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State Senate passes unemployment bill to help workers, businesses

A State Patrol vehicle drives through the Capitol campus in Olympia on Jan. 10, 2021.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
A State Patrol vehicle drives through the Capitol campus in Olympia on Jan. 10, 2021.

The Washington Senate has passed a measure that would increase the minimum weekly benefit for unemployed workers starting in July and would prevent a dramatic increase in unemployment taxes paid by businesses.

The Senate passed the measure on a bipartisan 42-7 vote Wednesday night, and the measure now heads to the House for consideration.

If the bill, requested by Gov. Jay Inslee, passes the House, workers who make between $21,000 and $27,800 per year would receive a larger share of their weekly wages in benefits — up to 20% from 15%, raising the minimum level from $201 to $270 in July.

In addition, the state's businesses would see relief from unemployment taxes, including reductions in bills due in April, but only if the measure passes the Legislature mid-February. Because the bill has an emergency clause, it would take effect as soon as Inslee signs it.

The measure would prevent $1.7 billion in automatic unemployment insurance tax increases from taking effect from 2021 to 2025, including $920 million this year due to last year's pandemic-induced layoffs.

The bill would also allow high-risk workers who cannot work from home to voluntarily quit and still receive benefits, and would waive charges for an employer who reduces operations or shuts down due to an infectious public health emergency.

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