The last few weeks have been difficult and emotional for people here in Seattle and across the world. Our response to COVID-19 has required us all to alter our lives drastically for a common goal: to reduce the rate of new infections and save lives.
We all feel deep gratitude toward our health care professionals on the front lines of the pandemic. Many other essential workers – from grocery clerks and bus drivers to garbage collectors and plumbers – also continue to do their jobs so that we can weather this crisis.
The 2020 legislative session was unlike any in our state’s history. We started the session with many important priorities to address, including homelessness and housing affordability, preserving our historic gains in access to higher education, responding to the passage of I-976 and the resulting loss of transportation funding, reducing carbon pollution and protecting the environment, and reducing gun violence. My newsletters over the next few months will review the accomplishments of this historic session.
But our conversations in the Legislature quickly shifted in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Before we adjourned for the year on March 12, the Legislature unanimously passed HB 2965 to dedicate $200 million from our state’s “rainy day fund” as a down payment on the many unexpected costs our people and our state and local governments face as a result of the pandemic.
The Legislature and the Governor have also taken action to:
- Expand unemployment insurance for people who cannot work as a result of the pandemic and waived the one-week waiting period to receive approval.
- Increase access to health care coverage by opening state Health Exchange enrollment for anyone currently without health insurance.
- Boost Medicaid primary care rates, support rural health clinics, and increase funding for foundational public health.
- Support businesses that rehire employees who became unemployed because of the coronavirus emergency.
- Reimburse nursing homes that aid in the coronavirus response.
- Allow school employees to maintain health insurance eligibility for the rest of the school year even if they come up short of required work hours due to this emergency.
- Adopt a 30-day statewide moratorium on evictions.
- Encourage utilities to suspend shut-offs and waive late fees for out-of-work customers.
- Expand investments in affordable housing and new shelters by $160 million.
- Authorize flexibility in state tax collections and waive late fees on license renewals.
- Provide flexibility to allow high school seniors to graduate this year if they were on track for graduation before the emergency declaration.
- Add $153 million to increase access to childcare, strengthen the foster care system, and expand early learning programs so that kids will have support when this crisis is over.
Governor Inslee also accelerated the effective date of last year’s Senate Bill 5641, a measure I sponsored to enable Washington residents to permit remote notarization of documents such as wills and powers of attorney. That means that the notary does not have to be physically present in the room to verify the signature. With many seniors now isolated in nursing homes and other facilities, this change will allow folks to complete estate planning and other documents without endangering their health or safety.
The state has set up a central website with multilingual information related to COVID-19 and I encourage you to sign up for email updates from the Department of Health here.
Stay safe and healthy, and please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.
Senator Jamie Pedersen
43rd Legislative District