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Democratic leaders provide updates on their covid relief package

At a media briefing Monday, Senate and House Democratic leaders provided updates regarding their $2.2 billion COVID-19 relief package.

Calling it “Step One for Washington’s Community and Economic Recovery,” House Democrats hope to move the package out of committee this Thursday and bring it to the floor next week. Sen. Marko Liias said his caucus will attempt to bring it to the Senate floor the week after receiving it from the House.

Asked when recipients of the relief would actually be able to access the relief, Sen. Christine Rolfes said she expects funds to be available quickly given that agencies will be able to add programs that already exist.

Washington’s “rainy day” fund is the dividing line between the Democratic package and the package introduced by Rep. Drew Stokesbary, ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

The $2.2 billion Democratic proposal sticks to federal stimulus dollars, allocating funds for a range of assistance programs. Rep. Drew Stokesbary, ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, is proposing to spend significantly more. His $4 billion recovery package would spend $2.1 billion from the rainy day reserves in addition to federal stimulus funds.

Rep. Timm Ormbsy says he and Rep. Stokesbary have been collaborating for several weeks and came to understand that they each have a different approach regarding the budget stabilization account – Democrats want to preserve it while Stokesbary wants to dip into it for covid relief.

We are very interested in preserving the state’s budget stabilization account – our so-called ‘rainy day’ fund – for urgent and emergency budget needs as we go forward. We largely focused on federal relief dollars that were available and identified through structures we could send out to communities that currently existed.”

Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck said two weeks ago that he supports the idea of using the rainy day reserves for economic relief.

Sullivan underscored that this bill is only “step one,” and the lower price tag is the result of trying to craft a bill that could get to the floor as quickly as possible. 

Stokesbary’s package includes $200 million to fund the Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC), which has also come up in talks with Ormsby.

Stokesbary is sponsoring two different WFTC proposals that would provide annual stimulus to families in financial distress. The first is a bipartisan bill with Rep. My-Linh Thai that is scheduled to be heard in the House Finance Committee next week. The second is a Republican bill which would operate under a faster timeline.

Ormsby says that both and he and Stokesbary came to an understanding that proposal supported only by Republicans would not ready to scale up to the extent necessary.

In my conversations with Rep. Stokesbary, it has been consistent in his understanding as with mine and the Governor’s Office that standing up this program in the Department of Revenue would not meet our criteria for driving this money out in the last several months of this biennium,” said Ormsby.

On top of the disbursement of federal funds for economic relief, the Democratic package includes three pieces of additional legislation to to provide UI tax relief, expand the weekly unemployment benefit for workers, waive liquor license fees for businesses and exempt federal fund federal funds received via the Paycheck Protection Program from being subject to B&O taxes. It also includes funds for undocumented immigrants who have been impacted by the pandemic, but do not qualify for federal or state assistance.

When asked what the bill includes for landlords, Rep. Nicole Macri said that the $325 million in funds dedicated to rental assistance is the primary mechanism for supporting landlords. The funds will go directly to landlords and tenants subsequently apply for the assistance.

What landlords need more than anything else is for tenants to be able to pay the rent, and that is what that part of the package does,” said Macri.

While the package includes $668 million for schools to comply with public health guidelines while resuming in-person learning, plus dedicated funding to help offset learning losses that may have occurred during the pandemic, the funds are not contingent on schools re-opening.

The House Appropriations Committee will conduct a public hearing for the covid relief package tomorrow.  

Correction: An earlier version of this article did not make a clear distinction between Rep. Drew Stokesbary’s separate WFTC proposals.

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