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CASA LATINA, VERA, AND FRESH BUCKS

City of Seattle seal

City of Seattle seal

On Monday, June 10, the Council unanimously approved the First Quarter Supplemental to the 2013 Budget. As the title suggests, we amend the approved budget four times during the year, to correct errors, add expenditures for priorities that have emerged since the budget was approved, and/or make cuts if revenues are coming in below target.

As 2013 is shaping up to be a good year for the City, I was able to get three important projects funded in this supplemental:

  • Part of the final phase of Casa Latina’s new building serving low-wage Latino immigrant workers and their families;
  • Additional support for the Vera Project which provides access to popular music concerts, arts programs, experiential learning and volunteer opportunities for all ages, especially young people; and
  • The Fresh Bucks program, which helps low-income families afford healthy foods and supports our Farmers Markets.

The City has already contracted with Casa Latina to provide services to their low income clients as part of the first two phases of their $5.2 million construction project. Those phases have allowed Casa Latina to purchase land, renovate an existing building, and construct a new building. The City does not fund such construction projects directly, but contracts for services to be provided to low income residents from the agency.

The third phase will complete the new building by constructing a commercial kitchen, funding ADA access, and completing storefronts and a mural as part of the building’s presence in the neighborhood. Again, the City’s $100,000 contract is for the services to be provided by the agency. Casa Latina has a long and exemplary track record of assisting clients in getting job training, education, and child care and helping them emerge from poverty and become participants in the community.

The City was a key partner in launching the Vera Project in 2001 as a way to get young people engaged in producing and participating in music and arts. It is fueled by the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers, and most of its funding comes from committed supporters in the community. The City committed to providing $50,000 per year when the project was launched and later agreed to house it at the Seattle Center, where it pays $48,000 per year in rent.

Vera has consistently served more people with more events and learning opportunities than the City originally contracted for, and can serve even more, but fundraising has been more challenging during the recession. Recognizing that there is the potential for continued growth, we added an additional $50,000 to the City’s support for the project, with a set of deliverables that will increase its reach and impact.

Fresh Bucks is a program model that has been successfully implemented in several cities, and was piloted in Seattle in 2012, with the assistance of JPMorgan Chase and The Seattle Foundation. The program provides matching funds to double the purchasing power of low income residents who use their federal food stamp benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP) to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at Farmers Markets.

The 2012 pilot was very successful, and both the private funders and the Farmers Markets are enthusiastic about continuing to fund and expand the program. Because the 2013 budget is prepared in mid-2012, the program model had not yet been proven and expansion funds were not included in the 2013 budget. The $50,000 that will be added to the program by this budget action will be matched by private contributions, and will double the 1500 individuals served in 2012 while expanding the program from 7 to all Seattle Farmers Markets.

These three modest budget additions can be funded because, thanks to the recovering Seattle economy, 2013 is turning out to be a better year than we had forecasted. The City has also continued our practice of budgeting very carefully. Under our budgeting practices, some of the unexpected revenue increases will wind up in the Rainy Day Fund, but others are available for emerging priorities.

The legislation approved Monday does not include several million dollars in transportation improvements that the Mayor has proposed to fund from savings in the Department of Transportation Budget, largely as a result of the Spokane Street Viaduct coming in below budget. The transportation budget supplemental will be taken up as separate legislation in the next several weeks.

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