How do I find out which businesses and workers are “essential” per the Governor’s “Stay Healthy, Stay Home” order?
Is there a plan to suspend mortgage and utility payments? Can we protect residential customers from interruptions to gas, water, electric, sewer, phone, cable, and internet services during this state of emergency? And waive late fees?
On March 18, Governor Inslee called on all utilities in Washington to suspend disconnection tariffs for nonpayment during this emergency, waive late fees or offer payment plans for customers who are out of work, and expand bill assistance programs. Many utilities in the state have already taken some or all of these steps. Governor Inslee also relaxed restrictions on the authority of the Utilities and Transportation Commission to allow use of surplus Energy Assistance Funds to provide economic assistance to customers affected by COVID-19.
Local government staff dealing with this unprecedented crisis will be further strained with the requirement to implement the substantial residential energy code (2018 WSEC-R) by July 1st of this year. To help ease the many challenges faced by local governments, can the governor delay the new energy code until January 1, 2021?
Governor Inslee is considering proposals to delay implementation of state building code changes that are scheduled to take effect July 1. The upcoming code changes are not limited to the residential energy code. Building code changes typically involve training activities for local government staff and the building industry. Both the Building Industry Association of Washington and the Washington Association of Building Officials have cancelled training sessions. The state is evaluating an online training approach to replace traditional in-person sessions.
Are industry associations being informed by the Governor’s Office about the executive orders and how they will impact various sectors of the economy?
Yes, Commerce is actively working with industry associations to collect and share the following information:
• Preventive measures being taken, including how they may be responding to any outbreak on their job sites.
• Impacts being immediately experienced and those anticipated in the longer term, and
• Immediate and longer-term needs.
Commerce is also coordinating with the Governor’s Office and the Employment Security Department to ensure that industry is notified of programs that help support changes in employment. These notifications are being compiled and used to update the Governor and statewide leadership, as well as our federal delegation.
Will independent contractor benefits be available for the self-employed, independent contractors, artists, musicians, small business owners, etc.?
The Employment Security Department (ESD) has provided this response:
Maybe! Coverage under Washington’s unemployment insurance law is broader than under most other laws. This means that just because you are classified as an independent contractor under some laws does not mean that you are an independent contractor under Washington’s unemployment laws. If you are a gig worker who has been laid off or lost work, we encourage you to apply for benefits. We will evaluate each application for eligibility on a case by case basis.
We realize that there are some challenges with the online application, and it is not currently designed for the way you work. We are working to resolve those issues. For now, fill it out the best that you can.
If you do apply, to help speed the process for determining your eligibility and potential benefit amount, please be prepared to gather your payment records from the last year to provide to the claims staff. This process may take some time, but we are doing everything we can to increase efficiency and hire more staff.
ESD Director Suzi Levine has also posted a YouTube video with advice for gig workers.
The federal stimulus package will also provide unemployment assistance to gig workers. Check back with the ESD link above for updated information.
Might independent contractors using gig-economy business models (e.g., Instacart) be employed to deliver food and prescription drugs to the medically fragile?
Commerce is open to promoting creative ideas to engage these entrepreneurs.
STAY AT HOME, STAY HEALTHY
On March 23, Governor Inslee issued an Executive Order directing all residents immediately to heed current State public health directives to stay home, except as needed to maintain continuity of operations of essential critical infrastructure sectors and additional sectors as the State Public Health Officer may designate as critical to protect health and well-being of all Washingtonians. The list of essential businesses can be found at: https://coronavirus.wa.gov/whats-open-and-closed/essential-business.
If the state moves to a shelter-in-place policy, will there be flexibility or allowance for workers in non-profits (e.g., drivers for food delivery and non-emergency medical transportation, or staff who are on-site for permanent and supportive housing to help vulnerable residents?)
Workers who provide support to vulnerable populations to ensure their health and well-being including family care providers are included as essential businesses. Similarly, the Order does not apply to workers who support food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals, such as those residing in shelters. It also does not apply to workers supporting public and private childcare establishments, licensed pre-K establishments, K- 12 schools, colleges, and universities for purposes of distance learning, or the provision of school meals, or child care for the children of essential workers across all sectors and for uniquely vulnerable children.
Please refer to the Commerce webpage for information and updates for Homeless Service Grantees. Deadline to apply is March 30, 2020.
Commerce has expedited $30 million in emergency funding for counties to create housing necessary for
quarantine, isolation, and sanitation to address the COVID-19 pandemic. These funds are flexible and
structured to help communities make a difference immediately. All counties have received contracts and 25 of
the 36 contracts are executed. The remaining contracts will be executed by the end of March. Commerce
staff is working actively with grantees and the Department of Health to respond to emerging needs.
Can you assist with a confirmation regarding the availability of Small Business Administration (SBA) loans for all Washington state counties?
Commerce’s “Choose Washington” site has a page dedicated to businesses seeking COVID-19 information. Please refer to it often as it will be updated regularly.
Small businesses in all 39 Washington Counties are eligible to apply for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans, which offer up to $2 million in assistance per business.
Additionally, the governor has directed that a Working Washington Small Business Grant program be set up to help small businesses meet their obligations. County economic development organizations will be coordinating the applications for these special Strategic Reserve funds, which are administered by the Department of Commerce. We are working on the final details of this new program which, when active, will be available at: http://startup.choosewashingtonstate.com/covid- grants
The federal aid package is expected to provide some relief for both businesses and individuals. The Governor has taken the same approach in providing relief to the pandemic.
Small businesses are already laying off employees. Is there enough money allocated in legislation passed this session to assist businesses and employees? If not, how will the governor address this issue?
The legislature could not have foreseen the scale of the impact caused by the pandemic. Commerce is waiting to see the extent of federal relief and the course of the pandemic. The governor has stated that he has not ruled out bringing the legislature back for an emergency session.
Will veterinary clinics, especially the emergency clinics for animals, be on the essential business list for the state of Washington?
The Governor announced his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” directive on March 23 which identifies essential businesses. Veterinary clinics and hospitals have been identified as essential businesses.
This would require legislative action. We are watching the federal recovery package legislation closely as that will help inform next steps.
Housing and Household Assistance / Evictions / Foreclosures
What’s being done to help renters? With evictions banned, what tools will be put in place to help landlords pay their mortgages?
The state is working with landlord representatives and housing advocates to build on current programs and
look at the potential of a new rent assistance program tailored and scaled to address the current crisis.
What assistance is available for renters who aren’t able to pay rent due to loss of a job as a result of COVID-19 AND landlords who won’t be receiving rent payments?
There are existing programs to assist with paying rent to prevent eviction but they are not scaled or oriented to address the current problem. The state is working with landlord representatives and housing advocates to build on current programs and to look at the potential of a new rent assistance program tailored and scaled to address the current crisis. Federal assistance with a new rent assistance effort is critical due to the large dollar amounts necessary to meaningfully address the scope of this problem.
The governor ordered a 30-day residential eviction prohibition on Wednesday, March 18.
County treasurers have statutory authority under RCW 84.56.029 to delay collection of property taxes during a state-declared emergency.
On March 18, HUD authorized the Federal Housing Administration to implement an immediate foreclosure and eviction moratorium for single family homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages for the next 60 days. FHFA has established a dedicated webpage with relevant updates and resources available here:
Additionally, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have dedicated webpages for homeowners with online tools to determine if your mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac:
• Fannie Mae: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Help
• Or call 1-800-2FANNIE (1-800-232-6643)
• Freddie Mac: Extending Help to Homeowners Impacted by COVID-19
• Or call 1-800-FREDDIE (1-800-373-3343)
CHILD CARE WORKERS
Can permitting requirements for daycares be simplified in cases where a school (public, private, Montessori, etc.) is closed and they’d like to shift to providing day care services?
Yes, DCYF is considering emergency waivers on a case-by-case basis.
Our local YMCA stands to lose a couple million dollars net (getting exact figures now). We are doing everything we can to keep people on our payroll (for the next two weeks). After March 31 we will have to lay people off. We employ about 350 people total. Add to this cost the loss of revenue and the longer we remain in lockdown, the worse the numbers get. Will there be resources to help?
Commerce is evaluating possible federal and state resources to provide relief to child care providers.
Washington YMCAs are innovative and eager to re-purpose or re-imagine how we can assist with responding to critical needs. More collaboration will ease public anxiety. Would Commerce be open to collaboration?
Commerce is open to promoting creative ideas to assist during this crisis.
Hazard pay is generally at the discretion of employers. Commerce will monitor opportunities provided in federal supports.
The Order DOES NOT apply to workers who support food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals, such as those residing in shelters; or
workers supporting public and private childcare establishments, licensed pre-K establishments, K- 12 schools, colleges, and universities for purposes of distance learning, or the provision of school meals, or child care for the children of essential workers across all sectors and for uniquely vulnerable children.
During long-term school closures, child care will be critically important so frontline healthcare workers and first responders can focus on slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Governor Inslee has communicated an expectation that school districts will make accommodations to provide child care for our healthcare and first responder families. Beyond serving these two groups, districts maintain the discretion to serve other students and families, so long as they have capacity and they adhere to social distancing guidelines to the best of their ability.
Perhaps. The nonprofit community may be able to address this need as well.