Washington governor: ‘State is on fire’ amid new COVID-19 surge

Gov. Jay Inslee announces $135 million in relief funds; urges Washington residents to skip Thanksgiving gatherings with non-household members

Governor Jay Inslee has announced another set of statewide COVID-19 relief funds designed to help small businesses and individuals impacted by the state’s most recent round of restrictions.

“We are in a very difficult position and we’re acting in a significant way to help businesses … that will have difficult days ahead responding to the pandemic and the restrictions necessary to save lives,” Inslee said at a press conference held Friday, Nov. 20.

The governor said the state will use $135 million from federal CARES Act funds to bolster small businesses, help renters struggling with housing costs and assist low-income residents who need help paying their utilities this winter.

“This is a significant relief effort,” Inslee said.

Of the $135 million, the majority — $70 million — will go toward grants for small businesses. The package also includes $30 million in loans for small businesses.

Lisa Brown, the state’s Commerce director, said state leaders realize the pandemic and the public health measures put in place to help lower COVID-19 transmission rates have “put thousands of business owners and employees in a very challenging” situation.

The relief funds are intended to help “those businesses most affected by recent restrictions,” Brown said.

Of the $70 million in grants, $50 million will be reserved for businesses hardest hit by the new restrictions, including many restaurants, bars, gyms and other venues that have had to re-close to help stop a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases throughout the state.

“We will work as quickly as possible to get a portal open to get applications for those grants on the Commerce website within the next week,” Brown said.

The remaining $20 million in grants will likely go to businesses that had applied for, but not been given, earlier state grants.

To help encourage Washingtonians to support restaurants during the recent round of in-person dining closures, Inslee also passed a proclamation this week capping the total charges a delivery service can charge a restaurant at 18 percent of the bill, and preventing those delivery services from passing the cost on to their employees.

Inslee said he also has written to legislators and the president encouraging Congress and the Trump Administration to pass another round of COVID relief before the end of the year.

“This pandemic has caused known hardships on families,” Inslee said. “Families are suffering, businesses are suffering while Congress has not taken any action this summer, we are nearing a cliff for Washingtonians.”

Asked by a reporter from Yakima about business in eastern Washington that have said they will not abide by the governor’s most recent round of restrictions, Inslee said there are enforcement measures, including fines, injunctions and taking away a business’ liquor license that are available to state leaders if businesses do not comply with the new rules.

The governor added that he believes most business owners understand that the restrictions are meant to curb the third surge of the coronavirus and will help open the economy in the long-run.

“Most business people I talk to understand that, if we’re going to have a healthy economy, we can’t have a raging pandemic,” Inslee said. “We have to get through the next several months so we can restore our economy. When I talk to business leaders they get this.”

Some of the relief funds are earmarked to help workers and others who are struggling to make ends meet during the latest round of shutdowns. About $20 million in the relief package will go toward rental assistance, while $15 million is reserved for energy assistance for low-income residents who need help paying utility bills.

Governor says ‘state on fire,’ urges cooperation

Inslee added that state leaders are urging all Washingtonians to avoid indoor Thanksgiving gatherings with non-household members this year to help get the virus under control over the next few weeks.

“The house is on fire right now,” Inslee said. “This state is on fire. It’s raging. The acceleration rate is 100 percent every 10 days. We have to take some actions and do the best we can … hopefully we’ve set the calibration high enough that we will at least flatten the curve. … in the meantime, we need everyone’s cooperation.”

“We have every reason to believe that we’re going to have normal, fantastic, large family events next Thanksgiving,” Inslee added. “There is reason for hope.”

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