More COVID-19 help from the Seattle City Council is on the way.
In its most seamless conference call council meeting yet, the Seattle City Council added money to the Office of Economic Development's Small Business Stabilization Fund and waived late fees and interest payments for Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle City Light. Both bills passed unanimously 9-0.
Council President Lorena Gonzalez was back for the first time on Thursday after cutting her maternity leave about two weeks short to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in the city. She ironed out most, if not all, of the conference call kinks and led a succinct meeting.
First on the table was Councilmember Tammy Morales's bill that will transfer about $1.4 million from the city's Human Services Department's budget to the Office of Economic Development's Small Business Stabilization Fund. The money from the fund will be doled out to help small businesses. Grants are small, up to $10,000 a pop. There have been thousands of applications sent in and more are expected. The deadline to file is Wednesday, March 25.
"This will fund emergency capital grants to micro-businesses of five or fewer employees," Morales said, "to provide some sort of relief and working capital for businesses to be able to pay employees, pay rent or manage as best they can."
The money came out of HSD's unspent budget dollars from 2019 and money allocated for a new senior center that won't actually start construction until 2021. Morales added an amendment that would make sure the grant selection was done through a racial equity approach. Morales already fought last week to get information about the grant applications up in more languages than just English.
Another way to execute this is through a "weighted lottery system." That means prioritizing businesses in neighborhoods most at risk of displacement and recipients with household income below 80% annual median income being prioritized.
Councilmember Alex Pedersen's bill will "waive all late fees for utility bills to provide additional relief for hundreds of thousands throughout this crisis," he explained.
This includes late fees and interest charges from Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle City Light. The bill will last until the city lifts its state of emergency or until August 1. The council can vote to renew the bill if the situation hasn't changed by then.
Pedersen also amended the bill to make sure all nonprofits are eligible for these delayed payments as well. That's a big deal for human services providers, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda pointed out. Additionally, Councilmember Andrew Lewis said this makes a difference for many of the arts organizations based in his district (District 7) that "are organized as mission-driven nonprofits" and currently "really, really reeling" from COVID-19.