by Kevin Schofield
On May 25, the King County Council passed a supplemental budget bill allocating $367 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for COVID-19 relief, while Seattle officials unveiled a draft plan for how the City intends to spend its share of the $1.85 trillion pie.
The King County budget bill includes $631 million in new spending: $367 million from ARPA, $249 million from a variety of other sources, and $16 million from the County’s existing reserves. The Seattle plan appropriates $128 million from ARPA: $116 million of flexible-use “COVID Local Recovery Funds” or CLRF, and $12 million specifically targeted for housing and homelessness programs. CLRF funds are received from the federal government in two equal payments: one now, and the second approximately one year from now. Seattle is planning to spend its CLRF funds as they come in; however, King County has chosen to front-load $367 million of their total $437 million allocation this year, spending from its cash balance now and using much of next year’s second payment as reimbursement.
While there are some areas of overlap in the County and City spending plans, there are also some significant differences. King County, which runs the Public Health department for both the City and County, is dedicating $117 million for ongoing vaccination programs, $82.4 million for other parts of the COVID-19 public health response (including testing programs and isolation and quarantine facilities), and $25 million for expanded investments in behavioral health treatment. It will also be dropping another $50 million into County homelessness programs, including several million dollars on long-term leases for hotels to shelter the homeless in non-congregate settings.
However, the biggest single investment in the King County spending plan is $100 million for rent assistance, recognizing the enormous amount of back rent owed by residents in Seattle and throughout the county. It hopes the large investment will prevent a tidal wave of evictions and homelessness in the months to come.
Seattle, on the other hand, is investing $25 million in direct cash assistance to low-income individuals including immigrants and refugees, along with $28 million in investments in building or acquiring permanent affordable housing. Its additional investment in homelessness programs is much smaller: about $14 million, in several smaller pieces.
Both the City and County will spend to reopen their respective government facilities and offices: King County to the tune of $41 million, and Seattle with $15 million. That money will go toward supplementing existing budgets that had assumed a later reopening date, as well as health and safety improvements to buildings and improved IT support for remote access by employees and residents.
Both will also invest in economic recovery, with overlapping grant programs. The County will be putting over $25 million into a BIPOC business and economic resiliency fund, as well as $1.8 million for ethnic media outlets and $36 million for arts, entertainment, culture, and science organizations. That includes $9.4 million for 4Culture and $1.5 million to convert a County-owned property next to the Mount Baker light rail station into a youth activity center. Seattle will invest $22 million into stabilization grants for small businesses, nonprofits, community groups, and arts and culture organizations. Both the City and County will invest in apprenticeship and job training programs as well.
And both the County and City spending plans put plenty of money toward small “earmarks” for specific projects or organizations, including childcare, efforts to combat hate crimes and domestic violence, a film production facility on Harbor Island, and diaper distribution programs.
King County Council Budget Chair Jeanne Kohl-Welles called last week’s bill the largest supplemental budget in the history of King County. “This is transformational,” she said. “… providing support for the mother struggling to provide for her child, for the renter on the edge of eviction, for the business owner getting relief from the new BIPOC economic resiliency fund, for the survivor of sexual assault or gender-based violence seeking justice, and many, many more.”
Seattle City Council President Lorena González noted the cooperation between the mayor and City Council — rare these days — that led to a jointly proposed spending plan. “City Hall has worked together to develop a proposal that is responsive and flexible to Seattle’s immediate needs while planting seeds for our long-term recovery. We have a rare opportunity to directly invest federal funds in resources like permanent affordable housing and childcare, while revitalizing our commercial districts and public spaces to be more inclusive, welcoming, and accessible for residents, workers, and businesses. Together, we are building a more equitable and sustainable Seattle.”
While the first half of the flexible CLRF funds are being delivered now, later this summer some of the more targeted programs within ARPA should deliver additional funds, though in smaller amounts. Last week the County Council passed its seventh COVID relief spending bill, and it expects to pass more as additional funds are received. The Seattle City Council expects to pass the current bill before the end of June, and then later in the summer take up another to appropriate additional targeted funds that it is awarded; it currently expects another $35 million, including funding for rent assistance and support for seniors.
Kevin Schofield is a freelance writer and the founder of Seattle City Council Insight, a website providing independent news and analysis of the Seattle City Council and City Hall. He also co-hosts the “Seattle News, Views and Brews” podcast with Brian Callanan, and appears from time to time on Converge Media and KUOW’s Week in Review.
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