OLYMPIA – Washington will offer expanded financial aid to residents, businesses and workers to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic that is hammering the state.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced a new package of assistance for those struggling with a loss of income because of closures or reduced business in what he called unprecedented times.
“We know that we are heading for some really choppy economic water,” Inslee said.
The state has already spent more than $75 million of the $200 million in emergency funds the Legislature agreed to take out of a reserve account for COVID-19 expenses, he said. Some of that was spent to increase the space between beds in homeless shelters and for better medical equipment now, so it’s available “when the surge hits” of severe cases needing treatment in hospitals.
Inslee said he “would not be shocked” if the state will need more than the $200 million already set aside, and he could ask the Legislature to approve additional money.
He also has asked President Donald Trump to send one of the nation’s hospital ships to Puget Sound because “we are the epicenter of the epidemic.” Trump said earlier in the day that the ship will be deployed somewhere along the Pacific Coast.
If the request is granted, the ship would be used to treat hospital patients not fighting COVID-19, freeing up hospital beds on land for treating the virus.
The financial aid package announced Wednesday includes the following:
Cash Assistance through the Family Emergency Assistance program for families without children.
A waiver of the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance payments. The order is retroactive to March 8, when an emergency rule expanded unemployment insurance payments to cover more workers affected by the outbreak. Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine said the state saw a 150% increase last week in claims compared to the same week in 2019, and expects sharper increases this week.
Microgrants to small businesses to help keep them from closing due to the outbreak. The grants will come from $5 million being drawn from the Governor’s Strategic Reserve.
Allowing the state Department of Revenue to suspend penalties and interest on some late tax payments, and to create payment plans on what a business owes without filing tax liens in federal court. It will also waive late filing fees for property tax exemption and business license renewals, excise tax interest on certain other taxes, and interest on tax preferences for biotechnology and medical device manufacturing. All tax-related measures are retroactive to Feb. 29.
A moratorium on evictions for the next 30 days for failure to pay rent unless the landlord can provide a sworn statement that it’s necessary to ensure the health and safety of the tenant or others. This comes as the Federal Housing Finance Agency ordered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend foreclosures and evictions for 60 days. There’s no state aid for landlords, although some assistance could be available through the U.S. Small Business Administration, Inslee said. The state is trying to avoid a spike in homelessness during the outbreak.
A request that utilities suspend disconnections for nonpayment of bills, waive late fees for customers out of work and expand bill assistance for economically impacted customers.
Waiving restrictions on hours worked for delivery drivers carrying groceries, medical supplies and equipment, pharmaceuticals, fuel and pet food supplies. But drivers cannot extend their hours if they feel fatigued or ill or have been on duty more than the allowed number of consecutive hours.
Asked about rumors that he was considering more restrictions on gatherings and closures of buildings, Inslee said he doesn’t have time to respond to rumors and was trying to address “today’s challenges.”
Such restrictions are “day-to-day decisions” and involve a wide range of factors that epidemiologists are studying, including admissions to hospital emergency departments, unemployment figures and the state’s medical surge capacity.
In keeping with his advice to people over 60 years of age to “shelter in place” and reduce contact with others, Inslee said he has restricted his activities. The news conference was mostly conducted by internet and included video hookups with the mayors of Seattle and Tacoma.
At one point, Inslee quoted his father, in turn quoting Winston Churchill: “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”
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