Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As we have responded to the tragic situation brought on by the new coronavirus, our lives have changed to protect the most vulnerable because we value them and we care. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by this disease.
When it comes to a lot of policy and political decisions, northeast Washington is definitely NOT the Puget Sound region. Many of our issues are different and our way of life is certainly unique. We value independence, hard work and a transparent honesty, both in good times and bad.
The same can be said for the coronavirus situation. While the west side of the state was one of the first locations in the nation to see a surge in COVID-19 cases, northeast Washington hasn't been hit nearly as hard.
In King County, as of today, there are 6,449 confirmed cases with 459 deaths. North of King County is Snohomish County, with 2,509 confirmed cases and 109 deaths, and south of King County is Pierce County with 1,393 cases and 50 deaths.
Contrast those numbers with northeast Washington: Ferry County is at 1 case, 0 deaths. Okanogan County is at 21 cases, 1 death. Pend Oreille County is at 2 cases, 0 deaths. And Stevens County is at 9 cases, 1 death.
The point is, rural life in and of itself somewhat adheres to the “social distancing” guidelines set for the by the CDC. We don't have the population density the west side of the state has. The data has shown that we have not been hit as hard as the governor predicted. But our individuals, families, small businesses, communities and our economy have suffered because of the shutdown.
I believe it's time to reopen Washington!
Legislative leaders propose Safe Economic Restart Plan
Before Gov. Jay Inslee began talking about opening up our state, Republicans in the Legislature released the Safe Economic Restart Plan. We have been working on various concepts for weeks. And we will continue to do so both at the local and state level. Here are some news stories on the plan:
- Republican lawmakers release plan to reopen Washington's economy amid coronavirus (The Seattle Times)
- Challenging Inslee, GOP lawmakers release plan to restart the economy (The News Tribune)
- Legislative Republicans unveil “safe economic restart plan” (The Daily World)
- Inslee facing increasing pressure to allow homebuilding and other sectors to reopen (NW News Network)
In addition, I have been able to speak with media outlets on the west side of the state in an effort to get our economy moving again. As I told Jason Rantz from KTTH:
“We have to make sure that we can respond back. So we get back food on our table, that we can quickly get back to the job at hand, and reshape our economy because it's looking very scary right now if you look at the projections into next year, what will be happening to our families moving forward.”
“We need to move forward. We've done everything we can with the health. We have checkpoints, we have testing available, we just haven't needed it. So allow us to start opening up our businesses again and let us keep going. Let us bring back the economic health to our area. We've done everything right from the beginning, we need a jump start now and really we fit all the criteria to do it tomorrow.”
In a news conference last week, Gov. Inslee extended his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order to May 31 and said it could be extended longer. The governor outlined four phases for reopening businesses and modifying physical distancing measures, including the categories of: high-risk populations; recreation; gatherings; travel; and business/employers. There's a chart that can be found here.
The governor also explained how small counties (Pend Oreille, Ferry, Lincoln, Columbia, Garfield, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kittitas, Skamania and Wahkiakum) could apply to the Department of Health for a variance from his new order, which would allow them to move on to the next phase more quickly.
I believe our region is ready to open now! Yes, there are risks involved if we start to open up our businesses and allow people outside. We've flattened the curve, accepted masks and social distancing, and understand more today than we did when this thing started. I believe we can open our economy smartly, deliberately and with an eye toward the health of all members in our communities.
As we do this, we especially need to be concerned with our rural hospitals. Many were struggling BEFORE the coronavirus. Now, with most people staying home and not going to health care facilities at all (no elective surgeries, no preventative care, etc.), many of our rural hospitals are going to be hurting even more. We need to make sure our hospitals and local health care facilities are financially viable so that if there is a second or third wave to the COVID-19 disease, we have the tools, the facilities and the trained doctors and nurses to help.
Earlier this year, our state economy was riding high and unemployment was low. Today, there is an unprecedented demand for unemployment benefits and uncertainty on when they will be delivered.
If you find yourself in need of assistance, here are some helpful links you can use to navigate our unemployment system:
- COVID-19 information.
- Workers Q&A.
- Unemployment benefits eligibility checker.
- Federal stimulus updates.
- Sign up for ESD COVID-19 action alerts.
Information and resources
There is a lot of information out there. If you want a site that is refreshed daily that has state COVID-19 information, I invite you to bookmark our site, here:
You can also check out a few other sites we have that may help answer questions you or your friends and neighbors may have:
- Summary of coronavirus (COVID-19) proclamations issued by Gov. Inslee
- Summary of coronavirus (COVID-19) clarification letters issued by Gov. Inslee
- FAQ on Governor's authority during an emergency
- The Legislature's role in temporarily waiving statutes and regulations
No time for tax increases…
It is entirely possible that the state Legislature will need to hold a special session later this summer to start dealing with the financial impacts of the coronavirus. The state has spent your tax dollars at an unprecedented and unsustainable rate. Even so, many in Olympia continue to want more. Click here for a list of tax increases sponsored and passed by state Democrats in the past two years.
In addition, we're already hearing that some lawmakers will be pushing for a state income tax. I'm appalled by this line of thinking – you've given more than at any time in state history! And with so many people struggling, now is certainly not the time for government to take more.
Check out this state spending chart below. You can see that even without the coronavirus, lawmakers were spending us into financial trouble:
I will fight against any effort in an upcoming special session to take more of your hard-earned money. Families across our state are tightening their belts as the new financial realities set in; state government should, too.
We've gone through a lot this year and we're all doing the best we can to get through the quarantine together. This is one of the most difficult economic trials of our generation. I hear your concerns and share your fears about the future. However, we can protect our most vulnerable without destroying our economy and families. I will do everything I can to make sure we get through this with healthy communities and a bright economic future.