The loss of $1 million in federal assistance for Spokane County renters placed in hardship by the COVID-19 pandemic was fueled in large part by overlapping deadlines to spend the money, local officials said Friday.
The U.S. Treasury Department recently announced that Spokane County was one of several jurisdictions nationwide that had not spent in a timely fashion an adequate amount of their emergency rental assistance laid out in the 2021 stimulus package pushed by President Joe Biden. As a result, a little more than $1 million of the $7.1 million allocated to Spokane will be redistributed to other jurisdictions. The money was intended to be paid to renters outside the city of Spokane who experienced difficulty paying rent as a result of the pandemic and who make less than 80% of the area’s median household income.
The county has handed out $35 million in rental assistance since the pandemic began, and has an additional $12 million on hand to assist renters moving forward, said Jared Webley, communications manager for Spokane County.
Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners is under contract with the county to provide that assistance directly to renters under several programs authorized by each of the major stimulus packages passed by Congress intended to assist with housing, schooling, employment and other needs. The contract for the emergency rental assistance program was for payments up to $2.8 million, signed in January of this year. The contract terms call for that money to be spent by the end of August 2025.
SNAP believed it was meeting the conditions of that contract, said Nicole Bishop, spokeswoman for the nonprofit. As of Sept. 30, they’d spent $803,000 of the money given by the county, which amounts to 27% of the contract amount with close to three years remaining to spend it.
“From our side of things, it looked like we were on pace,” Bishop said.
However, tucked into the program was what’s known as a reallocation period. Governments that received funding were first given 40% of their total awarded amount by the Treasury Department in an effort to ensure they would distribute the funds to needy renters in a timely manner. Under the terms of that process, governments were required to spend at least 20% of their available funds by April 30, or their additional money could be sent to other jurisdictions.
Heather Arnold, interim grants administrator for Spokane County, said they were aware of the reallocation process but believed it was occurring later.
“We expected that to be in 2023, halfway through the grant period,” she said. “It was missed in our review of documentation that that was in 2022, not 2023.”
Arnold and Bishop both said the county prioritizes grants that are set to expire sooner when a renter comes in with a need for assistance.
Because of that, other funding opportunities – including a first round of emergency rental assistance authorized under an earlier federal COVID-19 stimulus bill – took precedent when handing out money, they said.
As an example, Bishop pointed to a different rental assistance program run through the Treasury and administered at the state level by the Washington Department of Commerce, called the Treasury Rent Assistance Program.
SNAP has a budget of $12.8 million available through the program and had spent $9.6 million through Sept. 30, but must spend the remaining $3.2 million by the end of the year or lose that amount back to the Treasury, Bishop said.
Arnold said if the county had adhered to the deadline laid out in the emergency program and spent more from that pot of cash, it would have taken away from money spent in another program and could have caused an even larger loss of potential dollars.
“Had we followed that guidance, we likely would have lost way more than a million,” Arnold said.
Spokane County appealed Treasury’s determination that it had not met its obligation to spend the money quickly, but it was denied, the county said.
SNAP continues to offer rental assistance to Spokane County renters outside Spokane City limits who are experiencing hardship. Renters can apply online at snapwa.org/snap-rental-assistance, or by calling (509) 456-7627.