Tenino's wooden scrip keeps on giving.
As of the end of July, the city had awarded 13 grants out of 14 applications for assistance. To date, Tenino residents have received $3,650 in monthly grant money — 10 for $300, two for $250 and one for $150.
Most recipients chose to accept their grant in scrip, though four opted to apply some of the grant money — $525 total — to offset their utility bills.
The Tenino City Council, which originally approved an ordinance on May 4 authorizing the printing of $10,000 worth of wooden scrip — which works like coupons — has since received $6,300 in donations to the fund.
Of the $3,650 Tenino residents have received, only $100 of the scrip has been redeemed back to the city, so the actual cost to the city so far has been $625 — $100 in redeemed scrip plus $525 in utility bill payments.
The idea for the COVID-19 Recovery Grant Program materialized from discussions Tenino leaders undertook as the pandemic began to devastate Washington.
The scrip, printed in $25 amounts, is backed by the city’s general fund and may be used to purchase just about anything other than products containing alcohol, tobacco or cannabis. It can also be used for some licensed services such as child care or a doctor’s appointment and as credit on a utility account.
While the scrip has no intrinsic cash value, businesses treat it the same as currency, but instead of depositing the scrip into the bank, it’s redeemed by the city, which then issues a check to each business participating in the program.
To be eligible to receive up to $300 maximum scrip per month, verified residents of Tenino — who can prove they have a Tenino utility account — must meet federal poverty income guidelines and prove that their livelihoods — either through direct illness or loss of income — have been harmed by COVID-19.
The city currently has no additional applications to process, said Tenino Clerk-Treasurer John Millard, noting the city “processed all applications in July within about 30 minutes of having been submitted.”
The program, which got off to a relatively slow start until residents discovered its benefits, is now in full swing, though it's a bit difficult to conclusively evaluate through social media “chatter,” Millard said.
“There is a lot of talk,” he said. “Those that have qualified for the grant speak highly of the program; those that do not feel they would qualify berate the program.”
Millard said the $6,300 donation to the COVID-19 Recovery Grant Program specifies “broadening the grant in order that we can qualify more people to receive the grant proceeds … and help more people who are 'impacted' by COVID19.”
Discussions are underway to determine how to honor those requests. One option would alter the program's residency requirements beyond strictly the city of Tenino.
Those ideas include: allowing residents to apply who live within the Tenino ZIP code — which would exclude Bucoda; or anyone living in the Tenino School District — which would include Bucoda but also people nearer to other jurisdictions.
“There is a great deal of reluctance to open the net wider to allow folks who live, literally on the other side of the city limits to participate,” Millard said. “Whereas, there seems to be more support to allow those who have been 'affected' by COVID-19, but not to the point where they have been reduced to the levels established by the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
“In other words,” Millard added in an email to the NVN, “there is more support to change the grant parameters such that someone who went from $100k per year to $60k per year would qualify for the grant.”
Meanwhile, George Washington’s still smiling from his perch on Tenino’s wooden scrip. According to the Washington Post and other sources, Washington — who owned a staggering amount of land — was immensely wealthy for his time, but only earned a presidential salary of $25,000 a year.
So he just might have qualified for Tenino’s wooden scrip …