Dear friends and neighbors,
We received great news Thursday when the governor announced that Clark County will be able to move to Phase 2 of the Roadmap to Recovery plan, bringing relief to area businesses that have been wanting badly to reopen. I know how frustrated our local business owners have felt, and I share that frustration. The pandemic has saddled us with a public health crisis and an economic crisis at the same time, essential pitting one against the other.
As your senator, I have an obligation to help our households and businesses survive and recover. I take that responsibility seriously. As chair of the Senate Health Care Committee, I have an obligation to protect public health. I take that responsibility just as seriously.
That means two things: I’m working with my legislative colleagues to do everything we can to speed our recovery from the pandemic, and I’m making sure we do it safely.
One thing hasn’t changed in all of this: Our fastest, shortest path to reopening is to contain the pandemic. We have lost more than 4,500 Washingtonians to this virus and more than 463,000 Americans. That’s why everyone must continue to practice social distancing, wear masks, and follow best practices as we wait for Americans to receive vaccinations and develop herd immunity.
Here’s a quick update on our most recent actions:
- We passed a $2.2 billion measure (HB 1368) 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. This is in addition to expenditures that are being developed the state’s next two-year operating budget, and includes:
- $618 million for vaccine administration, contract tracing, and testing;
- $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;
- $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 keep childcare businesses open and expand capacity; and
- $26 million for food assistance to individuals and households.
- We approved HB 1095 to exempt businesses from paying B&O taxes on emergency assistance grants from the state or federal government. This will provide up to $210 million in tax relief for Washington businesses impacted by the pandemic.
These bills have passed both the House and Senate. Other measures in varying states of progress include:
- SB 5061 to bring unemployment insurance relief to workers and businesses.
- SB 5169 to ensure that health care providers have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to keep themselves and their patients safe.
- SB 5272 to suspend liquor licensing fees for establishments impacted by closures.
- SB 5294 to increase protections for many of the most vulnerable members of the public by directing the state Department of Health to develop guidelines for long-term care facilities during an epidemic.
- SB 5169 to improve medical providers’ access to reliable PPE during the pandemic.
- SB 5302 to create a database of vendors of state-approved PPE equipment.
While we’re working on these and other actions, there is help available now in a variety of resources you can find here.
Beyond what we do at the legislative level, our state — like every state — needs Congress to deliver the magnitude of aid people across our country desperately need. I agree with President Biden’s view that the aid package passed by Congress is a “down payment” and more is needed. State and local governments are still strained, and still need assistance. Our small business owners are still struggling to get by, and families are trying to make ends meet. Our federal government can, and must, do much more — and I am confident it will now that we have a president who is prioritizing pandemic response and is working toward the passage of an additional major relief package in the weeks ahead.
As we continue to weather the pandemic, we owe a huge debt to all those throughout our communities who are doing whatever they need to do to maintain our health, and our safety, and the capacity of our hospitals. From medical staff, to first responders, to grocery workers — anyone and everyone whose work puts them on the front lines of this crisis — there are truly too many to list, and not enough we can say to do them justice. And it’s not just on the front lines. Everywhere I look, I see people wearing masks, self-distancing and resisting the all-too-human temptation to give in to pandemic fatigue. I know how tired of this we all are, but the safe practices we’re taking are making a difference.