King County Council Passes $86 Million in Emergency Funding, Looks to Future Legislation To Make Juneteenth a Holiday For County Employees

by Carolyn Bick

Following a unanimous vote at a meeting on June 23, King County Council has approved a third round of emergency funding to the tune of $86 million. Council Chair Claudia Balducci also said that legislation to make Juneteenth a holiday for King County employees will be introduced at a future meeting.

The emergency funding money, which will come from the county’s general fund, will provide support for several programs throughout the county meant to combat both the novel coronavirus and racism, which the council formally recognized as a public health crisis on June 18.

The funding includes a $17 million increase for food security, rental assistance, and homeless services, among others, as well as $150,000 to supply King County Metro bus drivers and riders with face masks, in order to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The food security grant program shall ensure that grantees provide to program recipients options to acquire culturally appropriate foods that may be difficult to secure through traditional stores,” the legislation reads.

The budget also includes $1 million to support what it calls “a digital equity program” for kindergarteners through 12 graders. The pandemic exposed the inequities facing many of the county’s young people, when it came time to implement online learning. Many have been hampered by inadequate access to a computer or the Internet, and because King County schools have been forced to go virtual until at least September, some students were falling behind in their learning.

While Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee recently announced the creation of drive-in WiFi hotspots, he had acknowledged the problem as early as April.

 The King County Council’s budget proposal would specifically target “historically disadvantaged communities that have been disproportionately excluded from program participation because of selective implementation and selection criteria.”

The budget provides $1 million to address domestic violence, which has been on the rise, due to the current pandemic. As with the money for the digital equity program, this money will specifically be targeted towards historically disadvantaged communities. There will also be an additional $750,000 specifically meant to support Mary’s Place, a White Center shelter that supports women, children and families experiencing homelessness.

The funding also includes both $5,000 and $25,000 grants for community-based organizations that fall into both incorporated and unincorporated zones of King County. According to the budget proposal, qualifying organizations must use those grants to assist small businesses in the area that have been affected by the pandemic. An additional $2 million will be allotted to 4Culture, which is providing relief and financial support to arts, culture, heritage, and preservation organizations and individuals invested in those spheres.

A further $2 million in grants will be provided to the COVID-19 community response fund, which bestows grants to organizations that work with communities and King County residents at highest risk of suffering immediate and long-term negative health, social, and economic consequences from the current pandemic. Organizations that have not already received grants from this fund will be prioritized.

Balducci also said that legislation to make Juneteenth a holiday for county employees will be introduced at a future meeting. The legislation is sponsored by Councilmember Rod Dembowski.

“We will be joining, hopefully, those other jurisdictions in making this an officially recognized holiday,” Balducci said, referring to other places in the United States that recognize the day.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here.