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Council Passes $5 Million in Food Vouchers to Address Coronavirus Crisis

Legislation provides $800 vouchers to Seattle families enrolled in City programs

The Seattle City Council unanimously passed Mayor Jenny Durkan’s legislation today that transfers $5 million from Seattle’s budget resources to a new food voucher program, which would provide grocery money to thousands of families across Seattle. 

Council Bill 119764, sponsored by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, funds the food voucher program through the Office of Sustainability and Environment by reallocating revenue from the Sweetened Beverage Tax fund. The program will provide 6,250 low-income families with $800 in vouchers to purchase food, cleaning supplies, and other household goods at any Safeway store in Washington state. 

“The Council as the governing body in charge of the City’s budget has to make tough decisions on how to spend our resources in response to COVID-19. While the Sweetened Beverage Tax funds important programs, the City must press pause on those in order to ensure families across Seattle, especially children enrolled in Seattle’s child care programs, have food on the table so they can remain healthy during this public health crisis,” Mosqueda said. 

“We know that working families in Seattle are already struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools and child care facilities close, we need to do everything we can to support families and ensure they can put food on the table,” said Mayor Durkan. “Our city has been working on many new unprecedented efforts as it relates to housing assistance, meals, and small businesses, but we know it is not enough for the families struggling. I’m grateful to Councilmember Mosqueda for ensuring this critical bill passed quickly so we can get these emergency grocery vouchers into the hands of those who need them most.”

The program supports Seattle residents already enrolled in several city programs, including child care assistance programs and the City’s Fresh Bucks Program. 

The first half of vouchers, distributed in $400 installments, was mailed on Friday, March 20. The second set of vouchers will be mailed to qualifying households in April.

The Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board is supportive of the legislation. 

The Council has heard from many constituents requesting grocery vouchers support who are not currently enrolled in the above city programs. 

The City is currently seeking funding from philanthropic organizations to support more residents in need, with the goal of raising $15 million. If met, the donations would allow the City to distribute food vouchers to an additional 19,000 households. Organizations can donate here and note “EMERGENCY FOOD VOUCHER” in the comments or contact Lauren McGowan at the United Way of King County at lmcgowan@uwkc.org.  

An amendment introduced by Councilmember Tammy J. Morales and passed by the Council requests the City prioritize future grocery store vouchers for seniors, those with disabilities, workers affected by the coronavirus crisis, immigrants and refugees, households enrolled in other City assistance programs, such as Fresh Bucks and the Utility Discount Program, and recipients of the State Funded Food Assistance Program. 

“My office has heard from many constituents who are struggling to put food on the table due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. The City is doing everything it can to support families experiencing food insecurity during this crisis, and we hope our philanthropic partners will contribute to this effort,” said Councilmember Morales. 

The Council also requested the City seek future grocery vouchers from unionized grocery stores. 

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