Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are experiencing unusually dry, spring weather. The pandemic has forced all of us home. Farming is in full swing, at least for the winter wheat regions. Mornings in my home legislative office in Pomeroy are filled with Zoom meetings, phone calls, and emails, trying to get resources from the bureaucracy to people who are doing their best to stay hopeful and adapt. In the afternoons, clearing brush and breaking ground for my Liberty Garden provides the mental clarity I need to sustain in these troubling times.
I take hope when I hear all of you working hard, creating new ideas to serve your neighbors and community. In the heartlands of our state, we will defend our civil liberties while we are doing what is right to protect our vulnerable.
I hope you and your family are well and staying safe as we get through this pandemic together. I wanted to take a few minutes to provide an update on the coronavirus situation.
Governor extension of stay home order very disappointing as other states plan for safe reopening
I share the pent-up frustration of people being told by Gov. Jay Inslee they must stay home, and all but “essential businesses” must stay closed until he says otherwise. Most of us have voluntarily done our part under the governor's “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order that was set to expire May 4. But Friday, the governor announced he will extend that order until May 31 or longer.
That's just not acceptable! Businesses are dying, including our local agriculture economy, and so are dreams. I care about lives, but I also care about livelihoods. We need a balance to ensure people can stay safe and healthy, but also respect individual rights. With specific provisions, we should be able to moderately open certain sectors in agriculture that are shut down, as well as other areas of our economy.
After being urged by legislative leaders in all four caucuses, the governor finally released a reopening plan Friday — a four-phase approach with Phase 1 possibly being implemented fully by mid-May. However, he did not give a firm timeline on the next phases, except to say it would be a minimum of three weeks between moving to the next reopening phase at the minimum. See his Four-Phased Chart here.
At best, this means mid-July before our state is fully re-opened — which is much longer than other states, including Colorado, which is part of Gov. Inslee's Western States Pact. This means it could be weeks before Phase One businesses could get the governor's approval to restart. Again, NOT acceptable!
If there's one bright spot from the governor's plan, it is that he has identified 10 counties that could apply to reopen and move ahead sooner within the phases. Garfield, Lincoln and Columbia counties are among those.
The governor has made some small concessions in his orders. He's allowing construction projects previously underway to be completed and is opening some recreational opportunities on May 5. And he's going to allow limited elective surgeries. But for now, that's it.
By the time all four phases are implemented, recovery could be too late for many small businesses and farmers. I trust our citizens to use the same cautions and social distancing at our small businesses, farms and our local storefronts as allowed now at some of the larger retail chain stores allowed under the governor's order. So why can't we get Washington working NOW?
Republicans in the Legislature put forward a Safe Economic Restart Plan on April 17 that accelerates reopening in a safe manner in all sectors of our state. You can view it here.
Tons of potatoes given away in Ritzville and Moses Lake as growers struggle from COVID-19 restrictions
People lined up in their cars Wednesday in Ritzville and at the Grant County Fairgrounds in Moses Lake Thursday as tons of potatoes were given away. Additional loads will be distributed over the next two to three weeks to local charities, food banks, churches and individuals in Washington state.
The “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order has dealt an enormous blow to potato farmers because 90 percent of all Eastern Washington frozen potato products are used in restaurants and other food service establishments. When those places closed, processing plants curtailed or closed their operations. Now there are more than three billion pounds of potatoes in storage and at least one billion without a home. Because cold storage freezers are full, these potatoes won't be processed, and they have a short shelf life. So growers are making an enormous sacrifice to give these potatoes away and help feed our communities at the same time.
The potato market saturation is only part of the problem. Growers were on track to plant 170 thousand acres of potatoes that were destined for frozen potato processors in Washington and Oregon. Many have already planted the crop, or they had prepared the ground for planting and had taken delivery of seed potatoes. Many had invested nearly $2,300 per acre before planting their first potato. And then the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent restrictions hit. Now Washington growers are looking at about $73 million in losses, and it is so late in the season that many will not be able to find alternative crops to grow that could recover their losses.
I'm very concerned about food shortages at the end of this year. It's one of many reasons why Gov. Inslee should move much more rapidly in safely reopening our economy — and let growers grow their crops so they can do what they do best — feed the world.
Read more about this giveaway from local news coverage:
- Tons of spuds – Ritzville Journal
- People flock from across region for Moses Lake potato giveaway – Columbia Basin Herald
- Folks flock to Ritzville to pick up potatoes farmers can't sell – Spokesman Review
- Potato farmers get hit hard by coronavirus, now they are giving spuds away – KNDO/KNDU TV
- Washington potato farmers donate 20 tons of potatoes to Ritzville community – KXLY TV
- Washington farmers donate nearly 20 tons of potatoes – KREM TV
- Washington farmers giving away nearly 20 tons of potatoes in Ritzville – KHQ TV
Here are some of the best informational resources in the state on COVID-19:
- Washington State Coronavirus Response (Official state portal)
- Coronavirus Information and Resources (House Republicans)
- Business employers and employees
- Governor's Office Coronavirus Page
- Employment Security Department (ESD)
- Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association
Other random acts of kindness
When we are challenged with such an enormous threat to health and safety, it is amazing to witness the random acts of kindness within our local communities. In addition to the potato giveaway, here are a few examples:
- When it began to become clear that the supply chain for personal protection equipment was threatened, an ingenious Tri-State Hospital employee found a way to make the re-use of masks safe. The hospital located an old industrial device suitable for sanitizing surgical masks. The hospital offered to sterilize masks not just for their workers but for local agencies who also were facing shortages;
- When hand sanitizer was in short supply, Sheriff Drew Hyer of Garfield County worked his law enforcement contacts. They put him in touch with a Seattle entrepreneur who was producing the product by the gallon. Hyer then connected with the Civil Air Patrol, which flew in 70 gallons at no charge. The sheriff was able to distribute the sanitizer to numerous counties that were running low;
- The word we are getting is that at least one local mayor—Troy Wilson of Tekoa—has been picking up and delivering food and prescriptions and delivering to elderly shut-ins;
- Meanwhile, Richard Kelly, who runs Tekoa Market, regularly stands in line for hours at local big box stores to purchase products to supplement his stock. Kelly is one of several groceries in the region who have been unable to obtain a complete complement of products due to supply chain disruption;
- Families in need who receive food from the Pullman food bank will sometimes find a gift card included. Donations to the Community Action Center's “Pullman Serves It Forward” are being used to purchase the gift cards, which are good for meals at participating local restaurants; and
- Dozens of people throughout the district are sewing masks for friends and neighbors.
Thank you for everything you are doing to help your neighbors and our communities. It makes me so proud to be living in the 9th District with our caring and involved citizens.
Read an update of the 2020 legislative session
The 9th District 2020 Session Review newsletter from me and my seatmates, Sen. Mark Schoesler and Rep. Joe Schmick should be landing in local mailboxes soon. You can read all about our session activities and accomplishments by reading this newsletter. I have posted it online and you can download it here.
Please stay safe and in touch!
Even though session has finished, I maintain an office throughout the year in Olympia. During this COVID-19 quarantine, all employees at the state Capitol are working from home, including my legislative assistant, Ruth Johnson. We are still available to help you. A special phone number in Olympia has been set up for this telecommute period. It is (360) 339-7052. My regular Olympia office number will be back in service once we return to the Capitol.
Also, the Legislature's election-year freeze becomes effective May 11. From this date until after the election, I am not allowed to send further email updates, such as this one, unless we are in special session. However, I am allowed to respond to your emails, phone calls and letters. I encourage you to stay in contact with me any time you have questions, comments or ideas about legislation.
It is my honor to serve you and the 9th Legislative District!