The Spokane Valley City Council approved Tuesday contracts for nearly $1.4 million of its share of federal COVID-19 assistance funding to boost housing, food and utility assistance programs in the city.
The contracts the city approved with local nonprofits were funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act which Congress approved in March. Spokane Valley received $2.9 million in total, which was funneled through the state and must be spent by Oct. 31.
The largest contract the city council approved was with Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners for rent, mortgage and utility assistance.
Mayor Ben Wick said the question of whether to focus on rental or mortgage assistance had been a sticking point in the City Council’s discussions about how to spend the funds.
Ultimately, rental and mortgage assistance were combined into a single fund that SNAP will award to renters and homeowners as needed.
Wick said he also appreciated that internet bills were included in a package for utility assistance due to the increased need many families have for internet access as they home-school their children.
“It’s just one more way to be able to help people out,” Wick said.
SNAP CEO Julie Honekamp said it’s difficult to predict how far the money for rent and mortgage assistance will go because families have missed different numbers of payments and pay different amounts.
She said her agency’s data indicates there are between 240 and 300 families in Spokane Valley that need rental assistance, but she does not have data on how much the need for mortgage assistance has grown because that’s not a service the nonprofit normally offers.
Honekamp was also pleased the City Council included internet in utility assistance because of how many people need it to work from home, apply for unemployment and other services, access tele-medicine or do schoolwork.
“We’re really pleased that the Valley is willing to cover basic internet service because it’s becoming as essential of a utility as water, sewer and garbage,” she said.
Honekamp said the agency was still working on setting up a phone line for Spokane Valley-specific requests for housing and utility assistance, but Spokane Valley residents who need help paying bills can email email@example.com.
The City Council also approved a $237,000 contract with Spokane Valley Partners for food assistance. According to the agreement, the nonprofit is allowed to use up to $100,000 of the funds to purchase up to two food delivery vehicles. The rest must be used for food services for Spokane Valley residents.
Angie Kelleher, development and communications director for Spokane Valley Partners, said the food bank had seen a 50% increase in new visitors compared to last year.
It has also expanded its weekend meal program for students.
She said the funds Spokane Valley Partners received from the city would help the food bank address the increased demand and allow it to provide food to groups that may have issues visiting their base of operations on East Broadway Avenue.
She said the food bank would use the funds to purchase two refrigerated trucks that would allow them to drive into neighborhoods or parking lots and make mobile deliveries. Refrigerated trucks will also allow them to deliver fresh groceries, including meat and dairy, instead of only nonperishable food.
While the trucks are meant to address the increased demand the food bank has experienced during the pandemic, Kelleher said the purchase will also address a long-term need.
“We think this is going to be the next natural step for us to shore up the food insecurity issue in the Valley, and the investment in the trucks is going to be lasting,” she said.
The Spokane Valley City Council also approved contracts with Central Valley, West Valley and East Valley school districts for $135,281 to cover the costs of PPE and social-distancing measures that are not covered by other federal aid.
CV, the largest of the school districts that serve Spokane Valley residents, is eligible to use half of the money.
The other districts will split the other half .
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