A march in support of participatory budgeting and increased funding for the Black community, marchers carry a banner with text that reads, "King County Equity Now.Com"

Local Leaders Call for American Rescue Plan Act to Invest More in Black Community

by Ashley Archibald

Black community leaders in King County called on local elected officials to invest $300 million of federal funds from the recent relief bill directly into the Black community in a teleconference organized by King County Equity Now (KCEN).

“To prove that Black lives matter, local government will need to invest in those communities, said Isaac Joy, president of King County Equity Now (KCEN), on a May 17 call on the “State of the Black community in COVID.”

“Seattle is a city that loves to parade Black Lives Matter signs — I saw many of them on the walk — and show up for protests. But does Seattle love Black lives?” Joy said.

Seattle alone expects to get $239 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal, and King County Executive Dow Constantine transmitted a $600 million budget to the County Council in March. Constantine proposed that approximately half of that package —  $337 million — will be funded with federal relief dollars. 

That budget includes $253 million for the ongoing public health response including vaccinations and contact tracing as well as hotel rooms for people who were staying in homeless shelters; $199 million in “community supports” such as childcare and behavioral health; $92 million in economic recovery funds, of which $25.6 million is earmarked specifically for BIPOC businesses; and $40 million for a county jobs program.

One by one, leaders of Black-led organizations like K. Wyking Garrett of Africatown Community Land Trust and Jackie Vaughn of Surge Reproductive Justice, and elected officials including Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley (D-37th) and King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay described the impact that the pandemic has had on the Black community and the need to put money directly into the hands of impacted people and the organizations that serve them.

The Black community was in crisis before the pandemic swept the country, but the impact of the disease has only exacerbated existing disparities, Joy said. Black people represent a disproportionate percentage of the homeless population, which was true before the pandemic.

“This is a generational moment. King County Council is overseeing the largest budget in their history. Similarly, this is a huge influx of capital coming at the City level as well. This is a moment for the City and the County to take a pause, think critically, and to make decisions and investments to set a path for this county,” Joy said.

While Black people are closest to the harm, Zahilay said on the call, they’re not often involved in the solutions.

“There are a million reasons why this is the case but one of the dominant reasons why we are harmed is that government does not do enough to put the resources in our hands to take care of our own community,” Zahilay said.

The push comes amid a wider call for funding in Seattle and King County, specifically around pulling money from law enforcement and investing it in the Black community. The City of Seattle is expected to launch a participatory budgeting effort that will direct at least $30 million from the 2021 budget to community-led programs. That effort was delayed until 2022 over uncertainty about which organization would manage the process.

Data shows that the Black community is not moving toward equity, Joy said. A 2017 study from Prosperity Now shows that Black households are on a path to have zero wealth by 2053.

Investment in Black communities is critical, said TraeAnna Holiday, creative director with KCEN.

“The Black community is owed these funds,” Holiday said.

Ashley Archibald is the editor of Real Change News and a freelance journalist with previous work in the Santa Monica Daily Press and the Union Democrat. Her work focuses on policy and economic development, and you can find it in the South Seattle Emerald, KNKX, and the Urbanist.

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