Edmonds may fund $1,000 cash payments for coronavirus relief

If approved, residents earning under $52,000 could qualify for cash or services via nonprofits.

EDMONDS — The Edmonds City Council is considering whether to fund up to $1,000 in cash payments to residents and families earning less than $52,000.

The city has $225,000 in its budget to fight homelessness.

With unemployment rising and other financial hardships stemming from the coronavirus, some city officials are thinking of shifting $100,000 to local nonprofits and social service providers, to help prevent people from losing housing.

“It just seems like an absolutely obvious choice to deploy some of those funds to keep vulnerable individuals and families in their homes,” said Councilmember Luke Distelhorst, who proposed the ordinance along with the city’s development services director, Shane Hope. “A crisis like this is a time when I really think we need to act, especially on behalf our citizens who need that assistance so they can stay in their homes and put food on the table.”

Under the proposal, eligible residents could not make more than 60% of the county’s median household income. About a quarter of the city’s households may qualify for some assistance. In theory, many of the payments would be under $1,000.

If approved, local nonprofits like the YWCA, Washington Kids in Transition and the Verdant Health Commission would request money from the city to give to Edmonds families that qualify. That could be in the form of a cash payment or a service, such as renting people hotel rooms. Afterward, the nonprofit would file a report to the city explaining who they helped and how.

The benefit of using the nonprofits is that they already have the infrastructure for working with people who would qualify for the program, Distelhorst said. Edmonds would join the cities of Shoreline and Tacoma, which have enacted similar programs.

In Shoreline, the city council set aside a $100,000 emergency fund for local service organizations and nonprofits. That money will go toward food, emergency shelter and other goods. One area it doesn’t cover is rent assistance.

Tacoma’s plan is a lottery system where residents who earn less than 50% of the median household income can get up t0 $1,000 in rent relief paid directly to their landlord. The city set aside $1.2 million for the program.

When the Edmonds ordinance was discussed earlier this month, council members generally approved of the idea, but several had concerns. The homelessness fund is also supposed to pay for a part-time social services coordinator, a position the city has been trying to fill for months. Some of Distelhorst’s colleagues worried the ordinance could make it more difficult to do so.

Additionally, Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said the city ought to know how COVID-19 was affecting its budget before committing the $100,000.

“I want us to be cautious because once this money’s gone, it’s gone,” she said during the April 14 council meeting.

The council is set to vote on the ordinance Tuesday.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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