Dear friends and neighbors,
Since our last e-newsletter to you, our state has taken several more steps to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and “flatten the curve.” This includes the governor’s extension of the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” emergency order through May 4, and an extension on school closures through the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.
We recognize that while these measures will help save more lives and protect our first responders and health care workers on the front lines of this pandemic, they also place additional burdens on families and businesses.
That’s why we want to ensure you have the following information about additional steps to help unemployed workers and small businesses, and resources for families with school-age children. If you experience problems with the websites or contacts below, please let us know so we can be aware of the problems and help facilitate getting them solved.
Also, we will be hosting a telephone town hall for constituents on Tuesday, April 21 at 6:00 PM. Secretary of Health John Wiesman and Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber President & CEO Tom Pierson will join us on the call to answer your questions. More details to come.
Unemployment assistance: Applying and info
The Employment Security Department (ESD) has been receiving record numbers of new claims for unemployment insurance. Many people have questions about the recent federal stimulus package and the expansions to eligibility and available benefits. We’ve heard from many of you about long wait times or inability to get through on ESD’s toll-free number, and we know this is frustrating for you.
Because ESD is experiencing extremely high volumes of calls and emails, the best way to find out more information is to visit online resources like the ones listed below. Please do not call their toll-free numbers first. Instead:
- Visit their website at esd.wa.gov. There you can sign up for their action alerts to receive the most recent information possible about these benefits, view their Frequently Asked Questions for Workers and for Businesses and use their checklist before applying for benefits.
- Watch this video tutorial on how to create an account with ESD and apply for unemployment benefits.
Again, please use online resources for information. Calls to the toll-free lines need to be reserved for individuals who have unusual needs for assistance with their claims.
Here is some additional info from ESD about implementation of the federal stimulus programs included in the CARES Act:
While we are still receiving final guidance from US Department of Labor, we are already upgrading our technology systems to be able to begin accepting applications that will deliver the three main elements from the new law, including:
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – expands benefits to those directly impacted by COVID-19 who are not otherwise eligible for Unemployment Insurance in Washington State. This will be available until December 26, 2020 and is retroactive to February 2, 2020
- Pandemic Unemployment Compensation – increases the weekly benefit amount by $600 increase for all unemployment assistance recipients (including those already on Unemployment Insurance or participating in SharedWork). It runs until July 25, 2020 and is retroactive to March 29, 2020.
- Pandemic Emergency Compensation – adds 13 additional weeks of benefits on top of the standard 26 weeks (if needed). It runs until December 26, 2020 and is retroactive to March 29, 2020.
Help for small businesses
This week, Gov. Inslee announced additional steps to help small businesses mitigate the economic impacts of COVID-19:
- The Working Washington Small Business Grant, through the Governor’s Strategic Reserve Fund and administered by the Washington State Department of Commerce with the help of county economic development organizations. The grants will provide up to $10,000 for small businesses under 10 employees. Businesses can use this money to pay for rent, utility bills, supplies, inventory and other operating expenses. To apply for an emergency grant, visit coronavirus.wa.gov.
- Business resiliency assistance, through the Washington State Department of Commerce by partnering with organizations that serve economically disadvantaged communities across the state.
- Forgivable loans, through the U.S. Small Business Administration. Small businesses, non-profits, independent contractors or self-employed individuals in need of financial help may be eligible for a forgivable loan from the SBA. Beginning last Friday, local banks began taking SBA applications and issuing forgivable loans. For more information go to sba.gov.
Update on school closures and resources for families
On Monday, Gov. Inslee and Superintendent of Public Schools Chris Reykdal announced that all schools will remain closed for the rest of the 2019-20 school year in order to continue flattening the curve in our state.
We know this news is difficult as well as disappointing to students, families, teachers, and staff. Tacoma Public Schools maintains a dedicated web page with school closure info and resources.
Additional helpful links include:
- School Closures Q&A
- COVID-19 in Schools: A Parent Guide (English) (Spanish)
- Guidance for School Districts
- Information about school meals
- Resources for continuous learning during school closures
- Special Education Guidance for COVID-19
What we’re doing in Washington to promote social distancing appears to be working. That’s why we support these additional measures like extending the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order and keeping schools closed through the end of this school year.
We were the state with the first reported COVID-19 death, but we are also leading the way on slowing the spread of this virus.
There’s no simple, easy answer to handle a crisis like this. This challenge impacts us all, some harder than others. We will get through this. And when it’s over, we’ll rebuild our economy and institutions to be stronger than before.
Speaker Laurie Jinkins Rep. Jake Fey