The state of Washington has doubled the amount of money to $10 million that will be available for grants to help the state’s smallest businesses, but it has received more than 26,000 applications.
Lisa Brown, director of the Washington state Department of Commerce, said Thursday the program, designed to give up to $10,000 to businesses with up to 10 employees, is important during a time when most businesses were forced to shut down to protect employees and customers from COVID-19.
“In many ways, they are the foundation of local economies and communities,” said Brown, of Spokane. “Most new job creation comes from small businesses. And small businesses in some cases … have a very hard time accessing federal business assistance programs.”
While the applications have been strong, Brown was not able to say how many businesses have been awarded the $10,000 grants. Gov. Jay Inslee announced earlier in April that he was making $5 million available from the Governor’s Strategic Reserve Fund.
Brown said Thursday the amount was doubled to $10 million.
“So, that won’t be reopening applications,” Brown said. “But we’ll be able to accommodate many more of the applications that are coming in.”
In a statement, Inslee shared the same concerns as Brown about helping businesses deal with the economic disaster the virus and stay-at-home orders have caused.
“We continue to do everything we can to support and help small businesses weather the storm today and prepare for a safe return to work soon,” Inslee said in a news release. “Safe return to public life will look more like a turn of the dial than a flip of the switch.”
To that end, Brown said discussions are underway to ease the restrictions on outdoor activities, such as hunting and fishing, some construction and elective surgeries. She couldn’t offer any clarity as to when those activities would be approved.
She said Inslee remains in talks with health officials about how that opening will look and when it will occur.
“We don’t have control over the specific timing of that,” Brown said. “So what we’re doing is preparing … and gathering guidelines and best practices.”
She expects the necessary guidance on how some businesses can reopen to be released on or near May 4.
“I believe the goal is to be able to get guidance prepared so that businesses can have some advance notice,” she said. “We are encouraging businesses to … start their own planning. This will be the new normal. We know social distancing will be part of it. We know not coming to work sick will be part of it.”
She has already looked at other plans in Utah, Montana, Oregon and California for how officials in those states will attempt to restart their economies.
“We see our role at Commerce as being the conduit of information, both directions, about best practices,” Brown said.
However the state opens the economy, the recovery is expected to take years, not months, she said.
She noted that Washington lost about 150,000 jobs in the Great Recession of 2008. Jobless claims before last week were more than 500,000, she said, and the recovery won’t come in Washington without federal help.
“We are going to need much more. Supply chains have been disrupted. In agriculture, we already were experiencing the effects of a trade war,” Brown said. “And so, this will be a challenging period of time. Washington state does not emerge uniformly from any type of economic downturn.”
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