PORT TOWNSEND — Much of the focus, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer said, “has been on trying to stop the bleeding.”
Referring to Congress’ efforts to respond to the pandemic, Kilmer, whose 6th District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, spoke Thursday evening to the Intergovernmental Collaborative Group.
He was the guest on a Zoom meeting with the ICG, which includes representatives of the Port Townsend City Council, Board of Jefferson County Commissioners, the Jefferson County Public Utilities District and the Port of Port Townsend.
Within the next month, the focus at the Capitol will shift toward “trying to get this economy off the mat,” said Kilmer, a Democrat who grew up in Port Angeles and now lives in Gig Harbor.
The recovery effort will likely take the form of an infrastructure and relief package — as in some $1.9 trillion worth of projects. Beyond roads and bridges, it potentially funds public transit, stormwater and wastewater infrastructure, modernization of the energy grid and school improvements.
The package also addresses two high-priority problems in the North Olympic Peninsula: broadband access and affordable housing.
“The tag line is ‘infrastructure by Independence Day.’ I’d love to see it happen sooner,” Kilmer said.
“I am conscious of the fact that a lot of the issues we face were problems before COVID,” he added, hence the legislation he and his colleagues in Congress hope to introduce in early spring.
At this point, it’s called the “Build Back Better Act,” a bill aiming to provide grants to distressed local labor markets, based on President Joe Biden’s plan for recovery.
“Most of my district qualifies as distressed, unfortunately,” Kilmer said.
“The idea here is to make sure that, as we recover, everybody’s part of that recovery,” including the rural North Olympic Peninsula.
As soon as Kilmer finished his talk, Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval posed a question: Can some of the Build Back Better money be used to develop housing, since having that is essential for attracting workers?
How the funds are spent will depend on community needs, Kilmer replied.
Localities could invest in worker training or broadband access, he said, while others may choose affordable housing and child care. The idea is to be flexible.
Port Commissioner Bill Putney asked how recovery dollars will be distributed: by amount of money lost by an organization or by percentage of lost revenue?
The latter is what’s in the bill, Kilmer replied.
“The first bite of apple,” he said, will be available to those who lost 90 percent of their revenues during the pandemic; the second bite to businesses that saw 70 percent of their revenue vanish.
Jefferson County District 3 Commissioner Greg Brotherton brought up what he called a looming “cascade of homelessness” that could befall the country as eviction moratoriums come to an end.
“That’s part of the reason the Biden Admin has advocated funding for rental assistance … to get rent actually paid,” Kilmer said, adding that both tenants and landlords can benefit from such help.
Across the nation, “we need 10 to 12 million more housing units,” he said, including workforce, senior and transitional housing for people who’ve been homeless.
Kilmer emphasized that, besides his staff’s work at the U.S. Capitol, they do casework, helping seniors and veterans get their Social Security and Veterans Administration benefits, helping entrepreneurs with Small Business Administration loans and assisting people with immigration issues.
“We go to work on their behalf,” he said, and he encourages people who are having such troubles to contact his office.
“We’re not good at solving problems we don’t know about,” Kilmer said.
To contact Kilmer’s staff, visit kilmer.house.gov; his Port Angeles office is located at 332 E. Fifth St., and staff is available at 360-797-3623.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]