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During a series of roundtable phone meetings with educators, PNNL scientists, and health care providers, Senator Murray discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Washington—and what she’s doing to help at the federal level 

Senator Murray heard from educators and health care providers about how the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures are affecting students’, particularly migrant students’, mental health and ability to learn 

Researchers and experts from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) briefed Senator Murray on how PNNL is aiding in Central Washington’s response to this crisis

Senator Murray: “We need to ensure that the specific needs of every region—including communities from Kittitas Valley to Yakima County and the Tri-Cities—are understood and addressed as we work our way out of this crisis”

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate health and education committee, met by phone with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) researchers, as well as Central Washington education and health care leaders, to hear about the variety of challenges that they and students are facing during the current COVID-19 pandemic, and how the federal government can better help them to support those in need. During the discussions, Senator Murray also highlighted her oversight work to ensure that vital funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act quickly reach those in need, and her efforts to secure additional funding for Central Washington priorities in future coronavirus relief legislation.

“This virus touches every part of our state, and we need to ensure that the specific needs of every region—including communities from Kittitas Valley to Yakima County and the Tri-Cities—are understood and addressed as we work our way out of this crisis,” Senator Murray said. “As Congress continues working to provide assistance and relief to families, workers, health care providers, and more, I’m going to keep fighting to ensure that the unique needs of Central Washington, including its historically-overlooked communities, aren’t forgotten.”

Senator Murray kicked things off by hearing from migrant education specialists who highlighted the specific challenges that migrant families are dealing with as they adapt to distance learning due to school closures—including language barriers, lack of adequate internet access and computer equipment, and families’ demanding work environments and child care needs—which are in many cases exacerbated by families’ immigration status. In order to get these students and families the help they need to ensure that migrant students don’t fall further behind during the pandemic, Senator Murray emphasized the need to build on the $216.9 million for Washington state K-12 schools and the $221.5 million for Washington state colleges that she secured in the most recent coronavirus relief package to expand and provide additional aid to schools to continue to serve all students, including migrant students. 

Following that call, Senator Murray spoke with researchers at PNNL to hear about their efforts to help Central Washington address the COVID-19 pandemic through laboratory work, testing innovation, and research towards an eventual vaccine. After fighting to ensure crucial support for PNNL workers in the CARES Act, including securing an important provision to ensure contract workers are able to be paid during the on-going crisis, Senator Murray stressed that she would continue working to get PNNL and all of Central Washington the support they need to navigate this pandemic.

Senator Murray closed out the day by talking to local health care providers and mental health experts about the mental health toll that this crisis is taking on children and first responders in Central Washington and how the Senator can help to support efforts to address that. On the call, Senator Murray made clear that mental health care has to be an ongoing priority as Congress works to respond to this crisis. In addition to the increased funding for health care providers, schools, and federal mental health efforts that Senator Murray helped secure in the CARES Act, providers highlighted the importance of increased funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), which provides vital grants and support to local mental and behavioral health providers, and increased investment in public health infrastructure, staffing, and training in future packages.

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