On Tuesday, May 18, the Seattle Finance and Housing Committee continued discussing the $232 million of COVID relief that will soon be available to Seattle. The funds are part of the American Rescue Plan, which is the $1.9 trillion relief bill the U.S. Congress passed at the end of February. It is up to the committee to distribute Seattle’s portion, establishing a 2021 ARPA Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery bill.
On May 4, during a Finance and Housing Committee public hearing, a majority of the callers requested that $100 million be reinvested into Black communities. Many of the Seattlites also voiced a desire that no funds be put toward law enforcement or detention centers.
At the time of that meeting, Seattle was expecting to receive $239 million of federal funding through the Rescue Plan. On May 10, the Seattle Department of Treasury announced that the amount allocated to the city came in $7 million below previous estimates.
The Rescue Plan allocations are based on population. Washington state will receive over $4.4 billion. This share of the federal relief package will be dispersed to Washington’s county, municipal, state and tribal governments. King County is expected to receive $437 million.
According to a 150-page ARP guideline document, direct aid can be used broadly to support housing, small businesses, COVID-19 impacted industries, essential workers and communities hardest hit by the COVID crisis. The funds can also be used to make necessary improvements in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
COVID-19 relief funds can also be used to support workers and families by providing direct cash assistance, supporting job training and helping households facing food, housing or other financial insecurities.
Aly Pennucci, Policy and Budget Manager for the city of Seattle, said to the Finance and Housing Committee that the federal funds couldn’t be used to make deposits to rainy day funds or financial reserves.
At this time, Pennucci is unsure if the entertainment industry is eligible for funding but said that the hospitality and tourism industry is included, based on her cursory reading so far of the guidance document.
“In terms of the language around the tourism, travel and hospitality sectors, I haven’t read all of the details on that piece, but it is fairly broad,” Pennucci said. “I think that the arts and entertainment industry could be considered as part of that as well as supporting small businesses. So I think there is some flexibility there.”
According to Pennucci, the federal lawmakers’ language regarding how the funds can be spent is focused heavily on providing services and resources to help people get into housing. “[For] homeless services, the guidance is a little bit unclear in that area,” Pennucci said.
But Pennucci later stated that there is $12.2 million for home funds that are specifically focused on supporting people experiencing homelessness.
As of now, there are nine high-priority areas to which the city would like to direct funds:
- Vaccines and testing.
- Food assistance.
- Immigrant and refugee support.
- Homelessness and housing services, including rental assistance.
- Small businesses, worker assistance and workforce recovery.
- Child care.
- Community wellbeing.
- Revenue replacement and financial resilience.
In the May 18 meeting, one slide labeled “King County spending proposal” broke down possible allocations. The subcategory of homelessness and housing services proposed that $100 million be used for rental assistance; $7.5 million for targeted homeless outreach and shelter program procurement; $6 million for COVID-19 de-intensification shelters, which provide people with more space; and $40 million for coordinated housing employment recovery programs. In addition, $50 million would go to homelessness responses, including outreach, health and treatment assistance, and enhanced housing and shelter.
So far, the Housing and Finance Committee has centered the timeline around mid-June for when they will sort out how to utilize the funds best. At the committee’s next meeting, June 4, they plan to start making decisions.
City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who is the committee’s chairperson, said they will have a drafted proposal for how to allocate the funds and discuss amendments at the June 4 meeting.
According to Pennucci, “There will be public comment as there always is at the beginning of that meeting and there will be another committee discussion on June 15th with another public comment opportunity.”
Read more of the May 26 - June 1, 2021 issue.