Washington state businesses, renters and low-income individuals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and statewide responses to the disease will see some more relief, as Gov. Jay Inslee announced $135 million in economic support Friday.
During a Nov. 20 press conference, Inslee announced a host of different grant, loan and other financial assistance opportunities intended to lessen the impacts resulting from COVID-19. Initially announcing $50 million in support for businesses during a Nov. 15 press conference detailing new restrictions on businesses and activities, Inslee said after discussions that included legislators and state agencies, the decision was made to increase the total money allotted to relief efforts.
The funds broke down to $70 million in business grants, $30 million in business loans, $20 million in rental assistance, and $15 million in utility payment assistance for low-income households.
Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown said that the business grants would be prioritized for businesses in industries hardest-hit by pandemic restrictions, such as full-service restaurants, music venues and fitness centers, she gave as examples.
That prioritization was for $50 million of the $70 million, as Brown added that the remaining funds would be for grants for businesses that had applied to an earlier round of grant distribution who were unsuccessful.
Brown said her department would be working “as quickly as possible” to have an application portal for the grants on their website (commerce.wa.gov) within the next week.
Brown said the $30 million for business loans would be leveraged with private capital, potentially resulting in some $100 million available by the end of Winter. She said although the grants provided immediate support, the loan program would benefit the “long game” of economic recovery.
The relief package utilized existing federal CARES Act funding, Inslee confirmed, adding there was about $150 million left. He said some options under consideration for the remaining funds were to benefit hospital capacity and nutrition assistance, noting the funds had to be used by the end of the year.
Inslee said the funding announced Friday was “a significant relief effort,” adding that the state would not be stopping with the latest funding package in its recovery efforts. One potential avenue for future relief was working to find ways to ease rises in unemployment insurance premiums paid by employers, which the governor said could lead to hundreds of millions in relief beginning in the 2021 tax year.
Inslee urged support of restaurants who are shifting back to a takeout-dependent model of business, given new restrictions on indoor dining. To that end, he mentioned he has ordered a cap on fees that delivery services can charge to restaurants — 15 percent on delivery fees and 18 percent on total charges. He said the order prevented that charge to be shifted onto delivery workers.
“All of us share one thing in common; we have to eat and we like to eat,” Inslee remarked. “It’s a really good way to help out these restaurants by doing takeout business.”
Inslee noted the day prior he had sent a letter to Congressional leadership urging for the restart of work for more federal COVID-19 relief funding. He said Washington State was “nearing a cliff of support” from the federal government when already-approved relief authorized by Congress will run out at the end of the year.
Though he said the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives was ready to act, the Republican-majority Senate and President Donald Trump’s administration needed to step up and resume the work.
“The pandemic is accelerating. The federal assistance (is) going away, and the more time that is wasted, the more people that are going to suffer lasting impacts, both to our families and to our larger economy,” Inslee said.
Regarding the rationale for the new restrictions announced Nov. 15, Inslee said there was a “scientific certainty” that COVID-19 was transmitted by people talking closely near each other for prolonged periods inside without masks, conditions found at restaurants. He added the rationale also played into the prohibition on private indoor gatherings with individuals out of one’s household.
Inslee noted critiques on measures taken in an effort to stop the current surge of COVID-19 cases, ones that were “sincere, and not illogical.”
“But I do want to point out that inaction is simply not an option here,” Inslee said. He added he asked those critiquing as to what proposals had “to keep this pandemic from swallowing us whole.”
“Frankly, I don’t hear an alternative,” Inslee said.