Federal officials released $22.4 million Tuesday for earthquake crisis counseling in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, the formal approval that local mental health counselors need to launch a nine-month program in schools, mobile-home parks and community centers.
Ventura County expects to receive as much as $4.3 million from the federal grant, enough to hire 100 social workers and contract with private agencies already serving earthquake victims.
Even before the grant was approved, the plan provoked criticism from city leaders who argued that the money could be better used for rebuilding the community.
On Tuesday, federal and local officials rushed to support their investment in the community's mental health.
"The Northridge quake and its aftershocks unleashed stress and emotional trauma on a massive scale," U. S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala said in a statement. "We've learned from past disasters that the emotional aftershocks can continue long after the actual disaster."
Ventura County Mental Health Director Randall Feltman said he plans to bring residents suffering earthquake-related stress to speak to the County Board of Supervisors on June 14. The board must give its official approval before county workers can begin using the money.
"If that money can help people," Supervisor Maggie Kildee said, "if it can relieve their fears . . . I think it's money well spent."
Neither state nor local officials received formal notice of the grant, which was announced Tuesday afternoon by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Feltman could not confirm that the county had received the full $4.3 million it had requested, although he has received verbal assurances that the full amount is coming.
In the four months since the quake, FEMA has allocated $2 million in Ventura County and a total of $12.7 million across the region for crisis counseling.
About $1 million of the new grant would go for contracts with five private agencies, including Clinicas del Camino Real Inc., to reach Spanish-speaking families; Catholic Charities of Ventura County, to work through churches; Interface Children, and Child Abuse and Neglect Inc., to deal with troubled children, and Turning Point Foundation, to help with mentally ill residents.