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Inslee Announces $135 Million in COVID Financial Aid, Restaurants a High Priority

Hard-hit businesses will be eligible for grants and loans

Chairs sit upside down on a table at a restaurant.
The state’s indoor dining ban will be in effect through at least December 14.

On Friday, November 20, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a round of financial assistance totaling $135 million to help Washington businesses, workers, and families hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, using cash from the federal CARES Act. The package will include $70 million in grants and $30 million in loans, which will prioritize small businesses, like restaurants. The funding is open-ended — there are no mandates on what it must be spent on.

As for the rest of the funds, $25 million will go to residential rent assistance, with an additional $15 million allotted to energy assistance for low-income residents. Washington state commerce director Lisa Brown said her department will work to free up access for rural areas and other communities that have traditionally been lagging behind others in obtaining economic support.

New grants will target industries hurting the most due to newly announced pandemic restrictions, which include a four-week ban on indoor dining as COVID cases spike to alarming levels across the state. Inslee also discussed other actions that could potentially impact restaurants, such as easing the potential increase in unemployment insurance taxes for businesses, which could amount to hundreds of millions in relief next year, as well as the recent cap on third-party app fees he already announced November 19.

This week, local lawmakers and hospitality industry representatives put some pressure on the governor to roll back the indoor dining ban. The Washington Hospitality Association estimated that 100,000 restaurant workers could lose their jobs as a result of the restrictions, and so there’s a heightened sense of urgency to get things done to relieve the burden. Inslee didn’t budge on the ban, doubling down on the science behind his decisions in Friday’s press conference. But the amount of funds made available is more than double the $50 million he mentioned earlier this week, and he urged federal lawmakers to act on a larger scale relief package.

“We want to help restaurants through what we hope are short-term limitations,” Inslee said.