County’s priorities for $80M in relief: Mental health, shelters, youth

Snohomish County published a report on how it intends to spend a one-time cash influx from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118

EVERETT — Snohomish County could spend at least $80 million in federal funds to support affordable housing, child care, homeless shelters, mental health counseling for children, social work and workforce training programs.

Those possibilities are listed in a report published Wednesday by the county’s Office of Recovery and Resilience, a department created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report has six priority categories identified during months of meetings that county elected officials and staff held with nonprofits, businesses, faith leaders and residents.

“In Snohomish County, we follow the basic principle that the pandemic impacted everyone, which means that our recovery needs to involve everyone as well,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in a news release.

The county got $160 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, also known as ARPA. About $40 million has been appropriated from the first deposit. The second haul, $80 million, is marked for the executive’s spending plan to be announced in September and included in the county’s 2023 budget process.

Behavioral and mental health services emerged as the top issue during four county meetings about how to use the ARPA money this year, according to the report. Some solutions include training for social workers and other professionals who work with homeless people, and incentives to recruit and keep social service employees, and simplifying the resource.

Growth and affordability is the second priority. It covers potential solutions such as incentives and funding for more affordable housing, local zoning and building code changes for more density and housing types, and home ownership assistance for first-time buyers.

The county has already ventured into solutions for shelter and homelessness — the third priority — by purchasing hotels in Edmonds and Everett. Those buildings are set to become emergency housing for up to 55 and 74 people, respectively. That category also calls for increasing the number and types of shelters, which county spokesperson Kelsey Nyland said likely would be done in collaboration with cities.

Child care and early childhood education is the fourth priority, to address a shortage felt throughout the county, according to the report. The child care industry has struggled as workers leave because of burnout and low wages. It has led to fewer slots for students and higher costs for parents, pushing some to stay home instead of work.

The county is considering funding, training and technical assistance to get the “informal child care” sector licensed, supporting pay to recruit and retain workers, and supporting construction and renovation of child care facilities.

Instead of just paying for child care, the county is looking at infrastructure and systemic investments for its ARPA dollars.

“With ARPA it’s tough because they’re just one-time dollars,” Nyland said. ”By creating more child care slots, you can bring the overall cost of child care down.”

Workforce development, the fifth priority, could help. The county’s possible solutions include connecting employers and job training centers, such as community colleges, to fill in-demand jobs, removing child care and transportation barriers for parents, supporting technical and vocational training in schools, and advocating for public sector and nonprofit pay to be more competitive with private sector work.

A youth focus, specifically on their mental well-being, is the sixth priority. The county could support counseling access in schools and tutoring to address the “COVIDslide,” while also identifying economic opportunities for youths through training.

“To hear that over and over again from so many different communities, different geographies, was really striking,” Nyland said.

Ben Watanabe: 425-339-3037; bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @benwatanabe.

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