(360) 786-7604|Andy.Billig@leg.wa.gov

Monthly Archives: March 2020

Stay Home, Stay Healthy Update

March 25th, 2020|

As Spokane and our state continues to respond to COVID-19, my thoughts are with everybody in our community and statewide who are taking on new challenges and helping save lives.

Last night I joined leaders of the Washington State Legislature in a bipartisan statement of unity and support for Gov. Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. Here’s part of that statement:

“The weeks and months to come will test our will, our values and our courage, but our state is resilient. We will get through this. We must work together, support each other and stay positive. Ultimately we will emerge from this challenge more united than ever, prepared to build an even stronger Washington.”

I am proud our Legislature is united in our response to COVID-19. As the governor said yesterday, we need to hit this virus hard now with the only proven tool we have — social distancing.

I joined other leaders from Spokane to provide an update on the COVID-19 response today. Watch here.

More about Stay Home, Stay Healthy

The Stay Home, Stay Healthy order:

  • Requires every Washingtonian to stay home unless they need to pursue an essential activity
  • Allows outdoor recreational activities such as walking, gardening, bike riding on your own or with members of your household
  • Prohibits all gatherings for social, spiritual and recreational purposes
  • Temporarily closes businesses except essential businesses

I know the governor’s order to close non-essential businesses and further limit social interactions is difficult for our entire state. But we know this aggressive action now will help us control the virus and better prepare our state for an economic recovery.

In addition to the state and local response, I think we are all hoping to see action soon in Washington, D.C. on a federal stimulus package to help working families and small businesses. Today I joined my colleagues in a letter requesting the federal government unlock disaster unemployment assistance for thousands of independent contractors in Washington. Please see my last newsletter for more information about federal loan assistance for businesses and other important COVID-19 related links.

 

Responding to COVID-19

March 19th, 2020|

While this is a concerning and uncertain time in terms of both the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak, I want to make sure you are aware of some of the state and local resources available to you, as well as update you on the recent actions taken by the governor and the Legislature related to the outbreak.

I know the resilience of Washingtonians combined with the support of our government and our friends, families and neighbors will get us through this crisis.

The governor and Legislature have taken the following steps to:

  • Appropriate $200 million in emergency funding to support testing, expand hospital capacity, and support our state and local public health response
  • Expand unemployment insurance for people who are quarantined and waived the one week waiting period to receive approval
  • Increase access to health care coverage by opening WA Health Exchange enrollment for anyone who does not currently have health insurance
  • Support businesses that rehire employees who had to go on unemployment insurance because of the coronavirus emergency
  • Reimburse nursing homes that aid in the coronavirus response
  • Allow school employees to maintain health insurance eligibility for the rest of the school year even if they come up short of required work hours due to this emergency
  • Adopt a 30-day statewide moratorium on evictions
  • Encourage utilities to suspend shut-offs & waive late fees for out-of-work customers
  • Authorize flexibility on state tax collections and waive late fees on licensing renewals
  • Provide flexibility to allow high school seniors to graduate this year if they were on track for graduation before the emergency declaration

COVID-19 resources

Here is a list of resources to answer questions you may have.

  • The state has developed a central portal for all information related to the COVID-19 outbreak in Washington.
  • If you are an employee who is missing work because of illness, limited hours, or temporary layoffs, the Employment Security Department has comprehensive resources here.
  • If your small business is impacted, the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) may be able to provide assistance through the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program to businesses that have suffered substantial economic injury. These loans can help small businesses meet financial obligations and cover operating expenses. You can find more info and apply here.
  • If you are looking for work, the Employment Security Department is doing some emergency hiring around the state. Search and apply here.
  • If you are part of an organization serving the immediate needs of people impacted coronavirus, the Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane County is making funds available.
  • If you are concerned about paying your utility bills at this time, the City of Spokane is suspending water service shut-offs for non-payment of city utility bills and won’t charge fees for late utility payments until further notice. Customers still will be responsible to pay for monthly city utility bills. The city will work with customers to make repayment arrangements or other accommodations. The city also operates the U-Help program that provides qualified low-income households with annual one-time emergency financial assistance to pay their utility bills. For information on how to access the program, call the Salvation Army at 509.325.6821.
  • If you are currently uninsured, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange has opened a special enrollment period, and you can find information here.
  • If you have a child in Spokane Public Schools, schools are closed through at least Friday, April 24.
  • Starting Thursday, March 19, breakfast and lunch will be available to all children up to 18 years old. It is a federal meal program requirement that students must be present to pick up a meal. Meals can be picked up from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday at these locations:
    • Arlington
    • Balboa
    • Finch
    • Garfield
    • Hutton
    • Lidgerwood
    • Lincoln Heights
    • Longfellow
    • Moran Prairie
    • Mullan Road
    • Ridgeview
    • Roosevelt
    • Shaw MS
    • Rogers HS
    • Shadle Park HS
    • Ferris HS
  • If your child is experiencing anxiety about COVID-19, Seattle Children’s Hospital wrote a helpful article about helping them cope.
  • If you are seeing instances of price-gouging and scams during this public health crisis, Attorney General Bob Ferguson is gathering complaints here.
  • If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, and is concerned about staying in the home or in close proximity to their abuser more frequently, call 1-800-799-7233, or if you’re unable to speak safely, you can log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.
  • If you are in need of food, or want to help others in need, food banks in Spokane are currently open for operation and for donations, you can find locations here.
  • Please continue to support local businesses. Many restaurants are still open for takeout and pickup. The City of Spokane has made parking free downtown for 10 minutes to facilitate curbside meal pickup.

Sen. Billig statement on the conclusion of the 2020 session

March 13th, 2020|

“I am so proud of the work we’ve done on behalf of the people of this state, but all of our thoughts right now are with the people and communities across Washington impacted by the coronavirus and with the public health professionals who are working around the clock to stop its spread.

“The budget we passed today addresses the needs we saw coming into session as well as those that unfolded in recent weeks. The steps we have taken this year, and really for the past three years, leaves our state in a strong position to combat this outbreak.

“We finished our work on time for the third year in a row – marking only the third time in the last 79 years the Legislature has accomplished that.

“This budget invests heavily in public health, including $200 million in emergency funding to the State Department of Health and local public health organizations so the people working to keep us safe and healthy have the resources they need. We also invested in accessible health care, behavioral health, affordable housing, education, early learning, the environment and other areas important to the people of this state. This budget leaves more than $3.5 billion in reserves – an extraordinarily important figure in these unprecedented and unpredictable times.

“We will continue to do everything in our power as legislators to invest in the future of our state and keep Washingtonians safe during this crisis.”

Sine die, COVID-19 and balanced budgets

March 13th, 2020|

The 2020 legislative session has adjourned sine die.

The Legislature capped its session with the health and safety of our constituents at the forefront of every legislator’s mind. The COVID-19 outbreak is an unprecedented challenge to our state, and we have taken definitive steps to help address the outbreak.

Today, on the last day of session, we passed a bill to provide $200 million in emergency funding to the State Department of Health and local public health organizations so the people working to keep us safe and healthy have the resources they need.

The governor’s office has set up a website with a wealth of information on both the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak where you can learn about best practices to avoid the virus and ways the state can help households experiencing financial hardship due to the outbreak.

I sat down with TVW on the final day of the session to discuss COVID-19 and other issues before the Legislature this year.

A balanced, responsible budget

The supplemental operating budget also passed the Legislature today. It is a responsible budget that makes critical investments while leaving more than $3 billion in the ending fund balance to help weather any economic downturn we may see.

Investments include:

  • Very significant policy and funding to address our state’s affordable housing and homelessness crises
  • Increased investments to improve access to quality early learning and childcare
  • K-12 education investments, including additional counselors in high poverty schools and special education
  • Support for public health and hospitals and increased reimbursement rates for behavioral health and primary care providers

The capital budget

The supplemental capital budget investments are focused on building infrastructure throughout our state. Here are some highlights for Spokane:

  • Transitions TLC, transitional housing renovations (North Spokane)
  • If You Could Save Just One building acquisition (Hillyard)
  • Proclaim Liberty early learning center expansion (Perry District)
  • Waikiki Springs land acquisition (North Spokane/Waikiki)
  • Housing Trust Fund (statewide projects)

The transportation budget

The Legislature passed a supplemental transportation budget to keep our state moving despite the revenue shortfall created by I-976 and make it possible for the governor to restart paused projects like the North South Corridor. It also funds regional mobility grants for projects like the Spokane-Cheney High Performance Transit Corridor. This budget is a one year solution. Next year, the full impact of I-976 will hit our state, creating funding challenges in just about every part of the transportation budget.

What’s next?

Thank you to our team (from left: Alicia, Kate, and Noelle) for a successful session helping me serve the constituents of the 3rd Legislative District!

Now that we have finished the legislative session, we will return to Spokane. We look forward to being back home meeting with constituents and getting out in the community to hear from you.

And as always, stay in touch.

Onward!

Andy

Legislative update: Sprint to Sine Die

March 3rd, 2020|

The 2020 session is almost at an end. We only have one more week to finalize our budgets and pass bills. The House and the Senate each passed their respective versions of the 2020 supplemental operating budget last week. Both budgets invest in childcare, affordable housing, K-12 education, health care, and nursing homes. While the values and priorities reflected in the two proposals are mostly aligned, there are some differences. We are now in the reconciliation process working out a responsible, balanced compromise budget that will be approved by both chambers.

Statewide coronavirus response

The Legislature has been closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak and is working quickly to provide resources to keep Washingtonians safe. Earlier this week we passed a bill unanimously to authorize the spending of up to $100 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to support the Department of Health and local public health agencies.

We can all help to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Here are a few steps we all should take to help prevent transmission:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds minimum. If not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home while you are sick and avoid close contact with others.
  • Cover your mouth/nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.

You can find more information about the state’s response on the Department of Health website. If you have more questions, you can call 1-800-525-0127 and when prompted, hit the # key.

Honoring Spokane’s Don Kardong

One of my favorite Spokane traditions is Bloomsday. It is such a healthy and community-centered occasion, and I am always amazed how Spokane comes together for this nationally recognized event. Earlier this week, I was glad to sponsor a resolution in the Senate to honor the founder of Bloomsday, Don Kardong.

Don is an Olympic medalist who founded Bloomsday in 1977, a race that has become one of Spokane’s signature sporting events that bring together participants of all ages, levels, and abilities. Don’s passion for running and willingness to share it with others have inspired countless people in Spokane and beyond to live healthier lives and discover their own love of running.