State offers $135 million in grants, loans for businesses

By Rachel La Corte

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee has announced $135 million in grants, loans and other assistance to help businesses and workers hurt by new restrictions he imposed through mid-December in response to a rising number of coronavirus cases across the state.

At a news conference on Friday, Inslee said businesses would be able to apply for $70 million in grants, as well as $30 million in loans to help offset the business restrictions that took effect this week, including the closure of fitness facilities and gyms, bowling centers and movie theaters, and the requirement that restaurants and bars be limited to to-go service and outdoor dining.

Those restrictions come after businesses had started to regain activity as restrictions from the initial stay-at-home order issued in March were loosened in May.

The economic package also includes $20 million in rental assistance and $15 million in utility payment assistance for those with low income. All of the funding is part of federal coronavirus outbreak assistance funds distributed to states.

“We are in a very difficult situation and we are acting to save people’s lives in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “But we also need to act to help people’s economic prospects hurt by this pandemic.”

The amount is more than double the amount Inslee initially cited when announcing the restrictions. The Department of Commerce said that businesses should be able to apply for grants by next week, but the loan program will not be available until early next year.

Inslee this week received letters from a group of democratic lawmakers, the Washington Hospitality Association and the Association of Washington Business all asking him to reconsider or modify the restrictions on restaurants, citing concerns about increased job losses.

“There are a lot of critiques of what we have proposed that are sincere and not illogical, but I want to point out that inaction is not an option here,” Inslee said.

“I think we’ve taken reasonable action.”

Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, said in a written statement that the “best relief for our operators and employees is to let us get back to work.”

“We want to work with the governor to get our operators open again now, even if at reduced capacity, so we can earn enough to keep our workers employed during the holidays and hopefully help the business survive,” he said, saying that businesses would require greater economic relief if required to keep their doors closed.

In a statement, Senate Republican leader Mark Schoesler said that the package “is a start, but it is not nearly enough.”

“If the governor truly wants to provide adequate relief for Washingtonians, he must call a special session immediately,” Schoesler wrote.

Inslee has repeatedly said he does not believe a special session is needed before the start of the regular legislative session, which begins in January.

This week, the governors of Colorado and New Mexico called special legislative sessions to deal with the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

As of this week, there have been more than 139,000 confirmed cases in the state and 2,619 deaths, according to the state Department of Health.

The U.S. has recorded more than 11.8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 253,000 deaths.

For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, although long-term effects are unknown. But for some, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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