April 27, 2020

Opening Washington Will Be Slow, Steady and Safe

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0

Restarting Washington's economy will be a deliberate process that will take place carefully and with worker and public safety top of mind, state officials said Friday during a weekly webinar.

The state Department of Commerce is working with industry groups to explore next steps, Deputy Director Chris Green said during Friday on the webinar modered by AWB President Kris Johnson.

The department hasn't been able to share timelines or dates, but he did emphasize safety.

"We are very much intentional about how this process can be undertaken specifically with worker safety in mind, and the safety of Washingtonians in mind," Green said. "That said, of course we want to see how this can happen as fast as possible."

Later Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced some easing of restrictions in the construction industry using new health and hygiene protocols developed by a working group that included AWB.

Green also said the department received more than 26,000 applications for the $10,000 grants the agency offered to small businesses. The application process is now closed. A total of $10 million was allocated to the program.

"We know that it's a drop in the bucket compared to what the overall need is," Green said.

Employers also heard updates from Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the state Employment Security Department.

The state has now received 605,000 unemployment claims since the start of the coronavirus crisis. The agency is experiencing a major surge as record numbers of people file for unemployment, which includes more people than normal, including independent contractors, self-employed people, and some part-time workers. The agency received 100 calls per second at one point, she said.

Since March 6, the agency has released $1.4 billion in benefits into the economy, she said.

She's also heard directly from frustrated people who have been unable to get through to file or process their claims.

"I know how desperate the situation is," she said. "And my team is working on this to address this as quickly as we can on many, many fronts."

She also emphasized that unemployment claims will be paid retroactively to the date of eligibility. And, the federal money will not run out.

"It will not run out, and they will not miss out," she said.

New federal money approved by Congress means an additional $600 weekly payment for those that qualify. That money is currently scheduled to be available through July.

Visit www.esd.wa.gov for more information. Applicants are encouraged to prepare in advance to make their claim processing more efficient. Click here for details.