U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer told the Bainbridge Island Community Center recently by Zoom that he expects some type of funding to help those hurt by COVID-19 restrictions in the next month.
He said the bipartisan stimulus package would be focused on protecting lives and livelihoods, specifically small businesses, nonprofits, and families with housing and nutrition assistance. He also said unemployment and another round of paycheck protection programs would be part of it. One area of significant disagreement is federal funds to help state, local and tribal governments that are hurting because of lower tax revenues due to the coronavirus.
If that’s not part of the package, that could result in layoffs and cuts in services, he added. The trickle effect would be layoffs in the private sector, too. “So much of the focus has been to try to stop the bleeding,” he told the local seniors.
As a result of the coronavirus, he said, “The economy went into a medically induced coma,” the worst since the Great Depression.
Speaking of COVID, statewide, there have been 104,000 positive cases and 2,300 deaths. Four relief packages passed “right out of the gate,” he said, “But far more action is needed.”
“We’ve gotta crush this virus,” he said, adding there should have been a federal response from the start, with coordinated testing, tracing and quarantines. He said the nation should be testing 5 million people a day, not 900,000, according to experts.
Since he was talking to seniors, Kilmer mentioned he is working to strengthen social security to extend its solvency, improve the cost of living formula and raise the minimum benefit so they “can retire with dignity.”To pay for it, he said he would “ask the very, very wealthiest Americans to pay more into the system.”
He also wants to expand Medicare to cover vision, hearing and dental. He wants to lower drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate bulk purchasing and pricing.
Unlike many in Congress, Kilmer said he is “not a big partisan-bomb thrower.” He is part of a breakfast club with 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans who meet each week to find common ground.
“I want to thank Derek for bringing people together,” participant Janet Brookes said. “We seem so divided.”
He’s actually the youngest chairman in Congress, leading a new committee nicknamed, “The Fix Congress Committee.” He said, “We’ve passed 100 reforms to make Congress better for the American people. Our efforts are to dial down some of the rancor and hopefully get stuff done.”
Participant Richard Herzog asked why nothing has been done for decades in Congress. He recalls conference committees between the parties working for solutions.
Kilmer disagreed about nothing being done, but admitted there has been dysfunction. “It doesn’t happen enough,” he said of the parties working to compromise.
He said he’s glad to see “public sentiment trying to drive change.” He said while Black Lives Matter riots were divisive the message has gotten out about racial injustice. That has driven local conversation not only about racial inequity but health care and education, too.
“Shame on us for not having the conversation earlier,” Kilmer said, adding even many police are saying reforms are needed.
He said democracy is like a good marriage. “You don’t agree about everything, but you talk about it. Not every interaction has to turn into the Jerry Springer show.”
Kilmer said there are two parts to his job. One is to stand his ground when the values of his constituents are challenged. Two is find find common ground and “hitch our wagons together working with Republicans.”
He said he knows there is anxiety nationwide, but asks folks not to worry. “Keep the faith. Don’t agonize — organize.”