Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday announced a $135 million economic relief package meant to support businesses and workers impacted by the latest round of restrictions introduced as the state experiences a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“We are acting today, in a significant way, to help our business community in the difficult days they have responding to the pandemic and some of the restrictions that have been necessary to save lives in the state of Washington,” Inslee said.
At a virtual news conference, Inslee and Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown said $135 million in federal funding from the CARES Act is headed in four directions:
- $70 million for business grants;
- $30 million for a “recovery loan program” for businesses;
- $20 million for rental assistance; and
- $15 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps people in low-income households make energy-bill payments.
The Office of Financial Management is the authorizing entity for the funds, according to Commerce spokesperson Jaime Smith, and has provided Commerce the approval to move forward.
“Commerce staff is working to get these new funds out the door as soon as possible,” Smith wrote in an email to McClatchy.
The $70 million in grant funding includes $50 million for a round of Working Washington grants, according to a press release from Inslee’s office, which have historically gone to small businesses. Priority will be given to the hardest-hit business sectors, such as full-service restaurants and fitness centers, according to Brown, and those with the biggest cumulative impacts.
The department is working on opening a portal so businesses can apply for the grants, Brown said, and that information should be available on the Commerce website within the next week. On Friday, the website already featured a placeholder.
The rest of the $70 million in grant money is slated for businesses that previously applied for grants but haven’t been funded and for the department’s business resiliency network, according to Brown.
Brown encouraged businesses to check with the counties where they operate as well, to see if there are resources available from previous CARES funding allotments.
The $30 million for the loan fund “will be leveraged with private capital,” Brown said, and she expects there could be up to $100 million available for loans by winter’s end. That, she said, will be “an important bridge” for businesses that have had a hard time accessing traditional financing.
“Economic recovery is … a long game, and so while these grants provide immediate support, the loan program will help support medium- and long-term recovery efforts,” Brown said.
The governor had previously announced a much smaller commitment of $50 million in federal aid to help mitigate the economic impact as he announced new restrictions. The pandemic, he said Friday, continues to “rage across our state.”
Thursday, he announced a cap on third-party delivery fees as restaurants shift to primarily take-out under new restrictions, and he sent a letter urging congressional leadership and President Donald Trump’s administration to get to work on a new coronavirus relief package.
In recent days, he said Friday, he has worked with legislators, agencies, and others. He emphasized this won’t be the state’s last economic relief effort.
The restrictions that went into effect this week are scheduled to last through at least Dec. 14. They eliminate indoor service at restaurants and bars, close gyms to indoor activity, and limit retail-store occupancy to 25%, among other measures.
A group of Democrats in the state legislature sent the governor a letter the day after restrictions were announced, The Everett Herald reported, asking him to rethink the full indoor-dining ban.
Republican leaders in the state legislature have renewed calls for an emergency special session in light of the restrictions’ economic implications.
Industries impacted by the rules were quick to react, with many groups asking the governor to reconsider in recent days. The Washington Hospitality Association, which represents restaurants, hotels, and some entertainment venues, has been vocal in asking Inslee to rethink the prohibition on indoor dining.
Inslee said at the news conference that he’s “acutely aware” of the temporary restrictions’ impact on restaurateurs and reaffirmed his confidence in the measures, detailing some of the data and rationale underlying them.
In a prepared statement Friday afternoon, WHA CEO Anthony Anton continued to push back.
“The best relief for our operators and employees is to let us get back to work,” Anton said in the statement. “We want to work with the governor to get our operators open again now, even if at reduced capacity, so we can earn enough to keep our workers employed during the holidays and hopefully help the business survive. If we have to keep our doors closed, we need relief in an amount that reflects the magnitude on the order our operators are made to bear.”