The Washington State Legislature on Wednesday gave final approval to a bipartisan $2.2 billion COVID-19 relief measure to expand testing and vaccine distribution, provide support to schools, make grants available for small business, and help thousands meet basic needs with housing and food assistance.
The bill (HB 1368) will now head to Gov. Inslee to be signed into law.
“This pandemic continues to put strain on communities across our state, and these investments target critical areas that will help us defeat COVID-19 while building back a stronger and more resilient Washington,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. “This is a key step, and we are already working with our partners in the House to craft the state’s next two-year operating budget that will reinvigorate our state’s economy and create a clear path to a healthy, prosperous future.”
The majority of the funding in HB 1368 is a result of dollars the state received from the second federal stimulus bill approved by Congress in late December.
Highlights of HB 1368:
- $618 million for vaccine administration, contract tracing, and testing (includes emphasis on working with school districts as they reopen safely)
- $668 million for schools as they resume in-person learning and dedicated funding to help children catch up with learning loss during the pandemic
- $365 million for rental assistance to help tenants and landlords impacted by the pandemic
- $240 million for at least 12,000 small business assistance grants
- $70 million to assist undocumented immigrants who have been affected by the pandemic and do not qualify for federal or state assistance
- $50 million in grants to help keep childcare businesses open and expand their capacity
- $26 million for food assistance to individuals and households in need
The Legislature also approved House Bill 1095 on Wednesday, which will exempt businesses from paying B&O taxes on emergency assistance grants from the state or federal government. The measure is expected to provide up to $210 million in tax relief for Washington businesses impacted by the pandemic.
Earlier this week, Gov. Inslee signed Senate Bill 5061 to bring unemployment insurance relief to workers and businesses.
Additional COVID-19 relief bills are expected to win final approval in the coming days, including:
- Senate Bill 5169, sponsored by Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle), would improving the provision of personal protective equipment in medical settings to ensure that for the remainder of this health emergency, providers have the PPE they need to keep themselves and their patients safe. The bill passed the Senate on Wednesday and now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
- Senate Bill 5272, sponsored by Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), would allow thousands of establishments impacted by closures to avoid paying liquor licensing fees for one year. The fees can range anywhere from $250 to $2,000, depending on the license type. The measure is awaiting action in the House.
The Legislature is in the fifth week of a 105-day session that is scheduled to adjourn on April 25.