EVERETT — Grants will pump nearly $25 million into local businesses ailing amid the COVID-19 pandemic under a plan that the Snohomish County Council approved Thursday.
The council OK’d the programs while allocating almost $75 million in federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to a host of county departments that will use the money to manage the public health emergency and offer support to those who’ve been hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis.
County Executive Dave Somers initially proposed a plan for spending all $143.5 million that the county is receiving from the $2 trillion federal economic relief package. But council members sought more detail on some of the proposal’s elements and instead voted to allot nearly $70 million to a reserve fund to be further distributed in the next week or so.
“We just got this information on Monday,” said Councilman Sam Low. “To try to allocate $143 million in just a matter of days is really a tall task.”
The county is facing a budget shortfall of at least $26.9 million due to the pandemic, according to staff. CARES funding, which must be appropriated by the end of this year, is meant to offset unanticipated costs associated with the coronavirus.
At a series of meetings that started Tuesday, Somers urged the council to act quickly on the plan, which came together in about three weeks.
“Under normal circumstances, we would take much longer to plan how this money should be spent and how to do it. We don’t really have that luxury,” Somers said at the first of three meetings. “The plan will evolve as we go and the situation changes. We know that.”
One of the economic relief programs — coined the First in Flight Fund — will provide $7 million, in amounts up to $1 million, to tenants at Paine Field and other aerospace and aviation businesses in the county.
Another $7.5 million grant program — the Snohomish County Small Business Relief, Recovery, and Resiliency (R3) Grant Program — will focus on small businesses in industries including dining, retail and hospitality. Amounts of up to $25,000 will be awarded to qualifying businesses of 20 or fewer employees that have lost at least 25% of revenue to the pandemic.
For more information on the grant programs, or to apply, visit workforcesnohomish.org.
Applications are expected to take most businesses less than 30 minutes, Kendee Yamaguchi, the county’s executive director of economic development and trade, told the council on Tuesday.
Awards are slated to be made within five weeks of application, she said.
“The speed of approving use of these funds is critical. I cannot underscore this more. A difference of a day, or even a week, could mean that another business in your district is forced to close their doors or another one of your neighbors no longer has a job,” Yamaguchi said.
Under the county executive’s plan, another $7.5 million will be set aside for future funding rounds of the grant programs, $2.5 million will be used to establish a third grant program that will help local companies retrain and support their workforce, and another $2.5 million will go toward other initiatives aimed at fostering economic recovery.
The council also approved:
• $10 million in CARES funding for human and social services and housing. The county executive requested $25 million to be used for such line items. They include housing homeless people and other vulnerable individuals during the crisis, providing rental assistance, establishing sanitation facilities and expanding resources available to survivors of domestic violence and those with behavioral health issues.
• $20 million in CARES funding for public health and emergency response and $10.9 million for the Snohomish Health District. Somers asked for $55 million total for this category. His plan proposes that the funds be spent on personal protective equipment, contact tracing, isolation, quarantine facility costs and other necessities for reopening the county under Gov. Jay Inslee’s recovery plan for the state. Some of the money would also help pay for food access, child care for essential worker families, and operation of the county’s Emergency Coordination Center.
• $6 million in CARES funding for essential government services. The council fulfilled the county executive’s entire $6 million request for CARES funding for these services. This money will mostly be spent on bringing in-person county services online and making remote work possible for staff.
More meetings will be scheduled next week so the council can allocate the rest of the nearly $69.5 million in CARES funding, council members said on Thursday.
“We all want to move forward quickly,” said Councilman Jared Mead. “We all know that people in the community are hurting.”
The county has taken several measures to tighten its belt, including a hiring freeze.
The council on Wednesday took another step to offset the financial blows brought by COVID-19, passing a resolution encouraging elected officials to work with the county executive to impose “a minimum five-day furlough for all non-(union) employees and to negotiate the same for all represented employees.”
The furloughs are expected to save about $5.3 million, said county spokesman Kent Patton. The county has about 2,500 employees who are represented by unions and some 460 more who aren’t, he said.
“We believe that furloughs are going to help us save jobs,” Deputy County Executive Eric Parks told the council on Wednesday. “They will help us continue to provide the services that the county taxpayers expect and rely upon, as best as we possibly can.”