Dear friends and neighbors,
I hope this Fantastic Friday finds you safe and healthy. I want to let you know that this will be my last official Fantastic Friday of 2020. Starting May 11th, election year activity restrictions prohibit lawmakers from sending mass email updates like these until the November election is certified. My newly updated legislative website will be frozen and my official Facebook page will be down during that time, but that doesn’t prevent you from staying in touch with me! I value hearing from you and learning from your perspectives, so please continue to reach out. Also, I encourage you to learn more about my legislative priorities on my new Issues Tab.
Below you will find a brief update and resources for those struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, I know that many community members will continue to have questions and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and what’s next for Washington. To help answer those, please visit coronavirus.wa.gov or email my office and we will assist you in whatever way we can.
Thank you for continuing to stay home to stay healthy during this pandemic.
A Note on the Intalco Closure
I was greatly saddened by the announcement that Alcoa Corporation will close the Intalco Works smelter and cut 700 jobs, as these are 700 employees and families who live in our Northwest Legislative Districts. This closure is devastating to our workers, their families, and our community. I was honored to be invited by my colleague, Rep. Sharon Shewmake, to the meetings she is leading in order to make sure that Intalco workers have every option possible to continue to work. She recently virtually convened Intalco workers, labor representatives, Alcoa corporate representatives, economists and a bipartisan group of local, state, and federal policymakers to discuss potential solutions. Learn more about the work the group is doing in this recent press release.
The Safe Start Plan to Re-open Washington
With the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order extended until the end of May, Governor Inslee has outlined his Safe Start phased approach to safely reopen our state.
We are in Phase 1, which began on May 5th. In this phase, we will continue to stay home and limit trips to only essential travel. Some outdoor recreation, including state parks and hiking, have been opened, in addition to drive-in religious services.
Every 3 weeks, the Governor’s office and Cabinet will evaluate public health data to determine if we are ready to advance to the next phase. This data includes health care system readiness, testing capacity, contact tracing ability, and risk to vulnerable populations. Over the course of the four phases, our goal is to balance our public health and economic needs.
The metrics and steps in this plan are crucial components to reopening Washington safely, slowly, and thoughtfully. Following the guidelines in the Safe Start plan will help prevent both another peak in COVID-19 infection rates and a further extension of the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. Read more about what each phase includes.
My Recent Work on COVID-19 Relief
Over the past 100 plus days, the House of Representatives has worked in collaboration with our Senate counterparts and the Governor’s office as the pandemic continues to impact the health of our citizens, economy, families, and communities. In Northwest Washington, we have over 800 agriculture and dairy farmers, vendors, and industries that rely upon a healthy harvesting system. Our communities are intertwined with migrant farmers who have put their lives at risk as essential workers. The migrant men and women, and their children are all facing the pandemic and have asked the federal and state governments to provide a safe place for them, as they’ve been deemed essential workers. I have worked with my legislative and congressional partners, along with migrant workers organizations and unions to find pathways for providing a safe and healthy workplace for our migrant workers.
Housing: The migrant farm workers are seeking safe housing from now until as late as November. This means they need housing and not army tents, as the heat is unbearable in the summer and cold and raining in the fall and early winter. Adequate housing means no bunk beds, no military cots, no plastic hanging between the beds.
Transportation: The migrant workers are often transported between camps and fields in buses, thus we will need to find alternative schedules and transportation.
Testing: In Eastern Washington there are three migrant camps with outbreaks soaring in numbers. Farmers have been asked to talk to their workers and evaluate if they are sick or not through questions. This is not adequate, and we need more COVID-19 testing.
PPE and Sanitation: Sanitization products need to comply with the Governor’s proclamation on essential workers. I’ve helped facilitate conversations between the Governor’s office, the Department of Agriculture (WSDA), as well as growers and distillers from around the state to ensure our farmworkers have access to adequate supplies of hand sanitizer. Bringing these groups to the table has led to the Governor’s office and WSDA working with the distilleries on a state purchase order to provide our growers and farmworkers the much needed immediate relief.
Legislative Work Groups
In addition to helping to coordinate conversations around essential workers, I’ve also been involved in multiple legislative work groups on the COVID-19 response, designed to focus on specific issue areas and provide solutions and recommendations. I’m currently participating in the economic resiliency work group to discuss not only the re-opening process, but also to develop policy ideas that will help Washington state’s economy recover. In addition, I’m also serving on the tribal and state relations work group, as well as the work group focused on immigrants, refugees, and undocumented people. Each of these groups is working toward ensuring these marginalized communities receive the supports they need during this trying time.
Communicating with our Federal Counterparts
State legislators are also working together to provide input and recommendations to our congressional delegation on how federal aid can best help Washington. For example, COVID-19 is having serious impacts and with over 1 million Washingtonians filing for unemployment insurance it is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. We know we will need support from the federal government to mitigate this unprecedented crisis, which is why I recently signed on to a letter asking our delegation to support the Paycheck Guarantee Act, a proposed federal policy that would help businesses keep workers on their payroll.
It takes all governing bodies working together and joining my state legislative colleagues in signing this letter is one of many examples of senators and representatives sharing our voices with congressional members to make a difference in the COVID-19 crisis. We rise together.
Resources and Information for Students
Western Washington University (WWU) resources for students experiencing financial hardship
- Food, housing and financial assistance: WWU has established a Student Emergency Fund to provide relief for students who are experiencing food and housing insecurity, those whose families are confronting job loss or illness, and for those who are hungry and unable to afford even basic necessities. WWU students can apply for financial help from this fund here.
- Other financial assistance: CARES Act grants for students – WWU students who have incurred expenses due to COVID-19 may also be eligible for emergency grant funding from the federal CARES Act recently passed by Congress. Eligible expense include such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, child care, utilities, transportation and expenses related to cancellation of foreign study trips. Students can apply for the emergency aid here.
Additional information from WWU on the COVID-19 pandemic, including FAQs, can be found on the university’s dedicated page.
Other state resources for college students
- Student loan support – The Washington Student Achievement Council provides student loan support to students and families across the state. Students can email email@example.com with questions.
- WA College & Career Compass – This online tool helps students explore educational programs across the state that match their career interests and connect them with a campus to get additional support.
Worker and Workplace Protections
The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) requires employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace and to implement the Governor’s proclamation to ensure coronavirus prevention. Employers must ensure:
- social distancing for employees and customers;
- frequent and adequate employee handwashing;
- that sick employees stay home or go home if they feel ill; and
- basic workplace hazard education about the coronavirus and how to prevent transmission in the language best understood by the employee.
Additional information and resources to help businesses keep their employees and customers safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the L&I website.
As our communities face incredible pain and suffering caused by the global pandemic and consequence of an economic crisis, now is the time to begin the healing process and building future resilience. The Coast Salish people have long understood the importance of collective healing in response to shared historical trauma, as well as holding the power of traditional and cultural practices in order to overcome hardship. It is important to recognize and pursue a healing process in a time of crisis so our communities can begin the recovery practice as a collective group and not remain isolated with the grief.
WWU has proposed, and I have been involved in conversations around building a traditional Coast Salish style longhouse to serve as a “house of healing” and educational center to promote cultural exchange and supportive understanding for the communities served by the institution. By acknowledging the past trauma and suffering of Indigenous people and all ethnic groups, the dedication of providing a place of healing and support will benefit the recovery process.
Northwest Washington Regional Virtual Town Hall
Thank you to those of you who tuned into our Northwest Washington Regional Virtual Community Conversation on Facebook Live this past Monday! I, along with Sen. Liz Lovelett and Reps. Alex Ramel, Sharon Shewmake, and Dave Paul answered many of your questions about COVID-19 and the future of our state.
If you were not able to join live, click on the image below to watch it now.
Thank you all for taking to the time to read this week’s Fantastic Friday. Please feel free to reach out to me using the information below, with any questions, inquiries, or concerns you may have.
I am here for you!
All best wishes,
Rep. Debra Lekanoff