On Friday, February 19, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a $2.2 billion COVID relief package passed by the state legislature, aimed at helping individuals and businesses most severely impacted by the pandemic. Among some of the allocations that may impact restaurants and their workers are $365 for housing and rental assistance, $240 million for small business assistance grants, and $65 for immigration services.
Having grants as a major component of the new relief bill is good news for those that have already accrued piles of debt during the pandemic. And the amount of money available for those grants is more than double that than what was doled out in late 2020 when Inslee distributed federal money aimed at helping businesses. A companion bill signed assures that businesses and individuals don’t have to pay taxes on the emergency grants. Rent assistance, childcare, and programs that help immigrants who may not have access to other aid are vital parts of the relief package.
But it’s unclear how much of the money will find its way specifically to local restaurants and workers. Washingtons’ Office Department of Commerce tells Eater Seattle that the program parameters for the grant program are still being developed, although in the last grant round there were no caps for any regions. Applications to the new round will open in March, and data on how many grants went to King County businesses will be available once the program is finished. It’s also worth noting that all restaurants must compete in a pool with other types of businesses heavily impacted by the pandemic, and there will likely be high demand. “Commerce will work with industry partners to do outreach to ensure that restaurants have full and appropriate access,” says a rep from the department.
The signing comes on the heels of another bill intended to help small businesses. Inslee recently signed legislation which reduces an anticipated spike in unemployment taxes, promising to save small businesses about $920 million in 2021 and $1.7 billion total over the next five years. The bill also has a provision to raise the minimum weekly unemployment benefit for lower-wage workers and allows those who need to quit their jobs during future public health emergencies access to unemployment benefits.
While all of this new legislation includes assistance for restaurants and their workers, there hasn’t been much large-scale state relief that specifically targets the Washington hospitality industry. That’s why all eyes may now be on the federal government, which has been working on a restaurants aid package that totals $25 billion. A full House vote on that bill may come as soon as next week.