Inslee Says Loss of Business Licenses, Arrests a Last Resort for Enforcing COVID-19 Order

Gov. Jay Inslee listens to a question from a reporter during a press conference last month.

More relief for small businesses impacted by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming available as Gov. Jay Inslee announced a number of efforts during a press conference Tuesday, April 7.

Inslee announced the opening of a $5 million grant program for small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 response. Businesses with up to 10 employees can apply for $10,000 grants that can be put toward rent, utility bills, supplies, inventory and other operating expenses, the governor said.

Washington State Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown said the small business assistance funds should have a quick turnaround and would be administered by local chambers of commerce and economic development agencies, giving familiarity of needs between grantor and grantee. She said the $10,000 grants would help on “the kinds of things that they can’t ‘turn off right now,” such as rent.

Although the department aims at regional equity she told eligible businesses to apply “right away,” acknowledging $5 million would not be enough to help all businesses impacted.

Both Brown and Inslee acknowledged the grants were relatively small, but could have the greatest impacts for the smallest of businesses in Washington state.

“It won’t be small to them,” Inslee said. “It could be life-changing.”

Inslee also announced the state Department of Commerce was providing a business resiliency assistance program partnering with a variety of organizations that support minority communities across the state, such as the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Tacoma Urban League, the Inland Northwest Business Alliance and the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority.

Inslee said he was particularly proud of the program given the backlash many Asian-owned businesses faced given COVID-19’s association with Asia.

The third relief announcement was for small businesses, nonprofit organizations, independent contractors or self-employed individuals in need of financial help who may be eligible for a forgivable loan from the Small Business Administration. Inslee said starting April 3 banks began accepting applications for the loans, adding that a disaster declaration from the SBA in early March opened the door for that opportunity.

Inslee said that there was high demand for those forgivable loans, urging businesses in need to keep applying to make sure Washington state gets some of the available assistance.

Washington State Employment Security Department Director Suzi LeVine said call volumes to her department were down 10 to 15 percent from the week prior, which she said was an encouraging sign. She said she believes there would likely be a spike in unemployment insurance numbers the week ending April 25 because of the planned launch of the pandemic unemployment assistance program the prior Saturday.

“Right now it’s sort of leveling out,” LeVine said.

She explained the new program would allow for eligibility for assistance through the program for those not currently eligible for unemployment insurance, as well as adding $600 to weekly benefits and extending the benefits for 13 weeks.

In other relief efforts, Inslee said the state had already disbursed $120 million of the $200 million emergency COVID-19 fund approved by the Washington state Legislature, including $10 million to the state Department of Agriculture to purchase and distribute food to nonprofits, $5 million for the Department of Commerce to assist tribes and $30 million to the state Department of Health for outbreak assistance.

Inslee said there was still a possibility of calling the Legislature back for a special session to make more appropriations for COVID-19 response given the extent of economic impacts.

“It is my belief that we are going to have to do some more aggressive things. The question is when to do those things,” Inslee said, adding any efforts needed before 2021 would mean a special session.

“Stay tuned,” Inslee said.

Over the past month, Inslee said the state has hired hundreds of workers to process industrial insurance claims anticipated to come in, mentioning other relief measures such as waiver of the one-week waiting period to collect unemployment insurance benefits and expansion of the state’s family emergency assistance program.

Inslee said the measures announced that day were “only just the start of what we need to do,” acknowledging a “long economic recovery” ahead of Washington.

“These are relatively small things given the mountain we’ve got to climb,” Inslee said, adding that the day’s announcements were on actions the state could take on “quickly.” He said one of the more long-term issues would be rebuilding demand in the state.

Inslee said scientific evidence suggested the state’s measures at controlling the spread of COVID-19 were having a positive impact. He said that data led to the decision for Washington to return 400 ventilators and 300 beds to the national stockpile over the weekend. He added that Washington’s efforts had been recognized across the country, though he stressed that “we’re not out of the woods yet” when it came to the outbreak.

“All of the progress we’ve made today could be wiped out if we retreat from this effort, now or in the future,” Inslee said.

“If our fatality rate starts to go down, and we hope it does … there is going to be an inclination to let up, to take it easy a little bit,” Inslee said. “That could be a fatal mistake.”

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