PORT ORCHARD — U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer of the 6th Congressional District stated the “obvious” to Port Orchard City Council members at their scheduled meeting on June 8: “Not to be Captain Obvious here, but this has been a really hard 15 months.”
The Democrat, who represents the Kitsap Peninsula in Congress, shared his perspective with council members about the past year and a half in Congress amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While House members had their share of both accomplishments and histrionics during this volatile period, Kilmer said much of what he has focused on involved the impacts of the pandemic on his constituents.
“The most important decision in the last year I made was not a vote I cast or a position I took on a specific issue,” Kilmer said to the council remotely via teleconferencing. “It was a commitment I made that if one of my constituents reached out to my office [after] having lost a job or lost a business or a loved one because of this pandemic, I was going to reach out to them directly. I wouldn’t send them a form letter — I’d call them.”
Not surprisingly, Kilmer said he had “dozens and dozens” of conversations over the past year.
“They’ve really informed my work this past year and [it] has fostered a sense of urgency.”
The congressman said he spoke with a woman living on the peninsula who told him she had worked her adult life up until March last year when she lost her job.
“The woman told me, ‘I used to organize the food drive for my employer.’ She said that this was the first time she had to go to the food bank because she couldn’t afford groceries to feed her family.”
Kilmer said congressional action that was taken to pass the American Rescue Plan “was about helping her and making sure her and others in her circumstance could put food on their table.”
He also shared the story of a Kitsap small business owner who has owned a restaurant for decades. The man related that he wonders how his establishment will survive until the end of this year.
“When Congress passed the American Rescue Plan earlier this year, it was about helping that business owner and other small business owners, and extending that Payback Protection Program and providing some new grant-based resources for restaurants, bars and coffee shops.”
Kilmer said his heart-to-heart talks often took on an intensely personal tone.
“I talked with a son who was heartbroken with anguish in his voice when he talked about not being able to visit his mom in the hospital before she died from COVID,” he said. “So part of my push in support of the American Rescue Plan was to make sure that we were getting more shots in more arms quickly.
“Our country has made extraordinary progress on that front with over 300 million vaccinations administered across the country. And that’s pretty incredible, considering that number was zero not too long ago.”
Childcare also was a significant concern of parents in Kilmer’s district. He said many have been struggling to find affordable, as well as safe and reliable, coverage — often difficult in normal times, exceedingly tough during the pandemic. He said the American Rescue Plan has helped to expand that coverage to those needing help, including families whose wage earners lost their jobs over the past year and a half.
He said changes to the tax code, expansion of the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit are expected to cut childhood poverty in the U.S. in half this year.
“A lot of the conversations I’ve had over the past year have been heartbreaking but they have definitely kept me motivated,” Kilmer said. “They’ve kept my fires burning to keep pushing the federal government to take action, to help folks move along.”
Kilmer lauded municipal, county and state leaders for their work on the front lines during the pandemic.
“You have borne additional costs, and rather than seeing those costs borne by taxpayers in Port Orchard, the federal government has got to help out,” the congressman said.
“Toward that end, the American Rescue Plan does provide support to our state to the tune of $4.5 billion in state fiscal relief, but also to local governments as well.”
He said Kitsap County’s government is expected to receive roughly $52 million; Port Orchard is in line to receive more than $3 million in relief funding.
“Part of the value of that is in recognizing some of the costs that you’ve borne as a consequence of the pandemic,” Kilmer said. “These are flexible funds that can be used to help public health expenditures — everything from COVID mitigation efforts to medical expenses, and behavioral and mental health treatment.
“And it can even be used for some basic infrastructure — things like water, sewer and broadband, which are eligible uses for those funds.”
Kilmer said President Biden’s framework for an infrastructure bill is being negotiated now in Congress.
“[It] doesn’t just focus on roads and bridges, which are undeniably important, but also things like wastewater, water systems, affordable housing infrastructure and broadband. I think those infrastructure investments can be really important for putting people to work, but also in laying the foundation for economic growth out there for the long haul.”
Kilmer told council members that half of his staff works on casework for constituents. He encouraged district residents to contact his district office if they have issues involving the Veterans Administration, Social Security, the Small Business Administration, or other federal agencies.