Washington State House Democrats


LEGISLATIVE NEWS: Legislature sends UI relief bill to governor

A measure to bring relief to all businesses and to the hardest-hit workers passed the Legislature today 

SB 5061, which passed the Senate on Wednesday on a strong bipartisan vote and the House just minutes ago on an equally bipartisan 89-8 vote, provides much-needed relief for employers across the state whose tax bills skyrocketed due to COVID-19 layoffs last year. The legislation also helps the lowest-wage hardest-hit workers by raising their minimum benefit.

“There are three parts to this bill: it helps businesses with their immediate tax bills, which is the main reason we are passing it now, it helps workers keep afloat, and it helps the state prepare for the next emergency,” said Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, sponsor of the companion bill in the House and chair of the Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. “But it does not solve everything, in fact, it’s just the beginning of a more focused plan to support workers and small businesses across the state.”

The bill will relieve businesses by preventing an automatic UI tax increase of $1.7 billion from 2021 to 2025, starting with $920 million this year, thereby reducing employers’ tax bills due in April. It also completely removes from businesses’ future UI tax calculations an additional $1.2 billion in benefits paid out during the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order last spring from March 22 to May 30, 2020.

“I specifically requested to serve on this committee to stand up for working families and this bill does that. It helps workers and really helps struggling small businesses across the state,” said Rep. Liz Berry, D-Queen Anne, Vice Chair of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. “A small brewery in my district usually paid $352 in UI taxes, then we were hit by the pandemic and its tax bill, due in April, ballooned to $10,328. This is not an isolated example; many small businesses simply won’t survive unless we pass this bill.”

The lowest-wage workers, those making between $21,000 and $27,800 per year, will also welcome the provisions in this measure to raise their minimum benefit when they get laid off. Employees who make more than minimum wage will not see a change in their benefit.

The bill also makes a series of changes that would automatically take effect the next time the governor declares a health emergency, including:

  • Providing UI benefits to people at risk who quit voluntarily because they cannot work from home, and waiving charges from their employer’s experience tax rate.
  • Waiving charges for employers who cannot continue operating fully or must shut down due to an infectious public health emergency.
  • Waiving the one-week unpaid waiting period when federal funds are available.

Passing SB 5061 will also restore the state’s UI trust fund, which has reduced from $4.8 billion to $1.4 billion during the pandemic. It is projected to grow to $3.2 billion by 2025.

The emergency clause in the bill will make it effective immediately after it is signed by the governor.