Hearing from Washingtonians During the Coronavirus Pandemic

On Tuesday, I spoke with small business owners and leaders from Spokane, Walla Walla, Pullman, Colville, and other Eastern Washington communities about their difficulties procuring loans and relief funding, and the need for more government assistance through programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program in order to keep local businesses afloat. This insight is essential as I work to improve the current grant and loan relief system, and strengthen relief funding for small businesses to weather this crisis.

After fighting to include specific relief for veterans’ health care in the CARES Act, it was important to me to get an update directly from veterans service providers in the Spokane area. Speaking with providers at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, Spokane Vets Center, Spokane Veterans Home and Spokane County Veteran’s Service gave me a good look at how they’re adapting to support veterans during this crisis and how I can best prioritize their needs in the next coronavirus package.

There is no doubt that our hospitals are on the frontlines of this pandemic. In a discussion with rural hospitals from Pullman, Davenport, Republic, and other regional communities, I heard about a number of unique challenges they’re facing, which include:
▪️ severe revenue drops,
▪️ limited personal protective equipment (PPE) access, and
▪️ dire funding needs.

This only reinforced the need for me to get rural hospitals the funding they need and health care workers the supplies they need to safely treat patients and help save lives.

The coronavirus pandemic touches every part of our state in different ways. On Wednesday, I spoke with folks in Central Washington to get a sense of the specific challenges they’re facing and how I can help.

During a phone meeting with migrant education specialists, I heard about the challenges migrant families are dealing with as they adapt to distance learning due to school closures — including language barriers, lack of adequate internet access and computer equipment, and families’ demanding work environments and child care needs — which are in many cases exacerbated by families’ immigration status. We have to do everything we can to make sure migrant students don’t fall further behind during the pandemic, and that means expanding and providing additional aid to schools and the students they serve.

Researchers at PNNL also shared with me how they’re working to address the pandemic through laboratory work, testing innovation, and research towards an eventual vaccine. PNNL and its workers play a critical role in our response efforts, which is why made sure contract workers are able to be paid during the on-going crisis.

I heard from health care providers and mental health experts about the mental health toll that this crisis is taking on children and first responders in Central Washington. Increased funding and grants provided in the CARES Act was a needed first step, but we must continue making investments to support local mental and behavioral health providers and our public health infrastructure, staffing, and training in future legislation.

To hear more about the challenges in Southwest Washington, I spoke with public health directors and shellfish growers and farmers to hear from them about the toll this is taking in their communities.

Public health officials from Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat, and other Southwest Washington counties emphasized the need for more PPE for health care workers, increased testing, and significant investments in the region’s health care infrastructure. Our workers on the frontlines of this pandemic — including in smaller communities and rural areas — need more support, and I’m committed to fighting for them and other local priorities in the next federal coronavirus package.

Also, beginning in January, shellfish sales have dramatically decreased and have not recovered, forcing many growers to lay off employees and leaving numerous farmers unemployed. I spoke with shellfish farmers and growers from Willapa Bay to Coupeville about the difficulties they’ve faced accessing the Small Business Administration’s lending programs. And I assured them I will work to retool and strengthen federal small business assistance programs — including the Paycheck Protection Program — so that crucial agricultural and aquacultural industries, such as the shellfish industry, are not overlooked.

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Senator Patty Murray

Senator Patty Murray

Official account of U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)