Dear friends and neighbors,
Each new week during this unprecedented time in history brings unexpected challenges and moments of gratitude. As the sun has come out, it’s been harder to resist the temptations to travel, flock to playgrounds or gather with friends. But it’s the little things that bring joy: going for walks while maintaining distance from other people or just enjoying solitary moments of sunshine. With each decision to stay home and stay healthy, we show compassion for ourselves and everyone in our community. As the weather heats up, this is even more important. Here are some updates and resources to help families and small businesses.
Navigating School Closures
This week the Governor and the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) decided to close schools for the rest of the school year to protect public health while prioritizing the needs of students, families, teachers and school workers who are all impacted by school closures. We know that students are at low risk for infection, but we must consider their vulnerable family members who may be at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Many students and families rely on critical school services. With each student facing vastly different family and home situations in this crisis, each district is actively developing plans to accommodate nutrition, child care, and students experiencing homelessness. The school closures are especially difficult for students who receive special education services and English language learners.
We know that this will be very difficult for families, and that parents are struggling to balance their own work schedules – whether they work in essential industries or are working from home – with the new demands of distance learning and little ones at home.
This decision was not made lightly, but we are following the guidance of health officials to help mitigate the number of COVID-19 cases and save lives. Our goal is to continue supporting districts, students and families in finding flexible ways to achieve and learn.
- COVID-19 in Schools: A Parent Guide (English) (Spanish)
- Resources for Continuous Learning During School Closures
- Special Education Guidance for COVID-19
- OSPI COVID-19 Guidance for School Districts
- Information from OSPI about school meals
We’ve heard from so many people losing their jobs and afraid for their future. The numbers are staggering. For the week ending March 28th, the state agency responsible for handling unemployment, the Employment Security Department (ESD), received more than 180,000 new claims for unemployment insurance (that’s more than seven times the peak week in the 2008/2009 recession). In addition to the initial claims for unemployment insurance, ESD processed more than 350,000 total weekly claims, resulting in over $42 million flowing to Washington households that week. In total, since March 16, ESD has put more than $67 million into people’s pockets and into the economy.
Even so, we know that the large influx of calls, applications and claims have made it difficult for some to get through or get a response. Thank you for your patience and we know these are difficult and scary times for many of our constituents.
If you are unemployed and need help, please filed with ESD. If you are having trouble covering the basics, then call 211 or visit the website to see what assistance is available to you.
The ESD is preparing for the implementation of the federal stimulus programs included in the CARES act by upgrading their technology systems so that on April 18, they can begin accepting applications for the three main elements of the new law:
- 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.
All of these benefits will be retroactively paid from the time people lost their jobs or otherwise became eligible under the federal CARES Act. So, once approved, they will receive a lump sum payment of all benefits that are owed to them at that point. They will then be able to file weekly claims for benefits moving forward.
Supporting Small Businesses
Earlier this week, Gov. Jay 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 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 via the Paycheck Protection Act from the SBA. Beginning last Friday, local banks began taking SBA applications and issuing forgivable loans. For more information go to sba.gov.
Ensuring Child Care Stability Now and in the Future
Accessing and affording child care was difficult before the pandemic. Families and child care providers are struggling even more now as they provide an essential service that helps our health care workers and first responders go to work. In the coming months, it will be critical for our economic recovery.
Last week, the Seattle Times published my op-ed describing our work on child care and the important role it plays in our economy. Read it here.
In the final state budget, child care rates were increased and additional capital dollars were released to expand child care. Many policies have been updated since this pandemic started. To learn more about changes to child care rules, visit this page. For help finding child care, please contact ChildCareAware.
We have just begun to recognize that child care is the backbone of our economy. We will need to be vigilant in continuing for every child in Washington to have a fair start to life.
Please know that as your state legislators, we are holding virtual meetings frequently to discuss new developments as well as ideas to help our communities get through this very difficult period. It is up to the governor to order us back for a special session, but if he deems it necessary, we, and all of our colleagues, are ready to act.
Please stay tuned for details on a virtual town hall to be scheduled later this month.
Representative Tana Senn Representative My-Linh Thai