Yesterday’s webinar in the Pierce County COVID-19 Business Info Series focused on an in-depth discussion with local experts on relief funds for small businesses as well as issues that people have been running into as they attempt to file for unemployment.

Several people from the Washington State Employment Security Department assured people that, as of this past weekend, updates have been made to its website, which is where people can most easily go to file their initial and weekly unemployment claims. The process should be less frustrating and more accessible now, said Kevin Dinnen, state-wide adjudication manager. And, he added, the typical work-search requirements — which ask those receiving unemployment benefits to be actively searching for work — have been waived. This means that the “standby” portion of the unemployment, which is a mechanism used to waive work-search requirements, also is inactive right now.

“You can search for work if you want to, but it is not required,” Dinnen said.

Jennifer Tecca of the Washington State Employment Security Department mentioned that the improved website includes webinars that run multiple times a week and walk people, step by step, through the process of filing an initial unemployment claim.

“You’re able to ask questions and we’re able to respond on those webinars,” she said. “We have found that’s been really helpful for people, and it’s happening three or four days a week.”

Most of the hour focused on specific questions from listeners on unemployment and relief funds for small businesses. You can find many of the experts’ answers to these questions, quoted directly, below.

There also is a long list of FAQs that is a helpful resource on at esd.wa.gov.

 

Employment

Concerning the federal $600 additional benefit: Where do you apply and how does it work?

Jennifer Tecca: The $600 additional benefit that is being added is payable through weeks that you are entitled to regular unemployment between April 4 and July 25. As long as you’re eligible for regular unemployment insurance, and you’re entitled to receive at least $1 in benefits that week, you’re entitled to that $600 payment also.

You don’t need to apply or do anything for that, you don’t need to call and get it activated. It’s automatic if you had a week in that date parameter that you are entitled to unemployment benefits. We hope to be ready to pay that mid-April. They are currently working on reprogramming our computer system to make that work. As soon as it goes live, and we’ll publish that on our website, it will automatically catch up and send one lump sum to your debit card, your direct deposit, whatever you’re signed up for. From the day it’s programmed forward, each time you claim it will just be a part of your benefit payment.

 

What if you don’t qualify for regular unemployment insurance?

Scott Michael (Legal Services Coordination Manager for Employment Security): If you don’t qualify for regular unemployment, you can get that additional $600 through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. It’s a federal program that’s designed to fill in the gaps of state unemployment programs. Under our state system, you have to have worked 680 hours during the past four quarters to qualify for benefits. If you don’t have 680 hours, we can’t pay you anything in state benefits. There are folks who are exempt from unemployment coverage such as those who work for churches, independent contractors, the self-employed — all of them are potentially eligible for this pandemic assistance.

You have to meet one of 11 reasons that congress has set out that basically ties the loss of your job or employment to the COVID-19 crisis. If you do not meet a regular unemployment claim and you can show that you’re out of work tied to COVID-19, there is a pretty good chance we’ll be able to help you out with this federal pandemic assistance.

JT: Mid-April is when we’ll start accepting applications for that, but even though you can’t apply yet, get your secure access Washington account up and ready so you can just sign in and quickly file a claim once we get the application out.

 

Currently filing a claim requires a job search log. When will this be updated? I’m currently instructing employees to enter dummy information.

SM: Only if they’ve actually made an active search for work and made three contacts in a week should they be answering yes and putting the job search contacts. Don’t dummy them. If they’re actually looking for work, then we want them to update that. If they answer no, there will be no consequences. They will still be eligible — the work-search piece is optional while we’re having to remain at home.

 

Washington has a more generous unemployment insurance program than other states, with insurance replacing about 50 percent of prior wages. When you combine that with this new $600 benefit, that means that, if you were making less than $30 an hour, you’re now making more money on unemployment. Was this foreseen? Can employers mitigate this?

SM: One thing that the federal department of labor has made very clear in its federal guidance is that if an individual were to quit their job just for the sake of getting a higher income for this combination, that is fraud, it is illegal, you will be denied benefits and subject to prosecution — potentially on the federal level. We are in the process as we implement this doing audits and other types of integrity measures.

 

Small Business Relief

The Paycheck Protection Program can be used for payroll costs — what does that include?

Jennifer Ringenbach (Vice President and Sr. SBA Specialist): What counts as payroll cost: employee benefits, state and local taxes, paid sick leave, utilities like phone and internet.  The PPP is for businesses with fewer than 500 employees, and sole proprietors and independent contractors are included in that.

 

Do I need to bring back all employees to get loan forgiveness through the PPP?

JR: Loan forgiveness could decrease if you decrease your full-time employee headcount. You have until June 30 to restore your full-time employment and salary levels for any changes made between Feb. 15 and April 26.

 

What are Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Grants (EIDL)? Can I apply for that and the PPP?

BK: The EIDL is a federal program that includes an upfront grant of $10,000 that is completely forgivable. It’s also for companies with 500 employees or fewer. You can apply for both, but you would just need to use the funds you get from for each for different purposes.

I urge you to fill out the application for this if you’re a business of 500 or fewer. It’s quick to fill out and is designed to be easy. You can do that at covid19relief.sba.gov.

 

What is the Working Washington Small Business Emergency Grant Program and who qualifies?

BK: (On Tuesday) Gov. Inslee held a press conference and announced the creation of a new grant program called the Working Washington Small Business Emergency Grant Program. This is the result of the legislature at the end of the last session earlier this year setting aside — out of the $200 million package that it passed overall — $5 million for funds the state that was called the Strategic Reserve and was renamed the Working Washington Fund. It’s targeted toward businesses across the state with 10 or fewer employees, and each county’s economic development organization is responsible for receiving applications for that grant. It’s for up to $10,000.

That $5 million will only go so far. But the governor said in the press conference that this is just the beginning for what states need to do for small businesses and that he anticipates that there will be more coming. He wasn’t speaking directly to this program, but one might surmise that this could be a program with additional resources to it.


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