Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday announced 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.
“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.
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.
In addition, Inslee pointed to good news from the federal government related to housing: 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 ratepayer assistance
The governor also 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 — including Snohomish County Public Utility District and Puget Sound Energy — have already taken some or all of these steps, the governor said.
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 Wednesday announced a waiver of the one-week waiting period to receive unemployment insurance, with the goal of ensuring that unemployed workers have immediate access to funds. 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 said he is also continuing to work with the White House and the state’s 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.
Individuals out of work due to COVID-19 can 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 at 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
Inslee said 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 said he 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.”
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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.