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Over 100 Seattleites speak out against proposed halt of $25.3M in grant funding

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(The Center Square) – More than 100 Seattle community members spoke during Tuesday’s city council meeting in opposition of an amendment that would halt $25.3 million for a grant program that helps community-based organizations that are majority run by people of color.

The legislation is sponsored by Councilmember Maritza Rivera and was not made public until Friday. Community members voiced their frustrations with having five business hours to comment on the proposed amendment.

Rivera’s amendment imposes a proviso on $25.3 million allocated for the Equitable Development Initiative program in the 2024 Adopted Budget. The proviso would require that the $25.3 million not be spent until authorized by a future ordinance.

The EDI grant program provides funding to community organizations in high displacement-risk neighborhoods that help acquire sites and develop major projects. It is a crucial funding source for community-based organizations looking to build projects that support small business, build affordable housing, and address racial disparity.

The $25.3 million is made up of $19.8 million in JumpStart payroll tax funds, $5.1 million short-term rental tax funds, and $400,000 in Community Development Block grants, which is a portion of the city’s general fund.

Rivera left chambers at one point during the prolonged public comment period. People in chambers asked “Where is Rivera?” as the public comment period continued.

After over three hours of public comment, Rivera motioned to remove her amendment from the agenda “in order to have time to correct disinformation that was irresponsibly given to the community about the proposed amendment.”

Rivera said her amendment does not cut the EDI program or pull money away from existing projects. Instead, it places a proviso on the $25.3 million in funds from the 2024 adopted budget for the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development, because the department has not yet opened up the request for proposal process for additional funding. Therefore the money has not been awarded.

City Councilmember Tammy Morales sent out a press release prior to the city council meeting stating that the council was rushing a vote on the legislation. After Rivera voted to remove the amendment from Tuesday’s agenda, Morales called out her fellow councilmember indirectly.

“Frankly, if you want to propose legislation that rolls back commitments made to black and brown communities, at least have the courage to stand by your legislation and vote on it, or acknowledge that you made a mistake and withdraw it,” Morales said at the city council meeting.

​​Rivera said that she did not intentionally submit the amendment before the holiday weekend. Instead, she argued that she has been asking the Office of Planning and Community Development for information about the EDI program since March, after the department presented information about the program at a Seattle Land Use Committee, and again when it submitted the request for the carry forward.

The motion to remove the amendment from the agenda was approved 6-3. The proposed legislation will be presented again at next week’s city council meeting on June 4.