TL;DR –  Inslee signs unemployment insurance tax cut, boost in jobless benefits amid COVID-19. Gov. Jay Inslee Monday put his signature on a bill that slashes a scheduled hike in unemployment insurance for businesses and also expands jobless benefits and protections amid the pandemic.

Washington State COVID-19 Status Report, February 8, 2021

Senate Bill 5061 is one of several lawmakers are quickly moving this legislative session in order to help Washington residents and businesses hurt by the COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing restrictions on commerce and daily life.

“And I’m very happy we’ve done this early in the session, because this really certainly is needed,” said Inslee during the bill-signing event. “We need businesses to have confidence.”

The governor signed the bill at an 11:30 a.m. news conference.

The legislation is intended to help with what would have been a $1.7 billion hike in unemployment taxes for employers through 2025.

That increase was set to take effect in order to the massive boost in unemployment claims during the pandemic as businesses were closed and commerce dropped off.

The bill slashes the tax employers were set to pay in 2021 by $920 million. And it gets rid of calculations on future tax rates regarding the $1.2 billion in worker benefits given out during the stay-home period last spring at the outbreak of the virus.

With the bill signed, April tax payments for the first quarter of the year can avoid the steep increases, said bill sponsor Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, during the news conference.

Additionally, SB 5061 increases the minimum weekly unemployment benefit to about $270 for low-wage workers who lose their positions. That is up from $201.

The measure also allows unemployment benefits for employees who quit jobs during a declared public health emergency, if they face a high health risk related to that emergency, or if they live with individuals in the high-risk category.

Inslee was joined remotely during the news conference by Keiser and co-sponsor Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, as well as Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, who worked on the legislation in the House.

The bill passed both the House and Senate with strong bipartisan majorities.

Lawmakers are advancing other bills to give aid during the pandemic, including a $2.2 billion measure to increase contact tracing and vaccine distribution, and aid renters, schools and small businesses during the outbreak.

That legislation, House Bill 1368, is funded mostly by federal aid money from relief packages approved by Congress, as well about $440 million from the state budget reserves. Last week, HB 1368 passed off the House floor, and then was approved in a Senate committee vote.

Another proposal, Senate Bill 5272, waives for one year liquor licenses for establishments like distilleries, taverns and restaurants, to help the economic hit to those businesses. Senate lawmakers approved that bill last week.

COVID-19 Reopening Guidance for Businesses and Workers

On January 5, Governor Inslee announced the Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery plan, which lays out the process to safely reopen Washington state. The plan includes guidance for certain businesses and industries to help protect Washingtonians and minimize the spread of COVID-19.

The full Healthy Washington phased chart is available here.

Important Reference Documents

Healthy Washington Requirements

The following business activities must adhere to the occupancy and operation requirements outlined for their region’s Healthy Washington phase:

Professional Services

Personal Services

Eating and Drinking Establishments

Sports, Recreation and Fitness

Indoor Entertainment Establishments

Outdoor Entertainment Establishments​

All employers must follow COVID-19 prevention protocols for employees as required by the Department of Labor and Industries. Industry-specific workplace requirements are listed below:

Additional Industry Requirements​

Source: Brynn Brady