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Harder pushes bill to aid county fairs hit hard by COVID

With the San Joaquin County, Stanislaus County, and even California State Fair shut down this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial impacts on the organizations remains to be seen.

But Congressman Josh Harder is doing everything he can to make sure that local fairgrounds stay solvent amidst the turmoil and uncertainty that comes with having to close the gates.

On Thursday the Turlock Democrat – who is running to defend his seat – announced that he was introducing the Protecting Fairs During Coronavirus Act. The bill, if approved, would create a $5 billion federal grant program to offset losses that are coming as a result of not being able to welcome the waiting crowds.

“We don’t want to lose a single acre of fairgrounds or see a single fair shut down permanently because of this pandemic,” Harder said in a statement. “I went to the Stanislaus County Fair as a kid and even won some blue ribbons along the way – but these fairs are more than family fun – they are also an economic engine and job creators for rural communities. We have to do everything we can to protect them.”

Without county fairs this year, local FFA and 4-H organizations were forced to use creative methods in order to sell the livestock that they had been raising for months – turning to online auction platforms to sell the animals without any of the frills that come with a day at the fair.

And it’s a hit for the economies that rely on the fairs for a needed summertime boost.

According to the California Fairs Alliance, fairs across California preserve 30,000 jobs, generate $3.5 billion in local revenue, and contribute $200 million in local tax revenue for local and state governments – all of which could be in jeopardy if individual county sites are forced to sell off either part or all of their properties in order to offset the losses incurred by not holding events this year.

“The Western Fairs Association, the California Fairs Alliance, and our Service Member partners are in strong support of Representative Josh Harder’s efforts to include the fair industry in Congressional legislation to assist during this time of National Emergency,” said Sarah Cummings, the President and CEO of the Western Fairs Association. “Fairgrounds are an essential part of the infrastructure necessary for state and local communities to effectively respond in natural disasters and emergencies. More importantly, fairgrounds are often the heartbeat of their communities, generation multi-millions of dollars in non-profit and community benefits, promoting agriculture and a quality of life serving as gathering spots, recreation facilities, and learning centers.

“Now is the time to provide emergency funding and preserve the legacy of the state’s Fairgrounds for future generations to come.”

In recent year’s California’s fairgrounds have served as a gathering place during emergencies such as forest fires – providing a place for people to shelter while evacuations are underway – and even hosted the command center for San Joaquin County three years ago when flooding in South Manteca seemed like a very real possibility as rivers swelled well beyond flood stage.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.