CEO Corner: Updates from Commerce and Employment Security

Friday, April 10, 2020

Main News Photo

The beautiful weather we’ve been having (if not exactly enjoying) belies the health threat that lies outside – but it certainly makes even confinement more pleasant. We’re all getting lots better at technology, even boomers! On Wednesday I hosted a Zoom Seder with family for the beginning of Passover – definitely a new twist on a tradition that’s been around for several thousand years. (Also, there are two places in the Seder for ceremonial handwashing. Our group made it more effective, using soap and hot running water and singing happy birthday twice). But we’re all learning ways to meet that human need to share and be together in some way. With the Easter weekend upon us, our customs will change but our health and that of our family, friends, and community remain paramount. Please stay well, wash your hands, and practice good social distancing. And whatever holidays you may celebrate, or if none, remember to also practice gratitude for the good things in life that we enjoy, starting with our health and loved ones.

OK, from the sublime to the more tactical. Your friends here at EDASC have been extraordinarily busy connecting businesses and people with each other and with resources to mitigate the damage done by this public health crisis. Manufacturers like Eddyline, Chinook, PACCAR Technical Center, LAVLE, and statewide about 300 others (please send us any good news stories we may not have heard yet) have stepped up to fill gaps in PPE, testing kit platforms, hand sanitizer, and related products. State and federal resources are struggling to keep up with tsunamis of demand once programs are opened up, but they are indeed catching up. EDASC, along with SBDC, SCORE, and others, are assisting businesses in finding ways to adapt and still bring in revenue.

Let me share some things I learned today from the State Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown and State Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine regarding state and federal programs. These two impressive leaders and their colleagues are doing an admirable job in an impossible situation.

  1. This week the State Department of Commerce released the Washington Small Business Emergency Grant program, offering $5 million statewide from the Governor’s Strategic Reserve Fund to small business applicants of 10 and fewer employees. Nonprofits and businesses newer than one year are excluded. EDASC has received over 350 applications. Based on population, Skagit County is due to receive about a dozen grants of up to $10,000 each. Obviously, this is but a drop in the bucket of need, but Commerce is looking at other sources of funds to duplicate this program. In the meantime, we are logging the applications and giving a preliminary review before forwarding them to our outside review panel, comprised of a diverse group of professionals from across the county. Aside from need and impact of the business, Commerce and EDASC will review applications with an equity lens as well focusing on underserved businesses. Commerce will permit EDASC to forward 50 applications for further consideration. This entire process will probably take 4-6 weeks total. In the final analysis, gathering all this information about small businesses will provide good intel to policymakers, economic developers, philanthropic foundations, and others. It may also provide insight into supply chain issues and potential new markets. Keep an eye on EDASC’s website and newsletters for updates.
  2. As you might have guessed, unemployment claims are way up. But did you realize they are up right now by 2,627% over this time last year? The key to successfully applying for unemployment insurance is to be prepared. Go to www.esd.wa.gov and use the Eligibility Checker, look at the how-to videos and FAQs, and download the apps. The more prepared you are when you begin the application, the faster and more smoothly the process will go. Once approved, money comes in 5-7 days. Look for the roll-out on April 18 of the updated unemployment compensation program to deal with the huge torrent of demand. ESD staff increases of 1,000 workers will help deal with the demand. In addition, ESD will roll out a new program for businesses to coach their staff on applying for unemployment with a toolkit and customized programs according to the number of employees. ESD also is developing materials for re-employment.Other info for employers: file your quarterly taxes on time if you are able. If not, Commissioner LeVine said there will be a grace period for delays with no extra fees (but it is not unlimited). Also, do not worry yet about your experience rating. These will not be recalculated until January 2021 and applied until April 2021. Besides, in the case of programs like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance that are fully federally funded, your experience rating would not be affected in any event. By January 2021, Commissioner LeVine said they would have strategies for dealing with experience ratings issues. Speaking of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, this now applies to self-employed workers and others who may not otherwise have qualified before. Go to the website and verify your eligibility.
  3. As always, small business assistance is available through the SBDC, SCORE, SBA, and of course EDASC.
  4. Looking forward, we all need to assess re-tooling on how to operate safely in public health terms once businesses reopen. Remember, the guiding principles are public health safety priorities, not economic concerns. We all know that we must avoid the temptation to resume ordinary life before we have extinguished the danger of a second and perhaps even more lethal spike in COVID-19 illnesses. More testing availability (both diagnostic and to detect serum antibodies) and eventually a vaccine will provide the most security. Until then we must figure out ways to operate as safely as possible.
  5. An important PSA on the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan: If you applied before March 30, you MUST reapply. Good news: It only takes 5 minutes. Bad news: all applications filed before that date are gone. Also, for those who checked the box to receive a forgivable loan of $10,000 immediately with the EIDL, the SBA has clarified that this amount is actually $1,000 per employee up to a maximum of $10,000.
  6. Notes on the Payment Protection Program: Many businesses are hearing that banks have reached their lending limits and therefore not accepting further applications. Keep checking back with your local banks to see if limits have been lifted. Also there are some online non-bank platforms that are approved SBA lenders. More on that next week as we learn more.

That’s it for now. Please stay tuned to the EDASC website and our social media links for up-to-the-minute information. I continue to be overwhelmed by the dedication and ingenuity of our EDASC team, Board of Directors and our many investors and partners. They inspire and entertain me every day, and they reflect the finest qualities of our wonderful community. The generosity of spirit in the community also inspires me. I am grateful for all of you. Enjoy the weekend, take good care of yourselves, and be well!

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