A little more than $217 million in federal stimulus will soon be available in the Spokane region, which local leaders say is a gamechanger for economic recovery.
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said the city, which is slated to receive about $84 million, could potentially use the funds to make long-term investments to move the entire economy forward.
“This is a historic amount of money,” Beggs said.
President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan last week, but the U.S. Department of Treasury has not yet issued guidance on how and when the money should be spent. Beggs said he’s hoping the city will be given a longer timeline and more leeway than they were given in 2020.
City leaders will have more than eight times as much aid to spend as they did last year. In 2020 the city received about $9.9 million in aid from the CARES Act and they had less than eight months to spend it. Spokane used it for rental and small business assistance, as well as other programs.
“We were under tremendous pressure to get the money out the door,” Beggs said. “I think there’s a little less pressure for this money and hopefully by having time to be deliberative, we’ll get more mileage out of each dollar.”
The city of Spokane Valley could receive more than five times the federal aid it was awarded last year, with an expected stimulus payment of around $22 million. Last year they received two payments of about $2 million each.
Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick said he hoped to spend the funds on economic recovery projects, but said he didn’t want to make any promises until the U.S. Treasury Department issued guidance.
“Well it’s always on the details, so I’m waiting to see what the criteria is that we can use it on,” Wick said.
Both also are looking out for guidance that may allow local governments to use the funds to replace lost revenues. In the city of Spokane, a significant number of people have not paid their utility bill since the beginning of the pandemic. Spokane Valley, which is reliant on sales and other consumer-based taxes, also saw some drops in normally reliable city revenues.
Spokane County is estimated to receive about 10% more than they did last year with an anticipated $101 million payment compared to the $91 million it received in 2020.
The three county commissioners prioritized business support and food assistance with their COVID aid in 2020, but also used funds for energy assistance, childcare and COVID-accommodations for county workers.
Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns said his biggest priorities were food, and supporting small businesses. He said if the Department of Treasury’s guidance allows it, he said the county may do another small business grant program
“When we can help the business, that means we can help more people retain employment,” he said, “which makes those individuals be able to provide to their families and not fall into a cycle of poverty that many times can be very difficult to get out of.”
Other communities in the region are expected to receive much smaller payments, which are still four to five times what they were awarded in 2020. Liberty Lake, Cheney and Airway Heights will receive around $2 million each. Most other communities will receive a few hundred thousand.