House Democrats announced today the first step in the House and Senate plan for Washington’s community and economic recovery, starting with the allocation of $2.2 billion in federal funds to provide assistance to Washington families and businesses who have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposal will ease the financial hardship of struggling renters, small restaurants and other neighborhood businesses, school districts, uninsured and underinsured individuals, and Black and Brown communities, which have been disproportionately hurt during the pandemic.
“Washington has done a good job saving lives by following public health advice, and that came at an economic cost to many in our state,” said Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D-Covington). “By working with our colleagues in the Senate, identifying all the available federal funds and understanding the best use of those dollars, we have developed a great first step that pushes dollars out the door to communities and businesses in need.”
The proposal provides for funding in critical areas, starting with $240 million in small business grants, building on similar grants provided over the summer and fall of 2020. School districts also receive $668 million to provide financial support they need to address learning loss.
“Small businesses are critical to our local communities. They have stepped up to help us manage this health crisis and now we need to step up and support them through this economic recovery. These grants go directly to the businesses that serve their communities, helping keep doors open, lights on, and employees paid,” said Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-SeaTac). “We have an opportunity to avoid the crisis that arose from the Great Recession by focusing on all the communities that make Washington great, and giving them the support we all need to survive. We are all in this together, so ensuring the safety net can help everyone who needs it is vital to this step.”
In order to facilitate Governor Jay Inslee’s vaccine distribution plan and prepare for future federal action to get vaccines to states, the proposal puts $618 million toward a dedicated fund for Department of Health to use for vaccine distribution, contact tracing, and testing—with an emphasis on vaccinating individuals needed for school re-opening and ensuring that outreach is accessible, culturally and linguistically appropriate, and includes community-driven partnerships and strategies.
Rental assistance for direct rental and utility payments is funded with $325 million, and $5 million is allocated for rental and foreclosure assistance. Food assistance programs will receive $4.7 million in funding with an additional $26.3 million in block grants for hunger relief organizations.
“The Governor’s eviction moratorium is a stopgap, one we desperately needed, but the next step is helping thousands of families get caught up on their past due rent,” said Rep. Nicole Macri (D-Seattle). “Step One in our plan helps the people who need that assistance and more. Helping people pay the rent provides peace of mind during a time when the ability to stay at home is essential in combatting the virus.”
Additional allocations in the proposal includes:
- $50 million for child care grants and incentives, prioritizing providers in child care deserts and supporting racial equity across the state
- $65 million for the Immigrant Relief Fund for those people left out of federal stimulus payments
- $9 million for TANF and $12 million in Disaster Cash Assistance
“Too many of our fellow Washingtonians were left out of the previous federal stimulus packages and we can’t let that happen anymore,” said Rep. Steve Bergquist (D-Renton). “We have to approach every step in our recovery plan in a way that is equitable and community-focused, and our team is committed to ensuring everyone has access to the services they need to get through this terrible pandemic.”
“This is just the first step in our process this year. In the coming months, House Democrats will have bills, a supplemental budget, and an operating budget for the next biennium that continues to invest in public health, equitably addresses needs across the state in struggling communities, and helps families and small businesses get through this next phase of the pandemic,” said Rep. Timm Ormsby (D-Spokane), chair of the Appropriations Committee.
The Step One proposal is anticipated to be heard in the House Appropriations Committee next week. The bills reflecting the changes and appropriations are HB 1367 and HB 1368 and their companion bills are SB 5343 and SB 5344.