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As Seattle fights threat to federal grant money, those depending on the funds worry

Pike Place Market in Seattle. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

Last month the U.S. Justice Department designated a handful of cities — including Seattle — “anarchist jurisdictions,” and threatened to block their federal funding.

Seattle, Portland suing Trump admin over ‘anarchist jurisdiction’ label

This week, Seattle, Portland and New York City have fought back, filing a legal challenge in the hopes of blocking President Trump’s threats to withhold critical federal dollars from the cities the DOJ has labeled anarchist over ongoing clashes between police and protesters.

Mayors of the three cities all say the action is illegal and leaves them in a very dangerous spot with their budgets, in an already extremely difficult time.

Those who depend on those federal grant dollars are also getting increasingly anxious, including a Seattle art gallery owner, who asked not to be named, who thought her business was over when the pandemic hit before being able to access help from the city through federal grant dollars for small businesses.

“I thought about retiring, and now I’ve used some of that money to pay it forward with other Seattle businesses, so not only a big impact on me,” she explained. “I have bought frames from Seattle Custom Frames, which I have an upcoming show that the frames ended up going into the Nordic Museum gift shop. We share an artist who will be opening for me in November. I took the the artist’s work to Bellevue Fine Art, and had these high-res scans done all with the money from the grant. So it’s reaching not just one business, it’s used in the community. It’s like a ripple effect of helping others.”

If that help is not available moving into to 2021 she may face the possibility of closing again.

“Perhaps I need it, you know, I may not totally fully shutter, but I may just go completely online, it might be one of those things where I don’t want to pay for anybody shifting back and forth. Artists can sell it from the Netherlands and ship it straight to the person and we can work that way in the world. So that is more of what could happen,” she said.

Desperately needed services are also hanging in the balance. Lauren McGown is with the United Way of King County and says losing any federal dollars would be devastating.

“Absolutely as the recipients of federal funds, we are deeply concerned about any reduction services during this really challenging time for our region,” said Lauren McGowan, Director of Ending Homelessness and Poverty at United Way of King County.

“Currently, we have about $5 million in CARES Act funding, rental assistance and food security services, just in the city of Seattle. We have $20 million of additional funds outside of Seattle for the rest of the county, and all of those dollars are going right now to meet basic needs for individuals that are have been impacted by COVID-19 and the subsequent layoffs, and high rates of unemployment,” she explained.

The list goes on and on for the benefits to those most vulnerable in the city getting aid through the federal grant dollars just through United Way.

“In addition to CARES funding, there’s funding that supports tax preparation services for families, food access resources, and many of the housing programs that are keeping people in their homes or helping people exit homelessness. And we know that these are such challenging times, that not only do we need these funds, nobody needs the stress of worrying about whether there’s going to be funding cuts sometime in the in the future,” McGowan said.

Rental assistance programs keeping people in their homes also come from those federal dollars.

“Just in the last few months, many families have fallen several months behind through no fault of their own. Our entire nation and entire world is really grappling with the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, and it’s especially true for our Black, indigenous, other people of color, and communities experiencing homelessness who have struggled for so long.”

McGowan prefers to stay out of the politics of it all, but says the uncertainty surrounding this critical federal money on top of all of the other uncertainty right now is not good for anyone, especially those most in need of the assistance.

“It’s scary, there are so many families in our community under so much stress, they’re worried about how they’re sending their kids to school, really worried about how to stay safe and healthy during the pandemic, and worried about paying their bills, and it’s unacceptable that we put any additional stress on them,” she said. “It is unacceptable to cut funding or to even threaten to cut funding during the pandemic.”

Local leaders react to Trump plan to pull federal funds from Seattle

McGowan says all of us need to work on coming together, not drive ourselves further apart.

“I strongly encourage all of us to link arms in this moment in time and realize that we are in an unprecedented time and we need our officials and community members to come together and ensure that these threats aren’t followed through with, and that we continue to have not only the dollars we have today, but we need significantly more federal dollars in order to help our community respond to and recover from this crisis,” McGowan said.

As for the legal challenge, the cities argue beyond the DOJ’s anarchist designation harming them by putting their federal dollars at imminent risk in a time of fiscal crisis, the move is illegal, a violation of separation of powers, federalism, and due process.

Beyond that, the cities say in the complaint, “the Anarchist Memo is right about one thing: Without law and order, democracy cannot function, but it is the Defendants, not the Cities, who are engaging in lawless behavior and threatening the democratic order established by the Framer,” attorneys wrote.

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