On March 18, 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee announced substantial measures for Washington state businesses and workers, as well as renters and other residents who may struggle financially to pay utility bills while dealing with loss of income during the COVID-19 outbreak. This is in addition to the state support for workers and businesses, and the state financial, export, insurance and unemployment assistance that has already been made available.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee unveils an economic relief package to help workers, businesses, tenants, families and more in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Other state and municipal leaders, as well as journalists, also participated remotely to accommodate social distancing. (Office of the Governor Photo)
“These are unprecedented times,” Inslee said. “We must do everything we can to support the resiliency of Washington workers and employers.”
Assistance for renters
Among the measures announced by the governor is a statewide moratorium on evictions of residential tenants for the next 30 days. As Washington faces the economic impacts of COVID-19, no person should be put out of their home as a result.
Residential landlords are prohibited from serving a notice of unlawful detainer for default payment of rent. Residential landlords would also be prohibited from issuing a 20-day notice for unlawful detainer, unless the landlord attaches an affidavit attesting that the action is believed necessary to ensure the health and safety of the tenant or other individuals. Under these measures, law enforcement may not enforce eviction orders based solely on non-payment of rent. This excludes other circumstances, such as the commission of a crime on the premises or nuisance issues.
Additionally, residential landlords would be prohibited from initiating judicial action seeking a writ of restitution involving a dwelling unit if the alleged basis for the writ is the failure of the tenant or tenants to timely pay rent.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson and his legal team helped craft the proclamation temporarily halting evictions.
“In this public health emergency, it’s important to strengthen our social safety net to protect vulnerable Washingtonians,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “I appreciate Gov. Inslee’s leadership, and the opportunity to work with his team to safeguard Washingtonians from homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
There was good news from the federal government related to housing today as well. The Federal Housing Finance Agency directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend foreclosures and evictions for at least 60 days due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Utility rate payer assistance
Today the governor called on all public utilities in Washington state to ensure the health and safety of their employees and the public by suspending disconnection tariffs for nonpayment during this emergency; waiving late fees for customers who are out of work or offering customers payment plans; and expanding bill assistance programs for customers who are economically impacted by this emergency.
Many utilities in the state have already taken some or all of these steps. That includes Seattle City Light, Puget Sound Energy, Tacoma Public Utilities, and Snohomish Public Utility District, who acted early to address the needs of their customers soon after the outbreak.
“We share the governor’s concern for our community and will be there for our customers throughout this hardship,” said Puget Sound Energy president and CEO Mary Kipp. The governor is also suspending some restrictions on the rate-making authority of the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission, to enable the use of ratepayer dollars to provide economic assistance to customers who are affected by COVID-19. This provides UTC authority to approve the expanded use of energy bill assistance funds to customers who are out of work, or working significantly reduced hours, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assistance for workers
“Washingtonians are already proud of our nation-leading safety net, including mandated paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave and a strong minimum wage. However, in these times we are experiencing a rapidly growing number of workers off the job for lengths time that exceed many workers’ leave benefits, and workers that are not covered by our current safety net,” Inslee said.
The governor today announced a waiver of the one week waiting period to receive unemployment insurance, to get more funds in the pockets of unemployed workers at a time when they need it most. The order is retroactive for claims filed up to March 8, the day of the governor’s first emergency rule expanding unemployment insurance criteria to include more workers impacted by COVID-19.
The governor is also continuing to work with the White House and our congressional delegation to declare a disaster in Washington to become eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance. Once established, the state would have the authority to serve impacted Washingtonians who are otherwise not eligible for assistance through our unemployment insurance system.
For individuals out of work due to COVID-19, please click here for more information
Up to $5 million of the Governor’s Strategic Reserve Funds will be made available as small grants to small businesses across the state to help prevent closure due to COVID-19. The state Department of Commerce will coordinate an application process.
“Businesses across our economy are impacted by closures and social distancing requirements right now,” Inslee said. “While taking the necessary precautions to halt this virus, we do not take lightly the impact this has on businesses.”
The governor previously announced the federal Small Business Administration has approved his request for a disaster declaration, and it is anticipated that all counties in the state will be eligible. This approval unlocks low-interest loans that will help small businesses meet their financial obligations and cover operating expenses during this difficult time. Congress recently approved up to $7 billion in SBA disaster loans for businesses impacted by COVID-19. Small businesses can learn more here: https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/
Flexibility for tax collections
The Washington State Department of Revenue will have authority to waive suspend penalties and interest on certain late tax payments. The state will create payment plans on the core amount businesses owe without filing tax liens in federal courts. This also means the suspension of enforcement actions such as forced collections by seizing bank accounts.
These measures would be in force for at least 30 days.
These measures waive late filing fees for property tax exemption renewals; business license renewal late fees; and excise tax interest on B&O, real estate sales, and other taxes the department administers, including interest related to tax preferences for biotechnology and medical device manufacturing.
All of these tax-related measures are retroactive to Feb. 29, the date the governor initially declared a state of emergency.
Cash assistance to families
Under the governor’s direction, the state Department of Social and Health Services will expand eligibility for the Family Emergency Assistance Program to include families without children.
Long-term care waivers
The state is doing a number of things to ease pressure on the long-term care system, especially nursing homes. This involves suspending rules around nursing home assessment requirements to allow for faster admissions, and suspending long term care inspections and surveys on particular timelines except in specific circumstances.
Workforce retention and economic development
In coordination with the state Emergency Management team, the governor has asked state cabinet agencies, to be led by the Employment Security Department and the Department of Commerce, to support economic retention, resilience and recovery efforts.
“Many Washington workers are living paycheck to paycheck and need income support now,” said ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine.
Commerce Director Lisa Brown added: “Looking ahead to the economic recovery phase of this will be our top priority in partnership with the business community.” The scope of the economic impacts of COVID-19 in our state are yet to be fully realized. As resources and tools become available, the latest information can be found here at this link.
Supply chain flexibility
“We are experiencing a tremendous strain on our ability to get our most at-risk individuals the supplies they need, such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes,” Inslee said. “Grocers have assured us that if people return to their normal pace of shopping, there is an adequate supply of all the products people need and want.”
To ensure certain goods necessary during this crisis can be delivered in a timely fashion, the governor is waiving restrictions on hours worked for delivery drivers carrying groceries, medical supplies and equipment, pharmaceuticals, fuel and pet food and supplies. However, drivers must have a current safety rating of “satisfactory” and cannot extend their hours if they feel fatigued, ill, or have been on duty for more than the allowed number of consecutive hours.
“We appreciate all the work these delivery drivers are doing under added pressure right now so that Washingtonians can maintain access to goods and services,” Inslee said.
Mental health support
This is a time of stress and anxiety for many Washingtonians. It’s important that people stay home as much as possible and practice social distancing, but that can also feel isolating. The workers in our behavioral health community are ready to help. If you or a family member needs emotional or mental health support, or treatment resources for substance use, please consider calling the Washington Recovery Help Line at 1–866–789–1511.
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