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Economic recovery, key resources & storytime

May 9th, 2020|

The health and economic challenges facing our state in the coming months are enormous, but we must be ready to rise to the challenge at every level of government. This week in the Washington State Senate, we created a bipartisan select committee to help guide the Legislature’s long-term economic response to the coronavirus pandemic.

While this special committee is focused on bigger, long-term recovery solutions, we continue to also work on the short-term economic reopening plan. I am glad to be part of a bipartisan group of local leaders working with the governor’s office and public health officials to create a reopening plan for Spokane that is safe for everyone and accelerated ahead of other parts of the state based on our low local case numbers. And, for now, I urge everyone to be diligent about social distancing as we work our way toward Phase 2 of the reopening plan.

Storytime from the Tower

Navigating our way through this challenging time is tough for us all. That’s why I was so happy to focus a few minutes of my time reading one of our family’s favorite books for the Spokesman Review’s ‘Storytime from the Tower’ series. “Little Blue Truck” by Alice Shertle offers a timely lesson about cooperation and teamwork that we all can learn from.

Resource newsletter sent to neighbors

You may have recently received a mailing from our Spokane legislative delegation. It offers a quick guide to some of the key resources available during this crisis. You can view an electronic version here. As we’ve seen, news about this pandemic changes rapidly and the state’s portal — coronavirus.wa.gov — is the best place to get the latest information.

Stay safe and healthy. We will get through this by working together and supporting each other.

Onward!

Andy

Economic recovery, key resources & storytime

May 8th, 2020|

The health and economic challenges facing our state in the coming months are enormous, but we must be ready to rise to the challenge at every level of government. This week in the Washington State Senate, we created a bipartisan select committee to help guide the Legislature’s long-term economic response to the coronavirus pandemic.

While this special committee is focused on bigger, long-term recovery solutions, we continue to also work on the short-term economic reopening plan. I am glad to be part of a bipartisan group of local leaders working with the governor’s office and public health officials to create a reopening plan for Spokane that is safe for everyone and accelerated ahead of other parts of the state based on our low local case numbers. And, for now, I urge everyone to be diligent about social distancing as we work our way toward Phase 2 of the reopening plan.

Storytime from the Tower

Storytime

Navigating our way through this challenging time is tough for us all. That’s why I was so happy to focus a few minutes of my time reading one of our family’s favorite books for the Spokesman Review’s ‘Storytime from the Tower’ series. “Little Blue Truck” by Alice Shertle offers a timely lesson about cooperation and teamwork that we all can learn from.

Resource newsletter sent to neighbors

Newsletter

You may have recently received a mailing from our Spokane legislative delegation. It offers a quick guide to some of the key resources available during this crisis. You can view an electronic version here. As we’ve seen, news about this pandemic changes rapidly and the state’s portal — coronavirus.wa.gov — is the best place to get the latest information.

Last newsletter until November

Due to ethics rules, no official mass communications are allowed starting May 11 in an election year. So this will be my last e-newsletter until November. Please continue to reach out with any questions or comments at Andy.Billig@leg.wa.gov.

Stay safe and healthy. We will get through this by working together and supporting each other.

Onward!

Andy

Governor announces reopening plan

May 4th, 2020|

On Friday the governor released details for a phased opening of Washington state’s economy. We enter Phase 1 tomorrow with the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order continuing but several additional business sectors are opening up, including landscaping, auto dealers, curbside retail and others along with construction and outdoor recreation. The governor said he will make a data-driven decision on when to move to Phase 2 in the coming weeks.

Along with other leaders from Spokane, I have advocated for some regional variation on the opening of the economy if it is safe to do so. I was pleased to see that the governor listened and included some regional variation options in his plan. Several smaller counties with no recent COVID-19 cases will be able to go to Phase 2 now and other counties with few COVID-19 cases may have this option sooner than the rest of the state if case numbers stay low.

Please click here to see the full plan.

Getting outside to stay healthy

Bowl and Pitcher area at Riverside State Park.

Outdoor recreation is central to our state’s identity and one of the best things we can do for our physical and mental health. Some outdoor recreation will reopen tomorrow with appropriate safety precautions. It includes day use at state parks and public lands, fishing, hunting and golf. You can read the details on rules and best practices here.

Update on unemployment assistance

If you have filed or will be filing for unemployment insurance because of COVID-19, one thing is certain: you are not alone. The Employment Security Department is seeing a historic increase in claims. Fortunately, Washington was the first state in the nation to implement all three of the major benefit provisions of the federal CARES Act, and ESD has been working around the clock to make this possible. Thanks to their tireless work, nearly $1.5 billion has been paid to impacted workers in our state since the beginning of the crisis.

Thank you to those people who have reached out to my office about delays or confusion surrounding your claims. The good news is that unemployment funds will not run out, and everyone will receive retroactive pay based on the date of their eligibility. Here are a few tips to help the process go as smoothly as possible:

  • Sign up for ESD Covid-19 email updates that will keep you informed of the department’s progress and important news alerts.
  • Make sure you have all the necessary information to apply.
  • If you are self-employed or do not qualify for the regular unemployment insurance, you may qualify for the expanded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) from the federal government. Find more information here.

Finally, please do not hesitate to contact my office and we will do our best to help you navigate the process. It is important for me to hear from you about what issues you are facing during this time, so I can represent you effectively as I work with the governor, our state agencies, and our federal delegation to address this crisis and recovery.

Support for small businesses

April 13th, 2020|

As a small business owner myself, I understand the significant and abrupt impact felt by so many hardworking business owners and workers throughout our state.

We are continuing to work with health officials and other state leaders on the steps to allow our economy to safely reopen. In the meantime, there are tools available now to help support businesses that are feeling the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Here are some resources that may be of interest:

Washington Small Business Emergency Grant Program: The Legislature provided funding, and the Department of Commerce is implementing, a program offering a limited number of grants (up to $10,000) available to small businesses with up to 10 employees. More information can be found here.

Paycheck Protection Program: The federal CARES Act authorized up to $349 billion to create the Small Business Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help cover payroll, rent, mortgage and utility costs eligible for non-profits and small businesses with under 500 employees. Find more information here.

Emergency disaster loans: The Small Business Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) Program provides targeted, low-interest loans of up to $2 million to small businesses and non-profits that cannot exceed a rate of 4%, for up to 30 years. The CARES Act allocated $10 billion to provide $10,000 advances to applicants. Find more information here.

Debt relief: The CARES Act included $17 billion for the Small Business Debt Relief Program, offering six months of loan forgiveness for non-profits and small businesses that currently have SBA 504 or 7(a) loans, as well as forgiveness for any similar loans approved, closed or funded before Sept. 27, 2020. Find more information here.

Bridge loans: The Small Business Express Bridge Loan Pilot Program helps businesses who currently have a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender to potentially access up to $25,000 to bridge the gap while waiting for a decision and disbursement on a direct Economic Injury Disaster loan.

Sen. Billig on Inside Olympia

I joined Austin Jenkins on TVW’s ‘Inside Olympia’ program to discuss the state’s response to the crisis so far and what challenges we face in the coming months. Watch it here.

New efforts to end price gouging

Price gouging is illegal under the Consumer Protection Act, but the Attorney General’s office has received more that 400 complaints since the beginning of March. To protect Washington consumers, the state has launched the ‘See It, Snap It, Send It’ campaign to encourage Washingtonians to provide photos with their complaints. Photos and screenshots are useful tools for investigators looking into these complaints. For more information or to file a complaint, click here.

Working together to save lives and restart our economy

April 7th, 2020|

We definitely have a lot of tough days still ahead of us, but there are reasons to be optimistic here in Washington state. Compared to other states, we were better prepared and took early action. The biggest reason we are starting to see positive signs is the collective action by all of us across the state.

This crisis has again revealed the critical importance of a robust and responsive government, especially at the state and local level.

Government is us. It is our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers, and the people we elect to represent us — all working together collectively for our health, safety and prosperity.

In normal times, it can be easy to overlook many of the smart investments our state has made over the years, but in this time of historic crisis, these decisions are paying critical dividends.

  • The University of Washington has been instrumental in nearly every facet of this crisis. UW was prepared to start coronavirus testing at a fairly large scale, putting us ahead of other states in testing, and has provided data and models used by the White House to track the surge in cases for every state in the country.
  • Our public health system and Department of Health – staffed with dedicated professionals – snapped into action. At the same time, many state employees from other agencies quickly volunteered their expertise to help their colleagues control the virus.
  • Our health care system, however imperfect, is much stronger compared to other states. We have one of the lowest numbers of uninsured residents in the nation, thanks to our early decision to expand Medicaid at the state level and to create a robust health care exchange.
  • Our fire and police departments have performed superbly. Even when many first responders were quarantined, the strength of our departments across the state made it possible to step up to provide essential services.
  • Our state’s robust rainy day fund enabled the Legislature to quickly appropriate $200 million to help address the impacts of COVID-19 before the pandemic could peak.
  • While other states are postponing elections, our state’s decision to adopt vote by mail in 2011 is keeping the doors to our democracy open even during this historic crisis.

Most of all, we have a resilient and innovative state filled with people who believe in one another. At the Legislature, we will continue to do our part to help get us through this health crisis and provide for a successful economic recovery.

Our collective efforts at social distancing are producing results. We need to keep at it, and we will soon be upon the light at the end of this tunnel.

Until then, please let me know if there are any questions I can answer, additional information I can provide, or resources I can help connect you with.

Helpful COVID-19 resources

  • The Spokane County COVID-19 Emergency Coordination Center has been working to bring the most updated local information in response to the crisis, and you can access its website here
  • The state’s COVID-19 portal is constantly updated with the latest information from the state’s Joint Information Center.
  • The Employment Security Department wants to make gig workers aware that coverage under Washington’s unemployment insurance law is broader than under most other laws. This means that just because you are classified as an independent contractor under some laws, it does not mean that you are an independent contractor under Washington’s unemployment laws. If you are a gig worker who has been laid off or lost work, ESD encourages you to apply for benefits, and will evaluate each application for eligibility on a case-by-case basis. ESD Director Suzi Levine has also posted a YouTube video with advice for gig workers.  
  • The Department of Health is producing a daily newsletter about COVID-19 that answers many common questions. You can sign up here

Don’t forget to fill out your census form

During this time, it is also important to fill out the census form that has come to your house. Participation in the Census 2020 determines what federal resources will be available for Spokane in the future to help support critical infrastructure and programs. The Spokane Complete Count Committee has a number of resources available to aid this process, including resources in dozens of languages, now including Marshallese.  

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.