area leaders sounded optimistic notes about the region's prospects under a Biden administration.

"In this moment, this Administration has a real plan to slow the spread of this virus and deliver the vaccine so we can get control of a pandemic that has left over 400,000 Americans dead and wreaked havoc on our economy," said San Francisco Mayor London Breed in a statement. "This is a moment where leadership is truly stepping into the void, and I couldn’t be more hopeful for tomorrow."

With vaccines in short supply, local officials have had difficulty forging concrete plans for administering vaccines at scale.

Around 3.3% of San Francisco's population, or 28,000 residents, had been vaccinated as of Tuesday. But Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco's Health Director, have said that the flow of vaccine supply has been inconsistent and unpredictable, with only 1,775 vaccines arriving out of an expected 12,000 last week. All of the vaccines in San Francisco have been administered or earmarked, largely for the area's sizable population of health care workers.

Calling the Trump administration's vaccine planning a "dismal failure," Biden promised to enlist the National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to establish 100 federal vaccination sites across the country, in addition to other satellite sites, by the end of his first month in office.

Additionally, Biden proposed a nearly $2 trillion relief package called the American Rescue Plan, which would allocate $400 billion to defeat the pandemic. Those funds would be directed towards national vaccination efforts, more widespread testing, medical research and healthcare jobs to support the vaccine rollout. Biden issued an executive order on Wednesday outlining his national COVID response.

"Under a Biden administration, our country has a fighting chance at defeating this virus," said State Sen. Scott Wiener. "In order for us to reach herd immunity and get everyone vaccinated, we must demand -- from all levels of government -- transparency, realism, and hard work."

Wednesday's inauguration also raised hopes that more relief is on the way for local governments limping through an extended budget crisis.

San Francisco is facing a $650 million budget deficit over the next two fiscal years, and has warned of a persistent "structural deficit" that sees expenses outpacing revenue even if the economy recovers. That forecast makes no assumptions about new infusions of federal cash, though the Mayor's office expressed some optimism that the City could see renewed support for its COVID response.

On Thursday, the White House ordered FEMA to extend 100% reimbursement to state and local governments for non-congregate shelters, childcare facilities, transit systems and other eligible emergency expenses related to COVID. The City, which has been mostly reimbursed to date for a program sheltering unhoused people in unused hotels, had been in the dark about whether FEMA reimbursements for the program would be extended. The memo dictates that eligible expenses be reimbursed until Sept. 30.

Meanwhile, leaders across California expressed confidence that the state would enjoy a much warmer relationship with the federal government, in the aftermath of the tumultuous and often-antagonistic Trump years.

"We applaud [Biden and Harris'] message of unity and their promise to work with all Americans to end the divisions that have roiled our public discourse," said the Bay Area Council in a statement. "We also must prioritize making tax reforms, including reestablishing state and local tax (SALT) deductions, that recognize California’s outsized contributions and the important role our state’s world-leading innovation economy can play in achieving our shared objectives."


Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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