EVERETT — In the midst of unsettled times, the county is revising an $80 million plan to spend federal pandemic aid. The shift will likely fund the county’s response to a surge of COVID-19 cases and postpone long-term economic recovery efforts.
“We were really looking at those dollars as an opportunity to just invest all of it in recovery,” said Eric Parks, the deputy executive for Snohomish County. “One unfortunate emerging challenge … is things are more uncertain as to where we’re at with COVID.”
So far, the County Council has approved spending more than $16 million of its American Rescue Plan Act money. However, it did not approve a full proposal. The county executive’s office is drafting the next version, after judges and prosecutors said the original proposal didn’t address the courts’ backlog of cases.
The next proposal will recommend the council increase funding for food and child care programs but wait to fund some for businesses and the workforce.
“We’re kind of taking a careful ‘wait and see’ approach, so we have that flexibility as we move forward,” Parks said.
The American Rescue Plan Act gave Snohomish County $160 million in federal aid. The purpose of the money is to “rescue” the American economy, but the county can spend it on a wide range of issues. Right now, the county is deciding how it will spend the first $80 million it received.
Originally, the executive’s office proposed more than $28 million for economic and workforce recovery projects. The proposal, introduced in July, also allocated money toward community support, county operations and public health. Only $1.5 million was proposed for public health.
It’s also likely the labor force is facing different issues than it was in July, said James Henderson, who oversees Snohomish County’s workforce development system.
“One thing we’ve learned from the pandemic is things don’t stay the same very long,” the county’s chief of economic and workforce development initiatives said.
The original proposal included money for eight economic and workforce development projects, such as support for small businesses and training for people who were laid off from work.
Seven of the projects — which would have received $25.75 million — didn’t include who or what organization would receive the money. The funding ranged from $550,000 to $10.5 million per project.
Henderson declined to elaborate on how the county determined the funding amount for each project.
Parks said a lot of the programs in the original plan would have required the county to ask for proposals from contractors to do the work. The county would implement other programs through grants available to the public.
A consultant is creating a report for the county about its workforce needs and ways to address them. It will be done around October, Henderson said.
“I think once we identify what the needs are throughout Snohomish County, then at that point we can begin to kind of craft specific projects to support those goals,” Henderson said.
Of the $16 million in approved spending, a little more than $13 million went toward current programs about to run out of money, while the rest funded hazard pay for some county employees or went to the county’s Office of Recovery.
The executive’s office has a tentative plan for its next spending proposal, Parks said. The office will likely have more specifics to share sometime within days or weeks.
Parks said his office still wants to fund the programs it originally proposed, but may not use the first $80 million to do it.
“We’re kind of looking program by program,” Parks said. “We’re trying to figure out which ones we want to get off the ground in the short term, while still balancing that we’re going to need more money for the continued response than we initially had thought.”
Katie Hayes: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.
Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.