04.20.20

Having Your Back

Hello Folks –

It’s been another challenging week – but Washington State and our region are starting to make progress in containing the spread of COVID-19. While there is certainly more work to be done, the work folks are doing to stay home and stay healthy is making a difference. I hope you are all continuing to take care of yourselves – and each other.

On to the news!

Helping Washingtonians Who Have Lost Their Jobs

Last week, we learned that a record number of Americans have filed for unemployment benefits over the last month. In recent weeks, I’ve talked to so many people who have lost jobs or lost hours. And it’s not their fault. 

In my view, the government should have their back. Already, Congress has acted to help meet the needs of these Americans by passing the CARES Act, which expands the Unemployment Insurance program to help those who have lost their jobs or are experiencing reduced incomes due to the coronavirus. The bill includes an additional $600 per week for the next four months, adds an additional 13 weeks of federally funded benefits, and allows part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers to access these benefits.

Since the CARES Act was passed by Congress and signed into by the President, I’ve heard from folks across our region with questions about how to apply to assistance and what the requirements are. With that in mind, last Tuesday I held a Facebook Live Q&A session with Washington State Employment Security Department’s (ESD) Commissioner Suzi LeVine to help answer those questions. You can catch the full conversation here

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As part of our conversation, Commissioner LeVine let folks know that ESD would be updating its systems. On April 18, ESD launched the expanded unemployment benefits that were provided in the CARES Act at ESD.WA.Gov. To that end, Commissioner LeVine recommended taking four steps to ensure folks keep up-to-date and have needed information at the ready when they apply for these benefits.

  1. Sign-up for COVID-19 Action Alerts - for the latest updates on what you need to know to access benefits in a rapidly changing situation.
  2. Check Your Eligibility – download the eligibility checker to help you better understand what benefits you may be eligible for, and when to apply.
  3. Download the Applications Checklist – find out if you are eligible for unemployment benefits if you are unable to work due to COVID-19.
  4. Set-up You SecureAccess Washington Account – get access to online eservices.

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Given the large number of people applying for assistance, ESD’s website has struggled to handle the high volume of claims. The Department has encouraged people to continue trying in the days ahead.

Leading Bipartisan Legislation to Help Small Businesses Weather the Coronavirus Pandemic

We know that small businesses are the backbone of our economy – creating over 60 percent of new jobs in the private sector on main streets throughout our country. Right now, as we work to contain the spread of the coronavirus and save lives, our small businesses are hurting. That’s why the CARES Act included funding for loan programs to help small businesses and their workers get through the crisis.

These programs include Economic Injury Disaster Loans to keep small businesses going – with a portion of that loan being a grant that does not have to be repaid – and the Paycheck Protection Program to help employers keep their workers on payroll.

But these programs have had a rocky roll out, and clearly more funding is needed. And there’s no time to lose. Businesses are making decisions right now about whether to hunker down and try to weather this storm or just fold the tent. That’s why I wrote to the Administrator of the Small Business Administration expressing the need for them to do better in helping small business and the lenders that serve them navigate this crisis.  

Last week, I also introduced the bipartisan Paycheck Protection Program Extension Act to nearly triple the funding and extend the duration of the program. Our businesses need certainty and some breathing room to help rebuild demand. My bill will also ensure that every qualified small business is able to access the critical assistance they need to retain their workforce and to cover basic operating costs for the full duration of the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. You can read more about that legislation here.

I believe it’s time for a comprehensive strategy to help small businesses – and I wrote about some of the ideas I have for that strategy today in the Kitsap Sun.

Ramping Up Our Defense Manufacturing Capabilities

We know that medical professionals and frontline workers across the country need personal protective equipment (PPE) to help keep themselves and others safe. In recent weeks, I’ve heard from folks at military installations in our region who have, on their own initiative, started using the 3D printing and other technologies available at their facilities to produce critical PPE. I’m grateful for these efforts - and want to make sure they have clear authority from Department of Defense (DOD) to allow them to provide this badly needed material to medical providers and first responders in our community who are out on the frontlines combating this health crisis.

That’s why this past week, I led over 50 of my colleagues in a bipartisan letter to the DOD and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) urging them to utilize the full potential of our defense manufacturing base to produce this much needed PPE such as masks, face shields, gowns and gloves, and other medical equipment, such as ventilators. I’m hopeful that that with clear guidance and direction, the proud men and women of our military installations can produce and deliver the PPE needed to save lives across the country.

Ensuring Folks Have Access to Food Security

As unemployment claims surge, experts are warning that the number of American families struggling to put food on the table is likely to increase dramatically in the coming weeks as wages are lost.

Congress and the federal government have already taken steps to try to mitigate some of these concerns. Over a month ago, I voted to support The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which included vital funding to provide food to low-income pregnant women and mothers with young children, help local food banks, and feed low-income seniors. Then, about two weeks later, I supported the CARES Act - which doubled-down on efforts to provide support for food and nutrition programs.

Last Thursday, I was joined by leaders from Northwest Harvest and the United Way on a Facebook Live to talk about the ongoing work in our region to ensure that no one goes hungry in Washington. You can catch the full conversation here.

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Know that I’ll keep working to ensure the federal government prioritizes hungry and food insecure families in upcoming COVID-19 emergency relief packages.

Working for You

Stepping Up for Local Nurses

If this is, as the President has said, a “war against a hidden enemy,” then our frontline health care workers are our soldiers. America should never let our soldiers go to war without the equipment they need. Last week, I visited with members of the Washington State Nurses Association and heard about their challenges getting access to the PPE needed to stay safe and healthy. This is why we need to see the Defense Production Act more fully deployed and much stronger coordination by the federal government. Having 50 states and thousands of hospitals competing against each other for scarce resources simply makes no sense – and puts lives at risk.

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Supporting Local Businesses

In the last week, I visited with the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance, the Washington Technology Industry Association, and a bevy of local employers to share information about resources available to help them weather this storm. The best way for us to handle unemployment is to work to keep people employed. If your business or nonprofit has questions regarding how to navigate any of these resources, check out our COVID-19 Small Business Resource Guide here or give my office a call.

OK – that’s it for now folks. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if I can lend a hand during these difficult times. And please take care of yourself – and each other.

As always, I’m honored to represent you.

Sincerely,

Derek