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With Congress Back in Session, Push for COVID-19 Relief Grows

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States are closely watching negotiations over a novel coronavirus relief package in Congress. (sherryvsmith/Adobe Stock)
States are closely watching negotiations over a novel coronavirus relief package in Congress. (sherryvsmith/Adobe Stock)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
September 8, 2020

SEATTLE -- Members of Congress are back in Washington, D.C., after their summer recess and novel coronavirus relief is the biggest looming issue in front of them.

Because of COVID-19's hit to the economy, the situation for Washingtonians is dire: 445,000 households do not have enough food, impacting more than 260,000 children, according to a report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Misha Werschkul, executive director of the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, said the lack of federal relief is making the crisis worse.

"Congress needs to act as soon as possible to get a significant relief package that addresses a number of different areas," said Werschkul, "including unemployment insurance, assistance for states and local governments, and food assistance."

House Democrats passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act in May.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she would be willing to negotiate down to $2.2 trillion. Senate Republicans are aiming for relief costing closer to $1 trillion.

At the same time, communities of color are bearing the brunt of the pandemic in Washington state. Werschkul said Latino and Black Washingtonians have experienced COVID-19 at higher rates than their white peers.

"There's a link between the structural inequities that existed prior to this pandemic," said Werschkul, "and then what happens when you layer in such a significant public health crisis with a failing government response."

Werschkul sees federal aid to state and local governments as an important piece of relief from Congress. She said Washington state will have to change its response if aid doesn't come in.

"We'll see a lot more talk of state leaders having to make these kinds of knee-jerk cuts that we know would have a devastating individual and household impact," said Werschkul, "would harm our ability to respond to the pandemic and would slow our economic recovery."

Gov. Jay Inslee has resisted calling Washington state lawmakers to a special session to address budget concerns from COVID-19 so far. He said he's waiting for this month's state revenue forecast and to learn what aid might be coming from the federal government.

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