March 22 COVID-19 Update from Representative Kilmer
I hope this finds you well. It’s been another challenging week for our region, our state, and our nation as we respond to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and take drastic steps to contain the spread.
Just like you, my everyday life has changed quite a bit as well. Usually when I’m back home in our district, I’m travelling from pillar to post across our region, meeting with folks to learn how I can better advocate for our communities back in the other Washington. But in the era of social distancing, my “office” is now my dining room table, and my “co-workers” now include a 13- and a 10-year-old. I’ve been constantly on my cell phone, on Skype, on Zoom, on email, and texting – to make sure I’m communicating directly with folks on the front lines of this public health emergency and all those being impacted by it, and to ensure that the federal response meets the needs of our region.
Some days have focused primarily on the health care issues (getting testing ramped up and ensuring personal protective equipment reaches providers in every corner of our region). Other days are mostly focused on the economic impact to our region. Take last Tuesday, for example:
- I spoke with the Peninsula Housing Authority in Port Angeles to learn about what resources could help them – and the people they serve. Obviously, ensuring people have access to affordable housing is vital right now – and all the time.
- I touched base with two county commissioners, one county executive, four mayors, three tribal chairs, and two city managers to ensure that the federal government is stepping up in the face of all of this.
- I spoke with one of our small business development center leaders on the Peninsula to discuss resources to support small businesses during this disruptive time.
- I got a chance to hear from a local university president to better understand actions that the federal government can take to support students who are facing all sorts of challenges.
- I had calls with three small business owners who wanted to understand what resources are available to them – and to hear how else the federal government can help.
- I chatted with the team at McKinley Paper in Port Angeles and am so grateful that they are growing jobs in PA!
- I participated in a call with some economic experts to understand the economic impacts of this and steps the federal government can take to help our economy recover.
- And I visited with three of my colleagues to strategize on potential legislative responses.
At the end of the day, my phone battery was left at 12%. And while I always prefer visiting folks in-person, I’m doing all I can to advocate for the resources we need. Read on to get a sense of the outcomes I’m pushing for.
Getting a Coordinated Federal Response
As I write this, it appears the Senate is at an impasse in negotiations on an emergency assistance and economic stabilization bill. Folks in DC need to move fast to stem the pandemic and provide economic relief to Americans who are hurting. In advocating for a coordinated federal response, I’ve focused on a few main principles. Congress should:
- Triage and respond – with immediate support for health care providers, frontline workers, individuals, and impacted employers. Congress must support health care providers and those on the frontlines.
- Streamline and stabilize – using existing programs and built-in automatic stabilizers to trigger more help if needed. Employers and families need a sense of predictability and stability. That’s currently non-existent. A one-off, or even two-off, payment (to individuals or employers) seems flawed if folks don’t know where they’re going to be 3-6 months from now. I think Congress should make clear that – if certain conditions happen and the economy is still tanking – that there are automatic triggers in place to ensure more federal intervention along the way.
- Roll out an economic stabilization strategy to rebuild our economy. Any industry-focused support should focus on retaining jobs – not on executive compensation or stock buybacks. Additionally, I’m pushing for enhanced unemployment assistance to ensure all workers – including gig economy workers and contract workers – can get the help they need.
Read on for some of the details regarding specific efforts.
Urging the Federal Government to Step-Up for Our First Responders and Medical Professionals
On Saturday, I joined Senator Murray and the entire Washington congressional delegation in urging President Trump to issue a major disaster declaration to help address the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state. This declaration would open up a full suite of Individual Assistance Programs to help our state and local governments access more resources and ensure the overall health and safety of residents in Washington state.
Our first responders and medical professionals are working on overdrive to combat and contain the spread of COVID-19 in our region and across the state. However, they need help. This week, I joined multiple efforts to ensure we can get these folks the resources they need to protect lives and keep themselves, and all of us, safe.
- I joined a bipartisan group of 17 lawmakers from the Pacific Northwest in calling for more ventilators to be sent to the region and for the Administration to develop a national manufacturing goal for new ventilators.
- I called on the CMS Administrator to give hospitals in our region and across the state more flexibility so they can maximize care delivery and respond to the critical health care needs.
- I heard from the Washington State Hospital Association, labor union leaders, and several of our region’s hospital leaders regarding the need for more personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line caregivers. Leveraging the Defense Production Act can increase the supply of masks, respirators, and other PPE. But – as PPE gets produced – it’s also vital that resources get to the places with the most need and the least supply. This can’t be a free-for-all like the toilet paper shelf at the grocery store. The lives of our medical professionals depend on having a coordinated response. Late Friday night, I joined several of my colleagues on a call with the leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services to advocate for the needs of our region.
- I advocated for congressional leadership to support our rural hospitals in the next stimulus package and provide additional resources to help these hospitals and health care providers - to ensure we can get more testing for patients, more PPE for workers, and expand telehealth services.
There’s more work to do – but I’m continuing to fight for the first responders and medical professionals in our region.
Calling for Economic Support for Washington’s Workers and Families
Last week, the federal government took another step toward ensuring it steps up to the scale and seriousness this public health crisis deserves – with the Senate passing and the President signing into law the House’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
This legislation, which I voted to support two weeks ago, included a bipartisan measure I led to provide disaster unemployment assistance to people who are unable to work due to the current coronavirus outbreak, provides paid leave, establishes free coronavirus testing, expands food assistance for vulnerable children and families, protects frontline health workers, and provides additional funding to states for the ongoing economic consequences of the pandemic, among other provisions.
It’s a step in the right direction, but there is plenty more to do. As I mentioned, work is underway on a third emergency response package to stimulate the economy and assist in addressing the urgency of testing. As part of that process, the Washington congressional delegation stood united and sent a bipartisan letter to Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader McCarthy, and five House Committee Chairs, to urge Congress to address some of Washington state’s growing economic challenges in the next coronavirus-related stimulus bill.
The delegation called on House leaders to support workers and employers to mitigate the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak by:
- Expanding access to economic assistance;
- Increasing investments to prevent housing displacement;
- Creating parity for Tribes; and
- Providing direct assistance to individuals.
These policies reflect the needs of state, local, and tribal officials as communities across the state are adapting to prolonged social distancing measures.
"We hope you will consider the following proposals, many of which were developed by Washington state officials and our local communities who are working tirelessly to mitigate the deep economic impacts that our state is already experiencing, and that are beginning to expand nationwide,” we wrote.
I’ll keep pushing to ensure these priorities will be included in the next stimulus package.
Supporting Our Small Businesses
Earlier this month, I voted to support the Coronavirus Preparedness Supplemental Appropriations Act, an $8.3 billion funding package to respond to this public health emergency. That bill included a provision I took the lead on to deal with some of the economic impacts of this.
Last Monday, I hosted a conference call with the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber for over 600 small businesses and nonprofits across our region to talk about the federal and state resources being made available to help. It’s important that we’ve got their backs during this time of instability and disruption.
If you missed the call - or you’d like to listen to the full Q&A session to learn how you can get help - tune in here.
Answering Your Questions
My number one priority is serving all of you, and in these changing times I’m doing what I can to make sure I’m hearing directly from you and answering your questions. Last Monday, I held a telephone town hall with Dr. Alex Greninger, the assistant director of the University of Washington Medicine Clinical Virology Laboratory and Dr. Nathan Schlicher, president-elect of the Washington State Medical Association, to talk about the federal government’s response to COVID-19 and to answer your questions about this public health emergency.
We were joined by over 5,000 folks from our region – who had questions ranging from how Washington is increasing testing, what to do if you have symptoms, how the federal government can provide more resources to help workers and small businesses, and how our communities can support the most vulnerable among us. I really enjoyed hearing from so many of you and answering your questions. If you missed it, you can listen to the whole conversation here.
Remember – Kindness is Contagious Too
Amidst this immense challenge, I’m constantly finding myself amazed by the ways in which our communities are coming together to address these challenges. From folks in Grays Harbor providing childcare for first responders and medical personnel families, to the Peninsula Daily News and Olympic Community Action Programs creating a COVID-19 relief fund to help neighbors on the North Olympic Peninsula impacted by layoffs, to folks on Bainbridge working together to get more supplies into the hands of health care workers – people are embracing the notion that we’re all in this together. It makes me proud to be a Washingtonian.
Find the Resources You Need
As a reminder, for the latest local information, resources, and health guidance related to COVID-19, please visit the Washington State Department of Health website.
Need a phone number to call with questions about the virus? The DOH also operates a hotline, with multiple language assistance, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily at 1-800-525-0127.
As always, my team and I are here to help – send me a note and let us know how we can lend a hand. I’m honored to represent you.