“A year ago, our City was booming, vibrant, and focused on the future. Everything seemed possible. But 2020 changed everything, including the way we live and work in Seattle and how City government works,” said Mayor Durkan. “COVID-19 also led to lost jobs and wages and the closure of so many of Seattle’s small businesses, so our city has responded with new programs like grocery vouchers, free testing and vaccines, and grants to small businesses and immigrants. During one of the most challenging moments in our city’s history, our 12,000 City of Seattle employees have focused on delivering essential services amidst a pandemic and advanced our shared priorities. Working together, we will get through this unimaginably challenging time for our city.”
Throughout the past year, Seattle has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of our region’s leading officials’ quick actions and the commitment of Seattle residents, Seattle has the lowest number of cases and hospitalizations of the top 30 major cities. In addition to these measures to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, the City has also created a number of programs to respond to the impacts of the virus – many of which were the first of their kind in the country and served as a model for other cities.
By the Numbers:
650,000 Free COVID-19 Tests used by 30% of unique Seattle residents
3,703 grants to immigrants
1,411 small business grants
42,586 residents in the Utility Discount Program
1,000,000+ meals to seniors and residents
14,037 households served by emergency grocery vouchers
12,100 households received fresh bucks vouchers
4,300 households received rent relief
6,000 (and counting) vaccinated through Seattle Fire Department mobile teams
27 miles of Stay Health Streets
Background on City Programs
Free Citywide Testing
There was no way to fight COIVD-19 without broadscale testing. The City of Seattle could not get what it needed from the federal government, so the City created its own. Working with the Seattle Fire Department, the City of Seattle launched free public COVID-19 testing sites across Seattle through a partnership with the UW Laboratory. After launching testing for first responders and mobile testing teams for long-term care facilities, the Seattle Fire Department currently operates five free testing sites where more than 650,000 tests have been administered. In November 2020, Mayor Durkan signed an MOU with Curative to further expand no-cost testing in Seattle, with new testing kiosks installed throughout the City.
Immigrant and Refugee Assistance
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) quickly joined up with Public Health – Seattle & King County to assist them with urgent and increasing language access needs as the virus spread rapidly throughout the region. OIRA also formed a team of 50+ local translators that provided support to City of Seattle departments to make sure that limited English-proficient residents could access COVID-19 related information and resources promptly.
OIRA also managed the Seattle COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund for Immigrants, which provided close to $8 million in direct cash assistance to Seattle’s most vulnerable low-income immigrant residents and their households. The Fund granted assistance to 3,703 eligible applicants who are ineligible for unemployment insurance or were ineligible for the CARES Act-provided “Economic Impact Payments” or stimulus checks issued by the federal government under the Trump Administration.
Small Business Stabilization Fund
In March 2020, the City created and launched the Small Business Stabilization Fund to provide grants to micro-businesses and small businesses. Since this initial action, the City’s Office of Economic Development (OED) will have provided 707 small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 with $10,000 grants by March. In November 2020, Mayor Durkan announced an additional $4 million for restaurants and bars—resulting in another 704 businesses receiving $3,000 grants.
Small Business Outreach, Technical Assistance and Resource Webinars
OED partnered with City Departments, King County, and the State to host 14 webinars that provided the most accurate and up-to-date information about COVID-19, reopening phases, resources, and more to more than 1,400 small business owners. Additionally, OED quickly developed a resource team to help small businesses and workers navigate City, County, State, and Federal funding opportunities, policies, permits, commercial lease supports, and other resources. This team has responded to over 1,100 inquiries and continues to provide technical assistance in 8 languages—a service that the City of Seattle uniquely offers. Finally, OED invested $1.1 million to 17 Neighborhood Business Districts to conduct outreach and provide support to neighborhood businesses.
Seattle Protects Online Marketplace and PPE
OED and the Mayor’s Office created this online tool to connect local manufacturers with organizations and communities in need of cloth face coverings. Seattle Protects was created to help businesses and vulnerable communities access affordable face coverings—particularly community-based organizations that serve immigrants and refugees, people experiencing homelessness, and older adults. The program supports local manufacturers and small businesses and reduces competition with the health care sector for medical-grade masks.
Addressing the Digital Divide for Small Businesses and Workers
OED and Comcast invested $100,000 to launch Digital Bridge—a pilot program to equip low-income job seekers with free laptops and broadband connectivity. This program enabled 200 participants in job training programs facilitated by the Seattle Jobs Initiative (SJI) to successfully complete their training that quickly pivoted from in-person sessions to 100% virtual due to the pandemic and look and apply for jobs. Additionally, OED partnered with the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle to develop the Youth Web Design Program that provided a paid opportunity for 16 BIPOC students to learn web design and create websites for 16 Black-owned small businesses that were without or had limited web presence prior to the pandemic.
Re-opening Film Production
The Office of Film + Music worked with the Mayor’s Office, State Film Office and Film Industry to update the film coordination process to align with COVID-19 guidance and begin issuing permits for film production—reopening this industry sector. Since August 2020, there have been 127 film productions at 304 public City locations, resulting in 1,455 film cast and crew hires.
Utility Discount Program
Across Seattle, 42,586 households are enrolled in the Utility Discount Program, including over 15,000 new enrollments in 2020 – more than doubling annual enrollments – thanks to the fast-track application to more quickly support customers financially impacted by COVID-19. Additionally, since April 2020, Seattle’s utilities have signed up over 700 customers for a payment plan.
Supporting Workforce Most Impacted by the Pandemic
In January of 2021, the City created a fund of over $2 million to provide direct cash assistance to hospitality workers who live and work in Seattle that have lost jobs or income due to COIVID-19. The City of Seattle announced a new temporary ordinance that requires grocery store businesses that employ more than 500 employees worldwide to pay hazard pay of $4 per hour to their employees during the COVID-19 emergency.
Child Care and Teen Learning Hubs
When the pandemic hit and schools closed, the City launched the Emergency Child Care program in partnership with preschool providers who quickly adapted their programs and their classrooms. The program provided free childcare to over 250 children of first responders and workers in health care, grocery, and pharmacy so they could continue their work of saving lives and maintaining our city’s most important functions.
As the pandemic continued, the City invested in serving families and young people whose schooling had moved online through full-day childcare and Teen Learning Hubs at Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) community centers.
Preschool providers and the city’s childcare providers were among our greatest heroes during COVID-19, but they experienced tremendous financial impact due to smaller class sizes and higher costs. The City’s Child Care Stabilization Fund provided relief to more than 500 providers and caregivers to help alleviate COVID-19’s financial strain and ensure that Seattle families will have sustainable access to high-quality child care, essential to economic recovery and a strong social infrastructure.
Reimagining the Uses of Our Streets and Public Right of Way
Our new “normal” means it is more important than ever to have places for people to get outside, exercise, and do so safely. Since April 2020, 27 miles of Stay Healthy Streets were installed so residents can walk, roll, and bike. Twenty miles of these streets will become permanent. Making it easier for families to stay close to home and for students to be active during remote study, free Stay Healthy Block Permits are also available in neighborhoods across Seattle.
The City has also created new curbside spaces, parklets, block closures, and tent permits to help Seattle’s small businesses. Since March 2020, SDOT has installed Over 1,000 three-minute temporary Food Priority Pick-Up Zones at over 570 restaurants and 120 fifteen-minute temporary Curbside Priority Pick-Up Zones at over 74 locations, permitted nearly 200 spaces for outdoor dining and retail, and opened 15 blocks for restaurants and small businesses.
Support for Artists and Nonprofits
Arts and culture organizations are critical to Seattle’s vibrancy and soul, but nearly overnight, COVID-19 closed down arenas, performance venues, galleries, and other critical artist spaces. In March 2020, Mayor Durkan announced a $1.1 million Arts Stabilization Fund for creative workers and cultural organizations. Throughout the year, the City has provided rent relief for all the nonprofit organization tenants of the Seattle Center. In November 2020, Mayor Durkan announced nearly $1.8 million to support 36 Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) led organizations that the pandemic has impacted.
Eviction Moratorium and Rental Assistance
The City of Seattle became a national leader launching one of the first in the nation’s eviction moratoria in March 2020. In subsequent actions, Mayor Durkan extended COVID-19 relief measures for residents and continued the local moratoria on residential, nonprofit, and small business evictions in the City of Seattle through March 31, 2021.
The City also launched an $18 million financial relief program that reached more than 4,300 Seattle renters whose housing stability was jeopardized by the pandemic’s economic impacts. To quickly get funds into the hands of community members in need, Mayor Durkan's three-pronged approach emphasized intentionality with respect to historically underserved communities, through the Human Service Department's direct engagement with community-based organizations, including agencies led by and serving BIPOC, immigrant, and refugee communities; efficient and trusted partnerships, through a direct contract with United Way of King County; and innovative delivery mechanisms that were later emulated across the country, such as the Seattle Office of Housing's $5 million in direct support to nonprofits that operate rent-dependent affordable housing.
The City will soon announce additional resources for rental assistance.
Grocery Voucher Program and Food Assistance
The City of Seattle has served more than 1,000,000 meals through its food assistance programs to shelters, seniors, and young people. The City of Seattle launched an emergency grocery voucher program to provide immediate food support for families in danger of going hungry due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that has served more than 14,037 households. Additionally, the Fresh Bucks program provided 12,100 families in Seattle with vouchers to purchase fruit and vegetables at neighborhood farmers markets, farm stands, ethnic grocers, and all Seattle Safeway Stores.
Vaccines and the Road Ahead
The road to recovery starts with the City’s vaccination effort. In January of 2021, Mayor Durkan announced that the City of Seattle was approved to serve as a vaccine distributor. The City now receives weekly shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH). The Seattle Fire Department (SFD) quickly launched four mobile vaccination teams to vaccinate eligible worker residents and workers through visits from the mobile team, and vaccine pop-ups across the city. To date, SFD has administered 6,000 vaccines to vulnerable residents and workers. When vaccine supply increases, the City is ready to launch multiple easily accessible mass vaccination sites in every part of the City including Rainier Beach, West Seattle, Downtown, and multiple sites in North Seattle. Mayor Durkan wants Seattle to be the first city in the country to vaccinate 70 percent of adults as we prioritize the most disproportionately impacted.