Edmonds offers up to $1,000 in COVID aid for bills or food

Those earning less than 60% of the median income are eligible for rent and grocery money and more.

EDMONDS — The city of Edmonds is going to spend up to $1,000 per household on rent, utilities, phone bills or groceries for some qualifying residents.

The council voted 5-1 Tuesday to approve an ordinance that shifts $100,000 from the city’s homelessness response fund, in three monthly installments, to a new coronavirus relief program. Local nonprofits will use that money to pay bills and provide gift cards for some residents, up to $1,000 per household.

To be eligible, residents must be effected by the coronavirus pandemic and make less than 60% of the median household income. For a household of two, that’s about $47,000. In Edmonds, that’s about 4,000 people, according to a city report. Relief could come as soon as late May or early June.

“I think it’s a really positive development for the people who need that assistance,” said City Councilman Luke Distelhorst, who proposed the ordinance. “(With unemployment), based on what they’ve released federally, we know there continue to be really staggering numbers.”

Now, the city is working on requesting proposals from nonprofits like the YWCA and Washington Kids in Transition. If they’re selected, they’ll have access to $33,000 in city dollars for the first month and the city will announce how residents can get relief.

Previously, there were considerations of cash payments to some qualifying residents. Now, money intended for rent and other bills will go to directly to landlords and service providers. Other options include gift cards to grocery stores.

“The ordinance leaves the options open because each agency has a different way of providing that assistance,” Distelhorst said.

At the end of each month, service providers will give the city a report on how the money was spent. Then, the council will discuss whether to continue funding the program.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, some members were concerned about committing the entire $100,000 to an un-piloted program. Councilwoman Laura Johnson added an amendment to dole out the cash in three monthly installments, which gives the council the option to halt payments after each month.

Initially, council members were concerned the ordinance would use money that would otherwise pay for a new social services coordinator. In reality, other city dollars have been set aside for that position, which the city is close to filling.

Councilwoman Kristiana Johnson was the only member to vote against the ordinance. She said there isn’t enough data to show the need for the program.

Other council members worried that the elderly or veterans, two groups not primarily served by the YWCA or Washington Kids in Transition, could have a harder time receiving relief.

“We know that there are different communities that may be harder to reach whether that is language or a digital divide,” Distelhorst said. “I think we are going to have to be creative and reach out to our partners.”

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