What are the unemployment benefits available if I'm impacted by the coronavirus? | KNKX

What are the unemployment benefits available if I'm impacted by the coronavirus?

Mar 12, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak is causing economic trouble. Restaurants are closing. Small businesses aren't seeing sales, and sending employees home, sometimes temporarily, sometimes for good.

Washington state Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine walked us through some resources. We've linked to them below, which is also where you can read a transcript of her conversation with KNKX All Things Considered host Ed Ronco.


Restaurants and other small businesses are closing.  We're expecting that many people across the region could find themselves without a paycheck in a lot of industries. Can we talk about what unemployment benefits are available to people who've been affected by the Coronavirus, either directly or through policies like the restrictions announced this week?

There are four different tools: 1.) Paid sick leave. That really is the first best choice, providing people with their full wage and the assurance that they are going back to their job when they're done, they're paid sick leave time. 2.) Unemployment insurance. And that is partial wage replacement. And we announced emergency rules to increase the flexibility of our unemployment insurance here in Washington state that help both businesses and employees. 3). Workers compensation, where if an individual such as a first responder comes into contact with the virus, they would be covered by the worker's compensation. 4). Paid family and medical leave that helps cover individuals who are severely ill. It requires a medical certification and also allows those who have to care for somebody who is severely ill. Across the board, these tools are designed to help individuals and help those individuals help the ones that they love.

I think a lot of employees are going to find themselves in a situation. I think we've certainly seen this in restaurants where they are told you are laid off. We're done.

Yes. There are some individuals who have been laid off. I know that there are some restaurants, for example, who are saying we're going to be closed for this period of time. There is something called standby that allows them to lay people off for a short period of time. And for employees to be able to receive unemployment insurance benefits.

Another tool that employers have is something called shared work, where they can reduce the number of hours and that amount that they've reduced in terms of those hours. Those individuals can apply for unemployment insurance benefits and receive partial wage replacement for those lost hours. So those are a couple of tools for small businesses especially, but any sized business to avail themselves of during this time that could help their workers both stay attached to the business and be able to return to it.

"My regular lunch crowd is down 80 percent. No one's out. And if they don't have people going to the Games, I don't get business. No one's getting business. I have no idea how they figure people are going to pay their bills, their rent, their power. Even during the natural disasters, there was there was grants and moneys to be given out immediately." -- Shane Quinn, owner of Slugger's, a bar and grill near CenturyLink Field in Seattle

Are there mechanisms in place to make sure that when people avail themselves of the options you've outlined, they get relief right away? Because we've seen this these closures happen really fast.

It has been precipitous. Lisa Brown, our secretary of Commerce, and I are co-chairing the economic recovery team for Washington State. And we are looking at all of the different mechanisms by which to provide infusions of support for businesses and workers. Just last week, the federal government passed an $8.3 billion bill. We are hoping the legislature comes through in Washington state with some additional support. And we are looking at many other options. So stay tuned because we are keenly aware of and listening to and working closely with both business and labor to look at how do we help individuals like the Bar and Grill owner, the hospitality industry, the other services that are profoundly and precipitously affected?

I don't think there's a lot that directly compares to what Washington state and other states I'm sure soon are going through or will be going through. But there have been long term disasters in our country before. And I'm curious if you've been in contact with your counterparts in other states who might have been through hurricanes or wildfire seasons or anything else that would have similar effects on a community where daily life just can't function for a long period of time.

What's unique this time is that my own staff, my 1,600 people across Washington state are themselves directly impacted by this. At the same time that we are working to help those around us in our communities and across our state who are impacted. So I think that that changes the equation a bit in our ability to respond and to stay focused on both ourselves and our families as well as those that we're serving. So that's a unique difference this time around that we haven't faced before in this type of situation. It is like a wave. And we are at the very front of the wave and in King County and Seattle and Snohomish and Pierce, we're at the front of the front of the wave for Washington State. So it's how do we both rapidly act, rapidly learn and rapidly share so that others can use us as their crystal ball and be prepared for when this wave hits them as well?

If somebody shows up in front of you and says, Commissioner LeVine, what do I do? What's the first thing you tell them?

I would echo what the governor has already said, and that is that we will get through this. It feels like a ton of pressure right now. And it is. And we are bringing all of our resources to bear to help us get through this. And we will get through this. That's first and foremost to reassure that individual to access resources. I would encourage them to go to our Web site, look at the different scenarios that we've built out, identify where they might fit in. We recognize that there are some gaps and we're looking at how do we fill those gaps. There are some businesses who have already said they're going to be extending their paid leave options. We also are looking at how can other businesses help? I understand, for example, the Seattle Foundation has a fund to help different institutions that help individuals throughout the communities. So there are many folks who are trying to bring resources to bear on this. Right now, we're at the start of the wave and we are going to get our rhythm. We are going to be able to help folks in this time of great need.