Is it enough to fill that budget hole?
Is it enough to fill that budget hole? Lester Black

Last week the city of Seattle announced that it could see up to a $300 million hole in the budget due to expenses related to COVID-19. As of mid-April, Seattle has spent at least $15 million alone on the response to the virus, according to a spokesperson from the city. As the pandemic drags on and the local economy continues to suffer—and as our tax system continues to be regressive—the big conversation has centered on the question of, "How the fuck are we going to find all that money?"

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In the days since that conversation started, Seattle has gotten a better idea of how much money it will be receiving in state and federal aid, some of which could help fill that budget hole. Of the funds that have been designated, most will go to rental assistance and small business relief.

Today Governor Jay Inslee announced that the $131 million earmarked for Seattle in the federal government's CARES Act will be dispersed in the coming weeks. However, the federal government has yet to provide guidance on how those funds can be spent.

As far as money Seattle has access to now, the City Budget Office informed the Seattle City Council in a presentation on Monday that the city will receive around $14 million in federal grants and $13 million from the Washington State Department of Commerce. The city is also pursuing reimbursement from FEMA.

That $14 million in grants breaks down as follows:

  • $5,640,185 from Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
  • $4,983,977 from Older Americans Act Grant
  • $2,829,807 from Emergency Solutions Grant
  • $426,000 from Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA)
  • $146,669 from Medicare Title XIX

  • Most of that CDBG money will be going toward rental assistance. "More than half of Seattleites are renters," said Emily Alvarado, the city's housing director. "Many struggling financially to pay rent, regardless of the eviction moratorium renters need to pay rent."

    The city will designate $1.5 million in rental assistance for the Human Services Department's homelessness prevention programs, another $1.5 million for the Home Base rental assistance program that recently got $5 million from King County to pay April rent for people in need, and $1.14 million in rental assistance for the Office of Housing's non-profit building owners.

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    "We really want to allocate new federal resources to new rent assistance," Alvarado said. As the month wears on, Alvarado said that the city is "seeing a precipitant increase of unpaid rent."

    Small businesses will see $1.5 million from the CDBG grants. The city has already funded $2.5 million in small business stabilization fund grants, and has doled out $10,000 grants to 250 businesses so far. But, 9,000 businesses applied for the grants.

    The state's $13 million contribution to Seattle will go towards emergency housing. It's flexible grant money, however, and could be a "possible way to fill budget holes," according to City Budget Office director Ben Noble.

    There's more money out there. Like FEMA funds. FEMA is supposed to reimburse the money at a 75 percent level that "Seattle is spending outright," Noble said.

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    Seattle expects reimbursement for money spent on personal protective equipment, cleaning, the deployment of additional hygiene centers, the new tiny houses that were built to alleviate crowding in homeless shelters, and more.

    "This is really the first set of federal funding for COVID-19 relief," Councilmember Teresea Mosqueda said. More future funding has been identified and is expected to make it down the pipeline. Plus, the $131 million of CARES Act money will be utilized. The city has more work to do to figure out how and where it will be spent.

    "What we do sets the tone," Mosqueda said.