(Snohomish County)

(Snohomish County)

County executive lays out blueprint for $85M in federal relief

Dave Somers wants to use one-time pandemic aid on housing, child care and behavioral health in Snohomish County.

EVERETT — Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers knows how he wants to see $85 million of unspent federal pandemic aid used next year.

County Council members will decide soon if they agree.

Congress allotted the county $160 million in the American Rescue Plan Act, also known as ARPA. Half arrived last year and all but $5 million has been spent. The second $80 million allocation arrived in June.

This week, Somers released a blueprint of how to invest the dollars. It is a high level guide. He suggests putting chunks of money in five buckets to address housing and homelessness, child care, workforce development, the judicial system and government operations. Specific sums would be doled out starting next year through contracts, which would be acted on publicly.

Somers’ plan mirrors priorities outlined in a report published last month by the county’s Office of Recovery and Resilience, a department created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its findings are the result of months of meetings that county elected officials and staff held with nonprofits, businesses, faith leaders and residents.

“Snohomish County communities asked us to make substantial investments to help working families, and with this proposed ARPA spending package, we’re delivering on their needs,” Somers said in a statement.

Somers wants to direct $29 million — roughly a third of the ARPA total and the largest bucket — toward increasing housing, reducing homelessness and expanding behavioral health services.

Of the sum, nearly $14 million would be used to add shelter options through the acquisition of motels, hotels, congregate facilities, houses, and multi-family housing properties. The county recently agreed to buy motels in Everett and Edmonds for conversion into housing with access to social services on-site.

At least $8 million is earmarked for behavioral health and substance use treatment efforts, an estimated $2.5 million to expand public health services across the county, and roughly $3 million for flood control and septic affordability projects that will keep residents in their homes while protecting the environment.

Somers proposes $22 million go into programs supporting youth, families and seniors. Of that total, $12 million would be used to expand access to child care by supporting efforts to recruit and retain workers, and to construct and renovate child care facilities.

He also seeks to fund behavioral health supports for youth, and programs to assist seniors and families facing food insecurity.

A third bucket, economic and workforce development, would get $16 million in Somers’ plan.

A chief aim is connecting unemployed and underemployed residents with living-wage jobs. Half the money would be focused in the sectors of social services, behavioral health, child care and manufacturing, all of which have been heavily impacted in the pandemic.

Somers wants to steer $10.5 million into easing case backlogs and pandemic-necessitated adjustments in law and justice. Additional staffing is needed, along with upgrades of buildings to help ensure courts can accommodate remote trials more efficiently and effectively, according to the county.

The last bucket is government operations. He is seeking $3.5 million for the Human Services Department and $3 million for the Office of Recovery and Resilience to ensure ARPA funds are distributed efficiently and in compliance with U.S. Treasury requirements.

Somers’ approach will be formally presented to the County Council on Oct. 11. Approval of a spending plan will be made during the upcoming budget process.

“The County has one chance to spend our ARPA dollars and I’m proud of the work being done to allocate funding as equitably as possible. I look forward to working with Council on the final allocations,” County Council Chair Megan Dunn said.

By law, ARPA dollars must be contracted by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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