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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Local Government Fiscal Impacts

This page provides information on the fiscal impacts of the 2020 novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) on local governments in Washington State, including revenue impacts, the CARES Act and federal stimulus funding, annual financial reporting, and furloughs.

It is part of MRSC's Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources for Local Governments series.

Latest Updates

To help you keep track of the rapidly changing situation related to COVID-19, here is a summary of recent changes to this page:

Tuesday, May 26

Tuesday, May 19

Monday, May 18


Overview

The economic shock from the coronavirus pandemic has been sudden and unprecedented. Within the span of just a couple weeks, many businesses and public gathering spaces were shut down statewide, consumer spending on non-emergency items plummeted, and initial unemployment filings shattered old records. The full effect of these impacts will not be known for some time, but it is clear they will be significant.

For helpful economic information and data, see the following resources:

Free On-Demand Webinars

MRSC has recorded two free webinars on the fiscal impacts of COVID-19.

How Your Agency Can Survive and Recover Fiscally from the COVID-19 Outbreak (April 28)

Watch the entire one-hour webinar recordingdownload the slides, or skip directly to the following sections:

Fiscal Impacts of COVID-19 (March 26)

Watch the entire one-hour webinar recording, download the slides, or skip directly to the following sections:


Budget Impacts

Due to the sudden and extensive economic impacts, many local governments will see their revenues drop. In particular, local governments are likely to see drops in sales tax revenues, lodging taxes, motor vehicle fuel tax (MVFT) distributions, admissions taxes, and other related revenue sources.

Some counties are also deferring certain property taxes paid directly by individual property owners, which could have a significant impact on cash flow for a number of local agencies.

For more information, see:

Sample Documents – Mitigating Fiscal Impacts

  • Whatcom County Ordinance Nos. 2020-13 and 2020-14 (March 24) – Creating COVID-19 special revenue fund, including money from general fund and City of Bellingham, and authorizing interfund loan from utility enterprise fund to COVID-19 fund for cash flow purposes, to be repaid within 18 months in part through anticipated FEMA reimbursement.

CARES Act and Federal Stimulus

H.R. 748, the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act was signed into law on March 27. This is a massive and wide-ranging stimulus bill that includes significant aid for state and local governments.

Some funding will be distributed to local governments to use for necessary expenditures between March 1 and December 30 to address the impacts of COVID-19 that are not in the agency's current budget. Local governments with over 500,000 population may apply directly to the federal government for funds, but for all other local agencies the funding will be distributed to the State of Washington and it will be up to the state to decide how funds are passed through.

These distributions will be on a reimbursement basis using the Treasury Guidance for State, Territorial, Local and Tribal Governments (issued April 22, 2020; also see the Treasury Department's Coronavirus Relief Fund FAQs).

The governor's office has announced a plan to distribute almost $300 million to cities and counties with a population under 500,000 population. On April 29, the state released distribution amounts for all cities and counties under 500,000 population, based upon an allocation of $30 per capita with each county receiving a minimum of $250,000 and each city and town receiving a minimum of $25,000.  The state Department of Commerce has released further guidance on Local Government Coronavirus Relief Funds; note that only COVID-related expenses incurred from March 1, 2020 to October 31, 2020 are eligible for reimbursement, and all agencies must submit their final reimbursement request by November 15, 2020. Any expenses incurred after October 31, 2020 will not be eligible for reimbursement.

Other CARES Act provisions include increased supplemental Community Development Block Grant (CDBG-CV) funds (see the Department of Commerce's CDBG-CV webpage) and funding for a wide variety of existing federal programs. As with all federal grant programs it will be important to meet federal compliance guidelines of 2 CFR 200 (Uniform Guidance).

For more details, see our blog posts Sharing is Caring: The Federal CARES Act and Local Governments (May 7) and Cities, Towns, Counties to Receive CARES Act Funding (May 19).

Additional resources are below:


FEMA Reimbursement

It is important to document all costs (both direct and indirect) that may be eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursement. For information on filing for FEMA reimbursement, see the following resources:


Accounting and Annual Financial Reporting

A number of agencies and associations have requested relief from the 150-day annual financial reporting deadline (May 29 this year). On March 26, the governor issued Proclamation 20-34 temporarily suspending the 150-day deadline. This suspension has been extended twice, most recently through May 31 by the state legislative leadership (and recognized by the governor in Proclamation 20-34.2).

While it is possible that the governor and state legislative leaders might extend this proclamation further, we encourage all agencies that are able to meet the May 31 filing deadline to do so.

In addition, the State Auditor's Office has a COVID-19 Accounting and Reporting page providing all the BARS Manual and annual financial reporting news related to the pandemic.


Furloughs and Layoffs

Fraudulent Unemployment Benefit Claims

Criminal actors are taking advantage of the coronavirus and unemployment crisis. Government employees have been targeted and have received what looks like legitimate ESD benefit claimant letters in the mail. Unemployment claims are also being made to their employing organization.

For more information, see our blog post Unemployment Claims Fraud Rises During COVID-19 Pandemic.

As local governments look to mitigating the fiscal impacts of COVID-19 on their budgets, many jurisdictions will be examining the possibility of temporary furloughs or permanent layoffs. For an overview of these considerations, see our blog post Furloughs and More: Employer Options During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Also see the local government examples below:

  • Auburn Furlough Leave Program FAQ – Auburn (2020) (April 17) – Answers frequently asked questions about the city's furlough leave program in response to COVID-19. City's program is an alternative to traditional furloughs and allows employees to essentially "buy" 46 hours of furlough leave to be used with supervisor's approval by the end of the year, in order to spread out the leave and minimize the impact on any individual paycheck.
  • Issaquah Ordinance No. 2905 (April 20) – Authorizes the mayor, city administrator, or designee to implement unpaid furloughs for non-represented positions and temporary salary reductions for high-level administrators from May 1 to December 31, 2020.
  • Mercer Island COVID-19 Workforce Reductions Memorandum (April 29) – Outlines layoffs and other actions to address revenue shortfall.

Last Modified: May 26, 2020