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With the news of the county’s failure to apply for millions of dollars in federal aid that would create local jobs continuing to grab attention, I called the challengers to supervisors Ron Roberts and Bill Horn.

Stephen Whitburn, challenging Roberts, and Steve Gronke, challenging Horn, both said the fact the funds target unemployed welfare recipients had something to do with the county’s refusal of the funds.

“Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fact that this was targeting job creation for low-income residents resulted in some of the disinterest,” Whitburn said.

Gronke, a Vista City Councilman opposing Horn’s bid to win a fifth straight supervisor term, said this refusal of funds was especially egregious because it affected low-income residents.

“I think the county has this idea that anybody at the bottom of the pay scale are either here illegally or worth less,” he said. “I think it’s a matter of human worth. For some reason the county supervisors are arrogant enough to think that we don’t need people who wash our dishes, clean our rooms, take care of our clerical work and work in our retail jobs.”

Whitburn, a Democrat and former candidate for San Diego City Council running to unseat Roberts in the county’s urban core, said Roberts missed “a real opportunity to do something here.”

“I was as stunned as everybody else to find that our supervisors were not aware of it and weren’t pursuing it,” he said.

Roberts has said on his website and on the campaign trail that jobs are his top priority. Roberts said he was upset to learn that the county’s Health and Human Services Agency rejected the federal funds without supervisor discussion.

Gronke said he was not surprised Horn was not aware of the program.

“I think he’s just tied up so much with the developers that he’s blinded to the fact that that North County has a lot of people that are unemployed,” he said.

Both candidates criticized the county for not doing everything possible to receive the injection of federal money.

The county perennially ranks at the bottom among major cities nationwide for enrolling eligible people for food stamps, and thus doesn’t distribute an estimated $40 million in federal aid that could go directly to needy residents if they were enrolled.

Add the money the county turned away by rejecting this program (one local think tank pegged it at $11 million-to-$18 million) and the county has turned away tens of millions of dollars this year alone, Whitburn stressed.

He said the county’s historical reluctance to spend local dollars in order to augment or secure federal or state aid is inexcusable.

“If someone offers me millions of dollars in free money, I’ll find a way to make it work,” Whitburn said. “San Diego County has $700 million in its reserve fund. Don’t tell me that we don’t have the money to make a small upfront investment to enable the federal government to send millions of dollars our way.”

— KELLY BENNETT

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