Equitable Communities Initiative funding advances out of committee

This morning the City Council advanced out of committee a bill releasing the funding for Mayor Durkan’s $30 million Equitable Communities Initiative.

Last month the Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force released its recommendations for how $30 million of community investments in Black and BIPOC communities should be allocated, after a several-month deliberative process. However, when writing the 2021 city budget last fall, the Council attached a proviso to the funds that prevented the money from being distributed without further Council action once the Task Force laid out its spending plan, and required that plan to align with the Black Brilliance Research Project’s own recommendations.

The Councilmembers appear now to have accepted the Task Force’s recommendations; the only substantive question raised was by Councilmember Herbold, who asked what the expected administrative overhead costs would be for the numerous RFPs and other programs called for in the plan, and whether those costs were expected to come out of the $30 million or other sources of funding would need to be found for them. While an answer was not available during the committee meeting this morning, this afternoon a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office provided this statement:

“According to [the City Budget Office], we estimate the overall admin rate to be just over 6%. The specific rate for each program differs depending on if the Taskforce recommended a new program or an increased investment in an existing program. The admin rate is included in the specific amounts the Taskforce recommended for each implementation plan and will require no new funding.”

A 6% overhead rate is in the typical range for a grant program.

There were two minor amendments to the bill, both addressing the same issue that Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington also raised with the Black Brilliance Research Project funding recommendations: there are several legal limitations on government grant programs in Washington, including the constitutional limits on gifts of public funds, and the Tim Eyman-backed Initiative 200 that prohibits racial preferences in government programs. One added a new finding to the bill:

The City Council finds that ongoing disparities within the City of Seattle related to housing and generational wealth, health and environmental justice, education, and small businesses are contrary to the welfare of the people of the City of Seattle. The City Council therefore finds and declares that it is a fundamental governmental function of the City of Seattle to remedy those disparities as allowed by state and federal law.

The other specifically acknowledged the legal limitations:

It is the City Council’s intent that funds appropriated in Section 2 will be implemented through contracts and programs that are aligned with the recommendations of the Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force to the extent consistent with applicable legal limitations.

The bill lifting the proviso and releasing the $30 million will now come up for final approval by the City Council on Monday.

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