Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Here are some recently announced additional steps to help small businesses mitigate the economic impacts of COVID-19:
- Forgivable loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). 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.
- EIDL Grant/Loan Advance through the U.S. Small Business Administration. This program provides up to $10,000 of financial relief to businesses that are experiencing temporary difficulties. To apply for an advance, visit covid19relief.sba.gov.
- 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.
News from Employment Security
We recently received a notice from the Employment Security Department (ESD) and I'd like to share that information with you.
The ESD has received an unprecedented flood of applications for assistance and extremely high numbers of phone calls and emails. They are doing their best to meet this need by hiring additional staff, expanding service hours and upgrading their technology.
Many people also have questions about the recent federal stimulus package and the enhancements to eligibility and available benefits for individuals. To address your questions and find out more information, please do not call their toll-free numbers first. Instead please:
- Visit their website at esd.wa.gov.
- Sign up for their COVID-19 action alerts to receive the most recent information possible about benefits.
- View their Frequently Asked Questions for workers and for businesses.
- Use their checklist before applying for benefits.
IMPORTANT: ESD officials tell us that if a person's issue can only be resolved by speaking to an agent, they should continue calling, even if they must do so repeatedly, and that thousands of individuals are getting through by phone every day. Also, they assured us that regardless of when a person gets through, they will receive retroactive payments back to their eligibility date.
For the week ending March 28, 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. To dig deeper into these figures to better understand the county by county or industry sector breakdowns, go to the ESD's labor market website.
These are some of the things the ESD is doing to reduce flow and increase capacity:
- Improved website – including a robust Frequently Asked Questions section.
- Rolled out an action alert newsletter to send information and instructions on new benefits.
- Delivered automated messaging to all current enrollees instructing them on what to do to access the new benefits.
- Expanded call centers hours to include Saturdays, and staff is also working on Sundays to return phone calls.
- Hired new staff, reassigning staff from across state government and bringing on temporary contracted help.
- For questions, introduced virtual chat and a 1-800 number on WorkSourceWa.com.
- Increased bandwidth to allow more simultaneous sign-ups.
The ESD website environment has remained stable and is servicing thousands of users every day. About 95 percent of applications are coming through the website – and, once someone is approved, since ESD waived the waiting week, it's only taking seven to 10 days for people to get their weekly benefit.
Secure Access Washington ID authentication fix
Users with multiple accounts, or with accounts set up on old email addresses they can no longer access, would get locked out of the system and were required to call to reset their information. Since getting through over the phone is not easy under current conditions, ESD rolled out a fix to the Secure Access Washington identification authentication system. This fix will make a significant difference for a number of people trying to access the system.
Federal program implementation
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 Dec. 26, 2020 and is retroactive to Feb. 2, 2020.
- Pandemic Unemployment Compensation – Increases the weekly benefit amount by $600 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 Dec. 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.
Independent contractors, self-employed and fewer than 680 hours
These benefits will expand support for individuals who typically do not qualify for unemployment insurance, such as those who are self-employed, independent contractors and those without enough hours in the previous year. This will make a tremendous difference for many families in our state. The best course of action for those not currently eligible for unemployment insurance, is to go to the ESD website and sign up for COVID action alerts. This will be the fastest way to get the most up-to-date information about when and how they can access their benefits.
Family First Act
The ESD will soon be posting information in partnership with the Department of Labor and Industries and the Department of Commerce on new programs such as paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave, as well as the Paycheck Protection SBA Loan Program and the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan SBA Loan Program. This will be done through the Joint Information Center with materials and information published on the consolidated website: coronavirus.wa.gov
Please know that state legislators 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 comply.
We hope you and your families are staying healthy.