April 20, 2020

Unemployment kicks into high gear; State officials weigh gradual reopening of economy

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0

Washington has a long way to go toward an economic recovery. In the meantime, billions in new unemployment benefits could be a financial lifeline for both traditional workers and also the self-employed and independent contractors.

These are the main takeaways from two of Washington's top state officials during a Friday webinar with employers, chamber of commerce leaders from AWB's Grassroots Alliance, and others.

State Commerce Director Lisa Brown noted that major federal funding sources from the U.S. Small Business Administration were gone.

"The bottom line here is, we still have a long way to go, in identifying really major state and federal resources, in coordination with our local governments, as to how we are going to be able to both meet people's basic needs and then go down this path of reopening activity and reigniting the economy," Brown said.

She noted Gov. Jay Inslee's current Stay Home, Stay Health shutdown order, which currently runs through May 4.

Whatever decisions he makes "won't be a complete turn the lights on kind of a situation but more of a dial up in terms of activities," she said.

Brown said her recommendation is that industries and associations continue to create their own guidelines and recommendations to discuss reopening the economy safely.

She also welcomed the input of the business community in this process.

Brown was also joined on the call by Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the state Employment Security Department.

LeVine said her agency is focused on getting benefits to people that need them , expanding benefits, and helping businesses gain access to talented employees. This weekend, the agency's computer system began processing people newly eligible for unemployment, and beginning the process to pay out $600 weekly payments on top of state benefits.

The agency has now received about 585,000 new claims, and issued $250 million in benefits since the coronavirus economic crisis began. But there's much more in the pipeline.

Notably, many people who were not previously or traditionally eligible for unemployment now are. This includes self-employed people, independent contractors and others.

LeVine emphasized the need to prepare in advance to make qualifying for benefits easier.

There are four steps to note:

· Sign up for COVID-19 Action Alerts,

· Download and read the eligibility sheet recently posted,

· Review this checklist, and

· Watch the video about how to create an account.

The payoff can be significant.

The new benefits include a $600 weekly federal payment on top of the state benefits. For anyone who makes less than $62,500 a year, they could make more money with unemployment benefits than working. Click here to see a breakdown of benefit estimates.

"What we have found is that people, when they are more prepared, are more likely to get their benefits more quickly," LeVine said. "And in fact when somebody is approved, it's an average of 5 to 7 days in which they are receiving those benefits, and then for those who are direct deposit, they get them within 24 to 48 hours."

Many economists stress the importance of issuing unemployment benefits quickly during a major recession to stimulate the economy. For many, these federal funds will pay the rent, buy food and keep the lights on while Washington fights to come out the other side of the coronavirus pandemic.

Congress is currently working on another federal stimulus bill. Stay tuned to AWB's Fast Facts and Olympia Business Watch to learn the latest developments.

For more information, please visit AWB's Employer Resource Page.

Check out a video of Friday's webinar below. 

COVID-19 Economic Recovery and Resiliency Webinar - 4/17/2020 from Association of WA Business on Vimeo.