Inslee announces short-term small business assistance
More long-term economic recovery measures could necessitate calling special session
Last updated 4/8/2020 at 3:20pm
OLYMPIA – In an afternoon press conference that was part policy, part pep talk, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee outlined several steps taken to bring help to small businesses and individuals impacted by the measure taken to battle the COVID-19 disease.
Inslee said there were signs of encouragement in the state’s attempt to slow the spread of the severe acute respiratory disease that resulted in 8,682 confirmed cases and 394 deaths, according to state Department of Health statistics through April 6.
“Based on the science that is at our disposal, it suggests the steps we are taking as a state are having a positive impact,” he said. “We should be happy about that.”
After reminding residents of the need to continue to practice social distancing and staying and working from home where possible, Inslee said his office and the Department of Commerce were announcing three new areas of support for small businesses impacted by the outbreak. While long-term economic and health planning are needed to successfully emerge from the crisis, more immediate help is also required to get businesses and individuals down the road to a point of recovery.
“We’re taking today what you might think are short-term steps with many larger, more aggressive steps to follow,” Inslee said. “What we’re going to talk about today is only a start with what we need to do. We know we have a long economic recovery ahead of us.”
The state has launched the “Working Washington Small Business Grant” program, utilizing the Governor’s Strategic Reserve Fund along with help from local economic development organizations. The $5 million program will provide grants up to $10,000 for small businesses with 10 employees or less, money which can be used to pay rent, utility bills, buys supplies and other operating expenses.
Also being set up is a Business Resiliency Assistance program through Commerce and organizations that serve economically disadvantaged communities in the state, including the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Spokane’s Inland Northwest Business Alliance. The partners will provide a number of different services, such as translation services.
Finally, the state is setting up a program to help small businesses, non-profits and independent contractors and self-employed individuals in need of financial help to obtain forgivable loans from the federal Small Business Administration. The state’s early emergency disaster declaration in March helped “open the door to these benefits,” with local banks beginning to take these applications on April 3.
To provide faster assistance with unemployment claims, Inslee said they have hired hundreds of additional workers to process unemployment claims, waived the one-week waiting period in order to get cash to people as quickly as possible and expanded the state family emergency assistance program for more cash assistance.
“I want to stress this; we know what we are doing today is not enough,” Inslee added. “This is a huge challenge to us all, and there is much more that we are going to need to do.”
Inslee also urged individuals and businesses to take advantage of legal assistance through the state’s Office of Civil Legal Aid for help with unemployment compensation issues, evictions and foreclosure and other safety and legal issues.
During a question and answer session following his remarks, Inslee said the state has spent about $120 million of the $200 million the Legislature set aside in the last session to deal with the virus and its impacts, including $10 million by the Department of Agriculture for food procurement and $30 million to state and local governments. Asked if a special session of the Legislature would be needed to further efforts, Inslee said he was going back and forth between possibly and probably, but “leaning towards probably.”
Inslee thank Washingtonians for their efforts so far in trying to slow the spread of COVID-19, noting that it’s a collection of small acts by individuals that lead to larger success.
“All of these small acts are how you win wars,” he added.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.