As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to evolve and develop, we are encouraged to support our locally-owned, small businesses in the Tri-Cities as much as possible. Local businesses are the lifeblood of the area economy, and they need our support now as COVID-19 continues to spread. This virus could potentially bring about an economic slowdown, leaving small businesses especially vulnerable. In the meantime, local businesses have been actively taking added measures to increase hygiene and sanitizing of their premises, including at restaurants that still offer a drive-thru, pick-up, and delivery services, all to protect their customer’s health and safety. As one owner of a local restaurant said, “This is a hard time for every small business and your support during this time means the world to us and our employees. We’re also thinking of every other small business and community in general during this time.” Local economies are facing the potential for a massive slowdown as a result of Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement calling for a temporary statewide order to shut down restaurants, bars, and entertainment and recreational facilities statewide due to the coronavirus. Restaurants can operate only in take-out, grab and go, and delivery capacities.
Gov. Jay Inslee plans to give a statewide address Monday night to discuss additional plans to slow the spread of coronavirus in Washington State. Inslee’s statewide address is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. PDT
How Small Businesses Are Doing Business Amidst COVID-19
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Solutions for Local Businesses Affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic
Local businesses stand to be hit especially hard with the Governor’s decision to close bars and restaurants, entertainment venues, and recreational facilities — albeit on a temporary basis. But there is financial assistance and tax relief available through the Washington State Employment Security Department and the Washington State Department of Revenue, respectively. If you are a local business owner and you have been impacted by the COVID-19 virus, you may be entitled to financial aid from the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD). The ESD has adopted a series of emergency rules to relieve the burden of temporary layoffs, isolation, and quarantine for workers and their businesses.
EXAMPLES OF ESD FINANCIAL RELIEF ARE THE FOLLOWING:
- Workers may receive unemployment benefits and employers may get relief of benefit charges if an employer needs to close their operations temporarily because an employee becomes sick and other workers need to be isolated or quarantined as a result of COVID-19.
- In some circumstances, your employees may be eligible for standby. Standby means your employees do not have to look for other work but they need to be available for any work you, the business owner, offer that they can do if quarantined or isolated. Generally, standby is only allowed for up to eight weeks during a claim year. However, the ESD may grant an extension of standby for more than eight weeks if you make your request in writing and you can show extraordinary circumstances. Extraordinary circumstances can include under the new emergency rules temporary shutdowns related to COVID-19 infection at the place of business that causes you to close or significantly reduce operations.
- Workers who are asked to isolate or quarantine by a medical professional or public health official as a result of exposure to COVID-19 may receive unemployment benefits, and work search requirements could be waived, as long as they have a return date with their employer. The return to work date can be the date the isolation or quarantine is lifted.
- If a worker becomes very sick and is forced to quit, that worker cannot collect unemployment benefits while they are seriously ill, but may be eligible once they recover and are able and available for work.
Businesses can be eligible for financial relief from the ESD in the following scenarios: Shared/Work: This program enables business owners to reduce the hours of permanent and hourly-paid employees by as much as 50 percent, and the employees can collect partial unemployment benefits to replace a portion of their lost wages. Partial Employment — If you are temporarily reducing hours of work for your full-time employees, they may be able to receive unemployment benefits without needing to look for work.
LAID-OFF WORKERS DUE TO BUSINESS SLOWDOWN AS A RESULT OF COVID-19
If you are laid off work temporarily or if your hours are decreased as a result of a business slowdown or lack of demand as a result of COVID-19, you could be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
TEMPORARY SHUTDOWN OF BUSINESS DUE TO A POSSIBLE COVID-19 CONTAMINATION OR QUARANTINE AT WORKSITE
If you are a taxable employer, you may request relief of benefit charges due to a business closure which is directly related to possible contamination at the business site. Workers are also eligible for Unemployment Insurance in these cases:
- The worker is mildly ill with COVID-19
- The worker was exposed and quarantined; business remains open
- The worker is immune-compromised and is advised to self-quarantine
- The employer must shut down due to a quarantine ordered by a public official
- Workers are eligible for Paid Family & Medical Leave if they are severely ill with COVID-19.
EXCISE TAX RETURN EXTENSIONS
The Washington State Department of Revenue will accept excise tax return extensions to be filed and potentially approved on a case-by-case basis as a result of the COVID-19 virus. However, the request must be made before the due date of the return for which the extension is requested. Financial penalties may be waived if you are late in filing tax reports, paying taxes, or responding to requests for information — all as a result of COVID-19.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO EMPLOYEES IF BUSINESS CLOSES DUE TO COVID-19?
If you lay off employees due to permanent closure, they can apply for unemployment benefits. Eligibility will be determined based upon criteria in place prior to COVID-19 and on a case-by-case basis. Layoff assistance may be available for businesses facing major layoffs. For More Information on Financial Assistance for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 virus, visit the Washington State Employment Security Department.
FEDERAL DISASTER AID FROM SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Washington small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza announced on March 16. SBA acted under its own authority, as provided by the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act that was recently signed by the President, to declare a disaster following a request received from Gov. Jay Inslee on March 13, 2020. “Small businesses, private non-profit organizations of any size, small agricultural cooperatives and small aquaculture enterprises that have been financially impacted as a direct result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) since Jan. 31, 2020, may qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses which could have been met had the disaster not occurred,” said Carranza. Eligibility for Economic Injury Disaster Loans is based on the financial impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The interest rate on these loans is 3.75 percent for small businesses. “These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact,” Carranza added. “Disaster loans can provide vital economic assistance to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.” The deadline to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan is Dec. 16, 2020. For more information about available SBA resources and services, please visit: SBA.gov/coronavirus