Councilmember Kshama Sawant in January at the Tax Amazon launch.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant in January at the Tax Amazon launch. NATHALIE GRAHAM

Legislation that would give Seattle households $500 a month for four months will be introduced to the Seattle City Council next week.

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Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales have modified their Tax Amazon legislation to help low-income households and vulnerable populations survive the COVID-19 crisis. The goal is to put a 1.3% tax on the payroll of the 800 biggest Seattle businesses. The money garnered from that would give 100,000 Seattle households $500 once a month for four months.

"The existing resources" for people whose jobs and lives have been upended are "not enough," Morales said.

The Tax Amazon measure, which could wind up as council legislation or a ballot measure if that legislation fails, has been re-tooled from its original version. Back in January, before everything was in shambles, the goal for Tax Amazon was to use the tax (which was only a 0.7% tax on payroll back then) to build more social housing and to support green infrastructure as outlined in the Green New Deal for Seattle, a commitment the council signed onto last year.

The original plan would have raised $300 million. Now, Sawant and Morales are calling for a tax that raises around $500 million.

"The typical response for those in power is to look out for the big guys," Morales said, referencing the financial aid given to corporations by the federal government. "Our constituents are getting one check and they will need more than a one-time payment if they’re going to be able to weather the storm."

It's vague how exactly the 100,000 households that would receive checks would be determined. In addition to undocumented people, the legislation would help low-income households, some who are already enrolled in city-assisted programs and others who "may not be participating in those programs," Morales said.

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Sawant added that they'll be helping people who "are chronically in crisis" but also "many households and workers that have become destitute overnight." That's a broad range.

"We will be finalizing the language of the legislation to make sure those households that are normally okay in a non-pandemic situation will also be considered," Sawant said. They expect that legislation to be finalized on Friday.

Currently, Sawant is not sure which committee will even introduce the legislation to the council. She says she is lobbying Council President Lorena González to let her introduce it in her Sustainability & Renter's Rights Committee. González has not agreed to that yet, Sawant said.

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