Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I wanted to take a few minutes to provide a brief update on the coronavirus emergency, the telephone town hall I held last week, and information about upcoming election-year restrictions. Thank you for reading.
A very difficult time for all
It's been a very difficult time for everyone across our state since the legislative session ended March 12. In February, few people had heard about the coronavirus. Our state's unemployment rate was at a record low, state tax collections were at a record high, and the state budget was enjoying a $2.4 billion surplus.
In the past two months, more than 230,000 small businesses across Washington have been closed by order of Gov. Jay Inslee. More than 1.4 million claims have been filed for unemployment in the past two months — an unfortunate record for the state.
Government systems are failing as the volume of people seeking assistance has jammed websites and telephone lines. More than a third of those who have filed for unemployment have not been paid. See the newspaper article here. Others haven't even been able to get through to file for unemployment. Government stimulus checks designed to provide relief are not getting to everyone who qualifies.
Rent and mortgages are due, as well as property taxes. People don't have the money to pay them.
Many employees who have lost their jobs have also lost their job benefits, such as health care, and are finding themselves turning to the government for help at a time when health care coverage during this virus crisis is so critical.
The disease has taken lives, prevented medical procedures, shutdown our schools and worsened problems, such as mental health challenges, suicide and domestic violence.
And we learned Wednesday that the state now faces a budget shortfall of at least $7 billion or more through mid-2023 due to the coronavirus.
It's the perfect storm for some lawmakers to push for a state income tax if we have to go into a special session this summer or fall to balance the state budget. There's never a good time to increase taxes, but now would be the absolutely worst time to do it, as people are without jobs and businesses are struggling to survive during this closure and stay afloat so they can return when we can safely reopen the economy. I will fight hard against ANY tax increases that would further exacerbate the hardships people are now experiencing!
Jobs, small businesses and people spending money in our economy is what provides the revenue for the state that allows it to fund the programs and services we rely on. It is so important to begin safely reopening our state's economy now to support families, businesses and minimize further impacts to the state budget.
Like many, I am also working from home. Since this emergency began, I've been working around the clock to try to connect citizens with the best resources to get help. I've helped constituents with their unemployment claims, as well as applying for health insurance and other assistance. And I've spent much of my time on the phone, answering people's questions and assisting where possible.
I have received numerous inquiries about what is and is not an “essential business.” If you are a worker or business representative unable to return to work because of the governor's designation, I highly recommend you submit an “Essential Business Inquiry” form here.
Additionally, I have participated in frequent conference calls with the governor's office, other legislators, state agency officials and other leaders in the state to stay on top of this issue. And I have regularly informed our 26th District citizens of all the changes, orders and proclamations that may affect them and acted on your behalf whenever possible.
Reopening Washington state
In my last email update, I discussed the governor's plans to extend his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order past May 4. We now know Gov. Jay Inslee has extended the order until May 31.
The governor also laid out a four-phase plan in order for Washington state to reopen safely, with Phase 1 possibly being implemented fully by mid-May. However, he did not give a firm timeline on the next phases, except to say it would be a minimum of three weeks between moving to the next reopening phase. See his Four-Phased Chart here. At best, this means mid-July before our state is fully reopened, and more likely later in the summer or even early fall.
His plan includes an opportunity for 10 counties (Pend Oreille, Ferry, Lincoln, Columbia, Garfield, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kittitas, Skamania and Wahkiakum) that have not been hit as hard by COVID-19 to possibly open sooner.
I will say that I'm very glad the governor is now allowing some elective surgeries. I worked with health professionals across the state to have hundreds of letters sent to the governor regarding potential malpractice issues that could happen if he continued to prevent medical and dental procedures from being performed.
I've also heard concerns from many constituents who have been forced to wait for important surgeries, including one man who needed bladder surgery, but because of the delay, will now need to have his bladder removed. These are heartbreaking stories, along with the stories of those who have lost their lives to COVID-19.
I believe these letters have made a difference and helped convince the governor of the importance of allowing surgeries to continue.
Many of us are glad to finally see a plan from the governor, but I'm hearing from many constituents frustrated with the shutdown, which is creating enormous difficulties. Missing one paycheck is a big deal for most people, but when you start missing multiple paychecks or your business is closed for more than a month, it becomes a very dire situation. People want to safely return to work, safely restart their businesses and safely resume normal activities. They understand we can't flip a switch and go back to the way things were in February. However, they also feel we should be able to safely open more of our economy than Gov. Inslee has allowed.
Several other states, including Colorado and Idaho, are safely reopening their businesses. Both California and Oregon have allowed more businesses to stay open than Washington over the past couple of months.
Can the governor extend the Stay at Home order without the Legislature's approval?
The question in the headline above is one I am frequently receiving. State law says “yes.” I addressed some of this issue about the governor's authority in my recent mailed newsletter. Q13 Fox's Brandi Kruse also did a very good video to answer this question, which you can watch here.
Here are some other links to help you understand the governor's authority and the role of the Legislature during statewide emergencies:
- The Legislature's role in temporarily waiving statutes and regulations
- FAQ on governor's authority during an emergency
- Summary of coronavirus (COVID-19) proclamations issued by Gov. Inslee
Many state parks are now open, along with fishing, hunting
It's wonderful to see more sunshine and spring weather these days. Many of us have “cabin fever,” so it is a welcome relief to see the reopening of many parks and trails. On Tuesday, more than 100 state parks reopened for day-use recreation, including several in Kitsap and Pierce counties. Ocean beach parks remain closed for now. However, fishing, hunting and public access to wildlife areas and boat ramps have also reopened after being closed since the first part of March due to the COVID-19 restrictions implemented by Gov. Inslee.
Coronavirus | Information and resources
These five websites are great sources of information and resources for the coronavirus – please feel free to visit any or all of them. All five are updated frequently. The Department of Health also has a phone number you can call: 1-800-525-0127.
- Washington State: Washington State Coronavirus Response (COVID-19)
- Washington State Department of Health (DOH): 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak (COVID-19)
- Governor's Office: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Information and Updates
- Washington House Republicans: Coronavirus (COVID-19) | Information and Resources
- Employment Security Department: COVID-19 information
o COVID-19 frequently asked questions – Workers
o Subscribe to ESD COVID-19 action alerts
Hundreds of people participate in 26th District telephone town hall
I want to thank all who participated Thursday, April 30 in my hour-long telephone town hall.
I took and answered live questions from many people concerned about their safety, availability of medical and dental care, difficulty accessing unemployment benefits, and heard emotional stories about elderly people isolated in assisted-living care who are unable to see their families.
I asked two survey questions:
- Do you agree with Gov. Inslee's decision to extend the Stay at Home order beyond May 4? Yes – 34.9%; No – 51.9%; Unsure – 13.2%.
- What should lawmakers do to balance the state budget if a special session is called this year because of the coronavirus shutdown? Raise taxes – 3.9%; Cut spending – 78.4%; Enact a combination of tax increases and spending cuts – 17.6%.
Your input from this telephone town hall and a previous one I held March 19 is very valuable as I advocate on your behalf.
Final day to sign up for health insurance through the Exchange
Today, May 8, at 5:30 p.m., is the deadline of the limited-time special enrollment period for individuals to sign up for health insurance coverage for 2020 through Washington Healthplanfinder.
Individuals who need help signing up for coverage may contact the Customer Support Center between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. today at 1-855-923-4633; TTY: 855-627-9604. Free help from local experts is accessible via the WAPlanfinder Mobile App or by visiting wahealthplanfinder.org/_content/find-expert-advice.html.
Additional time to sign up may be available to individuals who have recently lost their job or their employer coverage, have experienced a change in income, or experienced another qualifying event. Check here for details of whether you qualify for this additional special enrollment period.
More than 19,500 people have signed up for coverage since the Washington Health Benefit Exchange announced a special enrollment period on March 10 in response to the COVID-19 emergency.
Session newsletter updates
By now, newsletters I sent to citizens across the district with information about the 2020 legislative session and a special mailer to senior citizens has arrived in local mailboxes. If you did not receive one, or would like to read these newsletters online, I invite you to do so here:
Election-year restrictions go into effect, Monday, May 11. I will not be able to send out another email update until the general election results are certified by Secretary of State Kim Wyman in late November or early December. I can respond to direct questions or inquiries, so I encourage you to contact my office in Olympia if you have questions or concerns about legislative or state issues.
Let me also add that I represent every individual in the 26th District, regardless of party affiliation or where you stand on the political spectrum. Always, I put people before politics. Your concerns are most important to me. Please contact me any time.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to proudly serve you and the 26th Legislative District!