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Aiming for ‘relief, recovery and resilience,’ Inslee signs $2.2 billion COVID-19 relief package

UPDATED: Sat., Feb. 20, 2021

Gov. Jay Inslee says Washington's COVID cases are dropping in an encouraging way, but residents need to remain vigilant or the virus could "eat us alive."   (SSR)
Gov. Jay Inslee says Washington's COVID cases are dropping in an encouraging way, but residents need to remain vigilant or the virus could "eat us alive."  (SSR)

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee signed a $2.2 billion COVID-19 funding allocation bill into law on Friday, clearing the way for relief for Washington businesses and families struggling because of the pandemic.

The bill, which passed the Legislature just over a week ago, allocates $2.2 billion of the state’s federal stimulus fund to schools, business, renters and others.

“The focus this year is relief, recovery and resilience,” Inslee said Friday. “This will make big progress in all three.”

Here’s the breakdown of the bill:

  • $714 million for school assistance, including $46 million for private schools.
  • $618 million for public health, including COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution.
  • $365 million for housing, including rental assistance.
  • $240 million for business assistance.
  • $91 million for other income assistance, such as immigration services and food assistance.
  • $50 million for child care grants.
  • $26 million for food assistance grants for hunger relief organizations.

The bill has an emergency clause, so it will go into effect immediately. However, Office of Financial Management Director David Schumacher said Friday it may take a few weeks for the federal money to get here.

In the meantime, Inslee has allocated more state money for business and rental assistance, a proclamation he signed last week. That money will fill the gap between last year’s federal allocation and this year’s, Schumacher said.

Most of the federal money had allocation guidelines from the federal government, and much of it will go toward programs created with the first round of federal money last year.

According to the bill, the funds for schools must be used for costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also requires school districts to submit reopening plans to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction by March 1.

OSPI indicated on Friday the money would only go toward schools that reopen, although the office clarified on Twitter that the bill requires schools to have a reopening plan before receiving the money. That plan could be hybrid or fully in-person.

Inslee said he does not believe it is OSPI’s intention to give more funding to schools that are fully open and less funding to those that are hybrid.

Inslee has said schools should begin to reopen to in-person learning, despite teachers not being eligible for vaccinations. Most schools have already brought back some kids, with an option for parents to keep their kids remote.

“What we’ve had is a very elegant way to allow communities to do what works best for them,” he said.

The Legislature began working in December on preparing an early action bill for COVID-19 relief, said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.

“And here we are six weeks later with a bill to be signed by the governor,” she said.

The Legislature will pass a statewide operating budget by the end of April that will likely include more COVID-19 relief.

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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