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Spokane council shifts pandemic funding to different sources

The Spokane City Council has voted to redirect nearly $5 million in federal pandemic relief money.
Spokane City Cable 5 screenshot
The Spokane City Council has voted to redirect nearly $5 million in federal pandemic relief money.

The Spokane City Council has voted to redirect nearly $5 million in COVID-era relief money to new projects.

The city is calling this an ARPA clawback exercise. ARPA stands for American Rescue Plan Act. The money the council shifted had already been obligated to various programs, but several council members had changes of heart.

The ARPA funds will, among other things, benefit criminal justice and child care projects and buy land for housing or smaller shelters in the downtown and lower South Hill neighborhoods.

Council members also voted to allocate $250,000 for a local marketing campaign to educate people who might qualify for Washington’s Working Families Tax Credit. That led to an exchange between council members Michael Cathcart and Zack Zappone.

“How much is the state putting into marketing their tax credit? Why are we subsidizing state efforts?” Cathcart asked.

“The state is doing this,” Zappone answered. “We just have a very low pickup rate right now in the county. It’s about 20% of eligible families are doing this.”

“So you’re saying the state is not being effective is what you’re saying,” Cathcart said.

“I’m saying it’s not working for our community right now,” Zappone said.

Cathcart said the city could probably find a more cost effective way to notify eligible families and spend the savings elsewhere.

There was some urgency to the exercise. The city must tell the federal government by the end of this year where it wants to direct that money. Then the recipients have another two years to actually spend it.

The Spokane City Council also voted Monday night to give some relief to tenants who live in homes that don’t have cooling devices. The council voted unanimously to allow tenants to install and operate portable air conditioners during the hottest times of the year.

“As long as they have the right amperage in the building, as long as it doesn’t interfere with ingress and egress or the integrity of the building or violating the building codes,” said Councilwoman Kitty Klitzke, who co-sponsored the ordinance.

She said it’s a compromise that seeks to balance the needs of tenants with the rights of landlords.

Amber Johnson from Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners, which manages multifamily housing units, told the council that SNAP supports the changes made to accommodate building owners. She says the company requires that its maintenance workers help with installing cooling devices to ensure they’re safe and operate efficiently.

City officials say the cooling ordinance will go into effect 30 days after the mayor signs it, perhaps this week.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.