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Inslee announces $135 million in economic relief for businesses affected by COVID-19 closures

Nov. 20, 2020 Updated Sat., Nov. 21, 2020 at 8:35 a.m.

Gov. Inslee  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Gov. Inslee (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Amid backlash for new COVID-19 restrictions, Gov. Jay Inslee announced additional economic support for businesses affected by closures.

Inslee announced $135 million would be available to Washington businesses and residents facing economic hardships due to recent restrictions and closures.

“We need to take actions on all fronts,” Inslee said.

On Sunday, the governor announced new restrictions, closing restaurants and bars for inside service, and gyms, implementing strict capacity limits on stores and banning indoor social gatherings until at least Dec. 14. Business owners and trade groups, such as the Washington Hospitality Association, then pleaded for assistance to get through the next four weeks.

Inslee said he worked with the Legislature to secure the use of the $135 million, taken from the state’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding.

Here’s how that money breaks down:

  • $70 million for business support grants
  • $30 million for a business recovery loan program
  • $20 million for rental assistance
  • $15 million for energy bills for low-income households

The grants help to provide immediate relief, while the loans will provide long-term support, Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown said.

Brown said the money will first go toward businesses that have been the “most dramatically affected by the most recent measures,” including leisure and hospitality.

She said the department is working as quickly as possible to get an application online for the grants.

“Equity is always a top priority,” Brown said, adding the funds will go toward rural communities as much as others.

Amid questions about closing restaurants, Inslee said his reasoning was that they attract the most outbreaks in the state.

“The scientific evidence is very, very clear that this is a high-risk activity,” he said.

Inslee announced Thursday that he would be putting an 18% cap on delivery fees and a 15% cap on total fees on delivery platforms, such as Uber Eats or Grubhub, in an effort to encourage more people to order takeout to support local restaurants.

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler again urged Inslee to call a special session to provide more relief to businesses.

“His package is a start,” Schoesler said in a statement, “but it is not nearly enough.” He added that the Legislature can do more than just “the offerings of one man.”

House Appropriations Chair Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, agreed that the funding was just a start, saying more work should be done in the 2021 Legislative session.

“This funding is a help, but we all know it does not make every person or business whole,” Ormsby said in a statement.

He also called on President Donald Trump and Congress to pass another relief package.

“Without help from President Trump and Congress, Washington lawmakers are looking at tough choices between making cuts to the social safety net programs or not,” he said in a statement.

Inslee also sent a letter this week to congressional leadership and the Trump administration urging them to immediately provide more COVID relief funding to states.

“We are doing everything we can at the state level, but we need Congress to act,” Inslee said.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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