U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer checked in with constituents Monday evening in a telephone town hall where he discussed updates on the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Kilmer, a Democrat who represents Washington’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Kitsap County, was joined by Washington State Secretary of Health Jonathan Wiesman, who gave information on the response from the state’s perspective.
Over the course of 90-minute meeting, Kilmer took questions ranging from assistance for small businesses to difficulties some small businesses have had procuring a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program.
The congressman opened with some remarks geared toward the public, acknowledging a prevailing sentiment that people are itching to get back outside and, more importantly, get back to work.
“I think we all want to go back out in public without getting sick, we all want to see our economy awakened from this medically-induced coma so we can support ourselves and our family,” Kilmer said. “We all want to get back to working and shopping and worshipping and living our lives as we did before we ever heard of coronavirus.”
Kilmer updated attendees on the latest moves made by the U.S. House of Representatives, which is set to vote on a CARES Act 2.0 either later this week or early next week.
In it, Kilmer anticipates greater assistance for state, local and tribal governments; and greater capacity and funding for traditional infectious disease management methods such as testing and contact tracing those who become ill with COVID-19, which is the best route to managing the pandemic in the absence of a vaccine.
News of the new act will be of particular interest for the state of Washington as Gov. Jay Inslee said recently that the state’s revenue forecast was expected to be down $6 billion, without factoring in additional pandemic-related costs.
As far as reopening the state, Inslee recently laid out a four-phase “Safe Start” plan that would have at least three weeks between the implementation of phases in order to collect data and ensure the coronavirus has remained under control.
But some counties in Washington have been allowed to apply for, and have received, a variance to move ahead to phase two, in which some businesses can reopen with proper protocols in place.
Thus far, the criteria has been counties with a population of less than 75,000 residents and have not had a new confirmed COVID-19 case in the past three weeks.
“That’s a high bar to meet,” Wiesman said.
Eight Washington counties have been approved so far: Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry, Pend Oreille, Wahkiakum, Skamania and Stevens.
Wiesman noted that there are some counties that could also qualify, particularly along the Washington coast, but they would also have worries of an influx of visitors potentially bringing the infection with them from other parts of the state.
“We’re trying to do this in a safe way,” Wiesman said.
A restaurant owner from Port Townsend asked about the stats of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was intended to help small businesses retain their employees. The owner had received it, but it didn’t seem to be nearly enough considering his business may not be up and running again until June 1 or later.
Kilmer noted that the loan had run out of money after 13 days and Congress had to go back to add another $310 billion to focus on the small “Main Street” businesses that may have been shut out the first time around. He stated his support for a PPP extension act that would put more funding into the program and an employee retention tax credit, an idea that has been floated in Washington, D.C. in recent weeks.
“The best way to handle unemployment is to keep people employed,” Kilmer said. “And if we can provide a lifeline to small businesses like yours, that can really make a difference.”
Kilmer has supported or co-sponsored a number of other bills, including a COVID-19 mortgage relief act to help homeowners and multifamily complex owners and an Emergency Rental Assistance Act that would supplement protections in the CARES Act against eviction during the pandemic.
“As we grapple with this crisis, I think it’s just one of the values that I am embracing,” Kilmer said. “People shouldn’t lose their home because of something that wasn’t their fault.”
In closing, Kilmer reminded folks to stay safe and keep their spirits high as the state and country continues to fight the COVID-19 crisis.
“I just want to encourage people to keep the faith,” Kilmer said. “I know this has been a really tough time, but I’m confident we’ll get through this.”