TL;DR – Washington to get billions of dollars for schools, transit, and cities as COVID-19 relief bill clears Congress. Funding includes support for COVID-19 vaccinations and contact tracing. Relief for K-12 schools. Childcare funding.

COVID-19 relief bill clears Congress

Wednesday’s approval in the U.S. House of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package will channel billions of dollars to Washington state as schools, businesses, governments and people begin to chart a course toward recovery from a year living with a global pandemic.

Dubbed the American Rescue Plan, the legislation directs a fire hose of money to Washington, including its cities and counties. The state is set to receive $1.9 billion for K-12 schools; $655 million for higher-education institutions; and $635 million for child care, according to numbers shared by the office of Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina.

Washington will also receive $7.1 billion in aid for local, county and state governments that saw tax collections drop last year amid the economic downturn caused by the virus and restrictions to stem outbreaks.

Of that, $4.25 billion will go to the state level just as legislators in Olympia prepare new, two-year budget proposals that fund everything from schools and parks, to prisons, environmental programs and social services.

Local government aid includes money for each county, including $437 million for King County and $159.5 million for Snohomish County. Money to cities includes $239 million for Seattle, $84.3 million for Spokane, $63 million for Tacoma and $25.5 million for Yakima.

The legislation is also expected to give roughly $800 million to Puget Sound’s transit agencies. And it contains $3 billion to help aerospace manufacturers meet payroll, Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office said.

Those dollars come atop funding in the package to combat COVID-19 and accelerate vaccinations, the much touted $1,400 stimulus checks and assistance for families with children.

“That is a massive package of relief for people who are hurting,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, in an interview. “Money in people’s pockets.”

One change from previous COVID-19 aid packages passed by Congress, said Jayapal, is that smaller cities will get aid dollars.

The new package sprinkles that money in communities across the state, from Arlington, Bothell and Burien, to Chelan, Hoquiam and Twisp.

The funding is designed in part to get Washington’s K-12 schools back open. The money would help schools get equipped with protective gear and air-ventilation systems needed to reopen safely.

“I think this money will get out very, very quickly,” said Jayapal.

DelBene hailed a provision in the bill that expands the Child Tax Credit, which she said was modeled after an earlier proposal by her.

That component will give regular payments to families of as much as $300 per month for each child, and make that available for some lower-income families who don’t qualify, according to the statement.

In an interview, DelBene described it as “an incredibly important provision that would help cut child poverty in half across our country.”

“By enhancing the credit, making sure we increase the amount, making regular payments to families, [that] means that we can give millions of children a fair shot at success,” added DelBene.

Republicans give bill thumbs down

Wednesday’s House approval came along party lines, with Jayapal, DelBene and five other Democrats voting in favor. Republican Reps. Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Battle Ground and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane voted against it.

In a statement, Herrera Beutler noted her support for previous COVID-19 aid packages and said she would have supported a more narrowly tailored proposal.

But this package, “tacked on a bloated wish list of nonessential items like wiping out most of San Francisco’s budget deficit,” she said, and delayed the distribution of some education funding for later years, which won’t help schools reopen.

“That’s not what southwest Washington families want, and this bill as a whole is not what America needs right now,” said Herrera Beutler in prepared remarks.

In statements, Newhouse called the bill “a payoff to Speaker Pelosi’s far-left progressive base,” while McMorris Rodgers said it “simply fails to address the real needs of the American people.”

Seattle has list of needs

Seattle’s elected officials Wednesday were glad to see the bill pass and said they would discuss in the coming weeks how to use the government aid. In a statement, Mayor Jenny Durkan said she would be proposing a plan to “kick start our economic recovery, support downtown and neighborhood small businesses, and address the critical needs of our residents including individuals experiencing homelessness.”

Seattle City Council President M. Lorena González said in a statement that the council would meet in the coming weeks to discuss how to spend the $239 million coming the city’s way.

She anticipated using funds for food access, rental, mortgage and utility assistance and child care. And she said the bill is “a life preserver for our small businesses, especially the restaurant and hospitality industry.”

Funding for transit

The American Rescue Plan Act provides another round of operating subsidies for transit agencies, including 11 in the Puget Sound region that received a total $521 million cash during 2020.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff anticipates the region might divide $800 million this time, of which Sound Transit could see $260 million.

Those dollars keep buses rolling — emptier than usual — for essential trips and sustain a living wage for drivers and mechanics, despite temporary losses of local sales tax and fare revenue.

The American Public Transit Association says the supporters’ objective is for federal aid to actually exceed the typical operating costs of urban transit systems, figuring they took on extra burdens including sanitizing, debts, or sudden personnel changes.

Washington state transit ridership is about 42% of pre-COVID levels, while Sound Transit’s weekday travel is about 20% of normal.

Nationally, the bill provides $30.5 billion to transit and $1.7 billion to Amtrak through 2024.

Importantly for Sound Transit, those funds include $1.4 billion in extra money for 23, high-capacity transit megaprojects nationwide, that already get partial Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants.

Two of those projects — light rail to Lynnwood and to Federal Way — are under construction by Sound Transit. Rogoff expects Sound Transit to receive approximately $250 million.

He called this money “a meaningful down payment,” toward $1.9 billion the agency seeks in some future package that new Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says is on the way. Rogoff’s number is based on language the House passed last year, that would increase the federal contributions to the 23 megaprojects.

The package heads to the desk of President Joe Biden for his signature.

COVID-19 Reopening Guidance for Businesses and Workers

On January 5, Governor Inslee announced the Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery plan, which lays out the process to safely reopen Washington state. The plan includes guidance for certain businesses and industries to help protect Washingtonians and minimize the spread of COVID-19.

The full Healthy Washington phased chart is available here.

Important Reference Documents

Healthy Washington Requirements

The following business activities must adhere to the occupancy and operation requirements outlined for their region’s Healthy Washington phase:

Religious and Faith-Based Organizations

Professional Services

Personal Services

Eating and Drinking Establishments

Weddings, Funerals and Events

Sports, Recreation and Fitness

Indoor Entertainment Establishments

Outdoor Entertainment Establishments​

All employers must follow COVID-19 prevention protocols for employees as required by the Department of Labor and Industries. Industry-specific workplace requirements are listed below:

Additional Industry Requirements​

For additional industry-specific safety practices, including those for Farm and Agricultural Workers, Food Workers and Establishments, schools, healthcare providers, and others, please visit the Department of Health’s Resources and Recommendations Page.

Source: Brynn Brady