Democrats in the Washington State Legislature released a $2.2 billion COVID-19 relief package today that would expand testing and vaccine availability, extend support to schools, provide grants for small business, and help thousands meet basic needs with housing and food assistance.
The proposals are scheduled to receive hearings in the House and Senate next week. The overall relief package includes separate legislation that provides unemployment insurance relief for employers and workers across the state.
“Getting this money out the door is a key part of our state’s battle against the pandemic, and this package will ensure that federal funding will reach our communities when they need it most,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. “Our first priority is helping our neighbors in need, and I’m glad we are ready to move forward with real relief just two weeks into the legislative session.”
The majority of the funding in the relief package is a result of federal stimulus dollars approved by Congress.
Highlights of the package include:
- $618 million for vaccine administration, contract tracing and testing (includes emphasis on helping school districts reopen safely).
- $668 million for schools as they resume in-person learning plus dedicated funding to help students catch up from learning loss during the pandemic.
- $365 million for rental assistance to help tenants and landlords impacted by the pandemic.
- $240 million for more than 12,000 small business assistance grants (administered through the state Department of Commerce).
- $70 million to assist undocumented immigrants who have been impacted by the pandemic, but do not qualify for federal or state assistance.
- $26 million for food assistance to individuals and households in need.
- $50 million in grants to help childcare businesses stay open and expand capacity.
“Washingtonians have gone above and beyond to help one another through this pandemic, but more support and immediate relief is needed,” said Sen. June Robinson (D-Everett), vice chair of the Senate Ways & Means committee. “Small business owners, folks struggling to pay for food and basic living expenses, working parents in need of childcare, tenants and landlords — this relief package will get help into their hands so that we can all rebound from this public health crisis together.”
The package includes additional legislation to provide financial relief to Washingtonians in the coming weeks:
- SB 5061 will provide relief from unemployment insurance taxes for employers throughout the state.
- SB 5272 will waive liquor license fees for distressed businesses impacted by closures during the pandemic.
- HB 1002 will exempt federal funds received via the Paycheck Protection Program from being subject to B&O taxes.
“Our pandemic response is three pronged – prevention, relief and recovery. The significant investment in this package addresses all three. This health and economic recovery package will help working families, small businesses, childcare providers, schools, renters, landlords, and others most impacted by the pandemic,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane). “The recovery package will also help public health agencies to contact trace and distribute vaccines better and faster. But let me be clear – this is not the end. Our work is not finished until the virus is gone and Washington’s economic recovery is complete.”
The bills reflecting the changes are SB 5343 and SB 5344 and their companion bills are HB 1367 and HB 1368.
Senate Democrats and House Democrats will hold a joint media availability on Monday, January 25 at 2:15 p.m. The Legislature is wrapping up the second week of a 105-day session that is scheduled to adjourn April 25.