Mayor proposes how to spend federal and state COVID-19 relief funding

On Friday, Mayor Jenny Durkan sent a bill to the City Council with a proposed spending plan for about $14 million in federal and state COVID-19 relief funding.

The money comes from three sources:

  • The U.S. Department and Health and Human Services (HHS): $5 million;
  • The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): $8.87 million;
  • Medicare Title XIX funding through the state: $150,000;

Each of these comes with rules about how the money can be spent, complicating things for local elected officials who want to prioritize local needs. The HUD funding in particular is in several pieces, though the good news is that $5.64 million is in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, which provides more flexibility for meeting local needs.

Here’s how Durkan has proposed to spend the funds:

  • $2.1 million to support the provision of meals at shelters.
  • $5.32 million on rental assistance, eviction prevention, and homelessness prevention programs, as well as housing options for low-income persons diagnoses with HIV/AIDS. The federal funding is particularly helpful for rental assistance, because under the Washington State Constitution the city may not give or loan its own funds except “in support of the poor or infirm,” but it can give or loan federal funds.
  • $5 million to expand existing food delivery programs and to support shifting existing senior congregate meal programs to home-delivery in order to maintain social distancing.
  • $150,000 to assist with necessary steps to transition hospital patients to other care facilities, including long-term care.
  • $1.5 million for the Office of Economic Development’s Small Business Stabilization Fund, another important use for federal funds in a program that gives or loans money to small businesses.

Despite being budget-related, this bill is being referred directly to the full City Council for its consideration as soon as next Monday. It is also being considered as emergency legislation, which means that it will require seven of nine Council members to vote for it and the Mayor to approve.

While the Mayor can propose a spending plan, at the end of the day the Council controls the purse strings and may choose to rewrite it if it has different priorities. In the past, some Council members have expressed their wishes to increase the funding available to food banks and to small businesses during the COVID emergency, and while it’s difficult to find fault with any of the allocations to worthy causes listed above, the final allocation may change before the bill passes.

In a press release from the Mayor’s Office last Friday, Council member Mosqueda noted that $14 million is not enough, and that she will be looking for other sources of funding:

“The City is doing everything it can to direct its resources to COVID-19 relief, including grants to small businesses, grocery vouchers for families in need, and hygiene centers for our homeless neighbors. As sponsor of this legislation, I’m pleased the majority of these new federal dollars will go toward grocery vouchers and grants for small businesses. We’ve heard from many constituents who didn’t have access to the first round of grocery vouchers and are in desperate need of help to put food on the table, and this money helps us reach more families in crisis. But as a City, we need federal resources coupled with local and state revenue to reach many more people.”

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