The first area in the United States to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis last year is about to get a nearly $1 billion shot in the arm to aid in its recovery, thanks mostly to money allocated to Seattle and King County from the American Rescue Plan Act that President Biden signed in March.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Council members Thursday unveiled a proposal to spend an additional $128 million, above what they had previously budgeted for this year, on pandemic-recovery programs and projects they said would complement the county’s investments. Nearly all of the money in the city’s package will come from the latest federal stimulus bill, though about $12 million will come from a federal program that funds affordable housing.
The City Council will hold committee meetings for several weeks and consider amendments, then vote on the proposal as soon as June 21.
The Metropolitan King County Council has already approved $631 million in additional recovery spending, voting 8-1 Tuesday to fund an array of programs and projects ranging from COVID-19 vaccination sites to rental assistance. More than half of that money will come from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, with the rest coming from other federal and state sources. County Executive Dow Constantine has called Tuesday’s package “the largest supplemental budget in county history.”
King County and Seattle previously received funding through the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act from March 2020, and through a $900 billion stimulus bill from December. Those resources have been disbursed over the past year.
Tuesday’s package was the seventh supplemental budget adopted by the county since the coronavirus emerged. The city received $177 million through the CARES Act and a smaller sum through the December bill, including $23 million for rental assistance. Seattle will at a later date receive a second, $116 million portion through the American Rescue Plan Act for spending in 2022.
The county’s new spending earmarks:
- $255 million for community support, including rental assistance and homelessness response
- $117 million for vaccination efforts
- $114 million for public health efforts
- $67 million for economic recovery
- $41 million for county operations
- $36 million for arts, culture and science
Seattle’s new proposal includes:
- $49 million for housing and homelessness response
- $25 million for cash assistance
- $23 million for economic recovery
- $17 million for other community supports, including child care
- $14 million for city operations
In recent weeks, some advocates have called on the county and City Hall to send hundreds of millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act into Black communities in particular.
The county’s package includes a $25 million business and economic resiliency program for communities of color. The city’s proposal includes grants for small businesses and cash assistance for low-income households that Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said would be directed at communities hit hardest by COVID-19.
“A disproportionate number of folks from communities of color are going to be receiving these dollars,” Mosqueda said, mentioning that the council’s finance committee gathered input last month from representatives of child care providers, homeless services providers, small businesses and others. The council held a public hearing about the recovery spending on May 4.
The $25 million in cash assistance could be spread among more than 10,000 households, according to City Hall staff.
Some advocates also have called on Seattle to prioritize American Rescue Plan Act spending on the city’s homelessness crisis, which has been complicated by the pandemic.
The spending proposal announced Thursday includes more than $28 million to help acquire buildings for affordable housing and $6.7 million for 12-month “rapid rehousing” rent vouchers.
It also includes $7.5 million for an effort — also funded by the county — that helps people move from street encampments into hotels, and $500,000 to provide safe parking spaces for 25 people living in their vehicles.
In a statement Thursday, mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell criticized the city’s allocation for homelessness as “simply not enough” and said the majority of the the American Rescue Plan Act dollars should be used for that purpose. The proposal includes millions of dollars to support city employees working from home, other IT needs and the reopening of city buildings, he noted.
“This is unacceptable,” said Harrell, a former council president. “I hope the mayor and council will rethink this peanut butter approach [spreading money across several groups] and dedicate the greatest share of ARPA money to the greatest challenge we face.”
Under the city’s proposal, 38% of the spending would go to housing and homelessness needs — the largest share, Durkan’s office said in response.
Durkan worked on Seattle’s proposal with Mosqueda and Council President M. Lorena González — who is also running for mayor — before Thursday’s announcement. That collaboration stands in contrast to the bitter budget battles that the mayor and the council members waged last year.
“We’re quickly approaching our city’s bold goals to fully vaccinate more than 70% of our eligible residents, which is critical to safely reopening and building a robust and long-term recovery,” Durkan said in a statement. “Working together, we are delivering an ambitious plan to kick-start Seattle’s recovery.”
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