Gov. Inslee signs COVID-19 relief spending bill distributing $2.2 billion in federal aid

More than $2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding will be allocated across Washington state under a measure signed into law Friday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The measure, which received strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate this month, spends $2.2 billion on various efforts, including vaccine administration, rental assistance and money for school districts as they move back toward in-classroom teaching.

"The focus this year is relief, recovery and resilience, and this legislation will make big progress in all three," Inslee said before signing the bill.

Under the bill, $714 million will be allocated to schools as they move toward welcoming students back to the classroom. An additional $618 million will go toward vaccine administration, contact tracing and testing, and $365 million will go toward rental assistance to help renters and landlords affected by the pandemic.

The bill also allocates $240 million to small business assistance grants that will be administered through the state Department of Commerce and $70 million to assist undocumented immigrants impacted by the pandemic who do not qualify for federal or state assistance. An additional $50 million is for grants to help childcare businesses stay open and expand capacity, and $26 million is for food assistance. The measure has an emergency clause and takes effect immediately.

For schools to be eligible to receive funding, they must submit an updated school reopening plan to the Office of the Superintendent of Instruction by March 1. Money allocated to schools can be used in a variety of ways, including projects to improve the air quality in school facilities and addressing learning loss among students.

A spokeswoman for the state superintendent of schools said that about 30% of the state’s 1.1 million public schools students are receiving some kind of in-person learning.

Earlier this week, Inslee announced that the state was expanding COVID-19 testing options for more public schools and said more students should have access to in-person learning.

On Thursday, he toured Puyallup’s Firgrove Elementary School, which has had students on hybrid in-person and remote schedules since January. It was his second public school tour this month.

Decisions about how and when to reopen schools to students are largely left to individual districts. Several districts – including Seattle, the state’s largest – have been closed for in-person instruction for almost a year during the pandemic. Some teacher unions have expressed safety concerns about returning to the classroom, especially as teachers under age 65 are not yet able to receive a vaccine.