Seattle small businesses and neighborhood business communities could see an additional $23 million in recovery assistance under a proposal by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.
The Seattle Rescue Plan, announced last week and subject to City Council approval, would use federal pandemic funds to expand an earlier $10 million effort to help small businesses, with a heightened emphasis on communities that suffered disproportionately during the pandemic.
“We really also are going to continue to prioritize direct financial assistance to those people that need it the most and have not yet had the ability to start recovering,” said Durkan during a news conference Wednesday in Columbia City.
Most of the funding, which comes from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, will go toward individual small businesses, organizations and neighborhoods affected by COVID-19, according to a financial summary by the city budget office.
Funds for small businesses would be used for direct grants, technical assistance, and so-called “soft costs,” such as utilities and tenant improvements, according to the office’s summary and city officials.
Neighborhood recovery funds would be used to support special events, cleanup, and things like temporary outdoor seating, vendor markets, and arts and music installations.
The proposal emphasizes relief for communities of color, which “were particularly hard-hit, both with the health consequences of COVID and with the economic consequences,” Durkan said.
The proposal also targets the city’s arts and cultural organizations, which normally account for nearly a fifth of the city’s economic activity but which suffered steep losses during the pandemic, city officials said.
Since the start of the pandemic, two-thirds of the city’s artists have lost their jobs, according to Calandra Childers, acting director of the city’s Office of Arts & Culture, who also spoke at the event.
Nearly three-quarters of cultural organizations had to furlough staff and roughly the same lack enough cash to survive the next 12 months — and 1 in 4 lack enough cash to get through the next two to three months, Childers said.
“So the urgency is now,” Childers added. “We need to invest in this sector so that we can bring them back.”
Some details remain unsettled. City officials don’t yet know the amount of the small-business grants under the new proposal; previous small-business grants were for $10,000.
Anthony Derrick, Durkan’s press secretary, said officials with the mayor’s office plan to have a proposal to the City Council by Friday, with a possible vote coming June 15.
But council support for the proposal is unclear. Derrick said Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and M. Lorena González are on board as formal sponsors. But Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who was originally expected to join Durkan at Wednesday’s event, did not attend, Derrick said.
Herbold’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The mayor’s office has been “working together with the City Council on this plan for allocating [federal pandemic] funding, and it is my understanding that there is broad support for this plan at council,” Derrick said.
Small businesses generally have welcomed city efforts to speed the recovery, but also have called on the city to address other issues, such as homelessness and security.
“This funding will help” small businesses, said Jon Scholes, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association. “But our small-business owners and neighborhood business districts are also forced to navigate a homelessness crisis that is getting worse. Our city has to get [homeless] people inside and prioritize federal funding accordingly if we’re truly going to recover.”
On Tuesday, the mayor’s office detailed plans to target $49 million in federal pandemic funds for homelessness and housing. “So that is definitely on our radar,” Derrick said.
This story has been updated with information about proposed city spending on homelessness and housing.