04.13.20

Helping Families Get By During COVID-19

Hello Folks –

I hope everyone had joyous and peaceful Passover and Easter celebrations this past week. I spent some quality time with my family and got a good reminder from my church that sometimes, we can all be together – even when we’re apart.

These past few weeks have given us all time to reflect on the unprecedented challenges we are facing as a society and to give thanks to our health care, police and fire, food, postal, and other essential workers on the front lines combating the coronavirus.

In recent days, we have learned of record numbers of Americans filing for unemployment assistance. Already, Congress has taken action to help meet the needs of these Americans – but we all know there is more work to do.

The CARES Act, which passed the House and was signed into law by the President late last month, included $260 billion for expanded unemployment insurance, including paycheck replacements that equate to 100 percent of wages for the average American without a paycheck struggling through this crisis. It also extends benefits to part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers to ensure that all workers can access these vital benefits. It gets money in people’s pockets sooner by providing federal incentives for states to eliminate waiting weeks. Furthermore, 13 additional weeks of federally funded unemployment insurance benefits are immediately made available with the passage of this bill.

It’s a good start to addressing the significant displacement caused by this pandemic. This has been a tough time and folks have a lot of challenges. Part of my role has been to ensure that the people I represent have fast access to accurate information about the resources that can help them. Whether doing telephone townhalls, Facebook Q&A sessions, or even doing Zoom videoconferences with local chambers of commerce, I’m working to get information out to folks. In this newsletter, I want to answer some of the most frequently asked questions (see below). 

I also wanted to let you know that this coming Tuesday, I’ll be joined for a Facebook Live at 3:15pm by Washington Employment Security Department (ESD) Commissioner Suzi LeVine. We’ll be talking about the resources available for folks across our region and answering your questions. You can tune in to the event (or set a “reminder” to join) here.

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Answering Your Questions on Unemployment Insurance

Who qualifies for the expanded Pandemic Unemployment Insurance and what unemployment benefits are available?

The CARES Act significantly expanded eligibility for Pandemic Unemployment Insurance to cover all workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic, including workers who are self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers, and those who do not have sufficient work history to qualify for traditional unemployment benefits. Workers applying for Pandemic Unemployment Insurance must meet these qualifications: 1) ineligible for any other state or federal unemployment benefits; 2) unemployed, partially unemployed, or cannot work due to the COVID-19 public health crisis; and 3) cannot telework or receive paid leave from the worker’s employer.

In addition to the expanded eligibility described above, the CARES Act also provides an additional $600 per week to everyone on unemployment from March 29 through July 31, 2020. Benefits will also be extended by 13 weeks, for a maximum of 39 weeks (or about nine months). These expanded benefits apply to people who were already on unemployment as well as those who are newly eligible.

For additional information, please visit the ESD COVID-19 website.

When will the additional $600 start being added to my unemployment payment each week?

ESD is working as quickly as possible to update its technology to ensure everyone who is eligible gets the full amount they are owed and is also waiting for some additional guidance from the Department of Labor. They have a target launch of mid-April. ESD will backdate claims, so you will be paid from the time you separated from your job or otherwise became eligible under the CARES Act.

Can someone who was laid off before the CARES Act passed qualify for these new benefits?

Yes, the $600 weekly boost will be provided as a supplement to those who are already receiving unemployment compensation at the state level.

Is it true that people who were not laid off can also qualify?

In some cases, yes. Individuals who can provide self-certification that they had to quit for a specific COVID-19-related reason and who do not have the ability to telework with pay, or access paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits, may qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

Some of the specific examples of workers who could qualify without being laid off include those forced to leave work because:

  • They were diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • They are forced to self-quarantine due to presumptive exposure to COVID-19;
  • They are caring for a family member with COVID-19; or
  • They have to care for their child whose daycare or school is closed due to COVID-19.

Are the new unemployment benefits taxable?

Yes. Like traditional unemployment benefits, these expanded benefits are counted as income and taxed on individual tax returns. Taxpayers will be required to disclose their unemployment insurance benefits when they file taxes.

I heard $1,200 will be part of this – when can I expect to get that money? 

The $1,200 Economic Impact Payments are a one-time payment to all low- and middle-income families, not just those receiving unemployment benefits. This money will come directly from the federal government. More information on these rebate payments can be found here.

How will I know when the ESD system is updated? 

The best way to stay up-to-date is to sign up for the ESD COVID-19 action alert updates here.

Increasing Access to Food Assistance for Washingtonians

As unemployment claims surge, experts are warning that the number of American families struggling to put food on the table is likely to increase dramatically in the coming weeks as wages are lost and food pantries struggle to meet demand. To that end, I joined over 135 Members of the House in urging congressional leaders to prioritize assistance for hungry and food insecure families in upcoming COVID-19 emergency relief packages. We asked Senate and House leaders to boost benefits to individuals. Additionally, we believe it’s important to withdraw new Administration rules which would kick millions of Americans off food assistance in the middle of a global health emergency.

In addition, last week, I led an effort with Representative Denny Heck to make it easier for food banks to manage increased demand and joined the full bipartisan Washington delegation in calling on the President to grant Governor Inslee’s Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) request. These efforts would make it easier for food banks to comply with social distancing guidelines to keep their clients, volunteers, and staff, safe and healthy - and unlock critical food assistance in our state and extend SNAP benefits to more families in households in need across our region during the pandemic.

Calling for Improvements to Help Small Businesses Weather the Coronavirus

Employers across our region are making decisions right now about whether to shut down or weather the storm of the pandemic. Unfortunately, there’s been too much uncertainty from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and too many delays getting support out to small business owners and workers.

Last week, Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler and I called for the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the SBA to take steps to improve the Paycheck Protection Program and increase access to loans for small businesses being impacted by COVID-19 across Washington state. The Paycheck Protection Program, which was created in the third COVID-19 emergency relief package, provides forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees and keep them on the payroll. We called on the agencies to improve the operability of the loan application system, issue additional guidance to improve clarity for lenders, and enhance responsiveness to lenders and borrowers. We’ve got to get assistance out to folks as soon as possible – and the federal government needs to step-up.

In addition, early this week, we will be introducing a bill to strengthen and expand this program.  The Paycheck Protection Program Expansion Act will provide more help to small businesses and ensure this program is adequately funded.

Going to Bat for Pay and Protection for Shipyard Workers

I’m proud to represent thousands of dedicated federal civilian workers who have continued to report for duty each day at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. These workers perform a critical service to our country and help maintain the aircraft carriers, submarines, and other warships that ensure our national security and protect the American people.

Last week I led a group of lawmakers, who represent our four naval shipyards across the country, in calling on the U.S. Navy to expand support for these workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Because they have continued to report for duty during this public health emergency, we asked the Navy to authorize incentive pay for these essential workers – and to make every effort to provide Personal Protective Equipment as soon as possible to those workers at greatest risk of exposure.

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Honestly, I believe all of our frontline workers should be getting the pay and protection they deserve. Our nurses, grocery workers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and so many others have stepped up in such big ways. In this case, the provision of additional pay and adequate protection requires action by the federal government – and makes a ton of sense. The health of these workers and of their families is critical to our ability to continue to ensure the readiness of our fleet to respond to national security threats. And there’s no doubt that our federal workers are some of this country’s greatest assets. The federal government and the Navy should have their backs when they most deserve and need that support. I’ll keep working to that end.

Protecting People from Scams and Price Gouging

Unfortunately, in the midst of this crisis, there have been increased reports of coronavirus-related scams. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), people have gotten scam offers of fake test kits, promotions of bogus treatments and cures, and requests for personal information to confirm a check from the government. In response, I recently joined some of my colleagues in calling on the FCC and the U.S. Department of Justice to step up their efforts to safeguard folks from these scams. I’ve also co-sponsored a bill to provide additional legal support for senior citizens who may be dealing with challenges during this time.

Last week, I did a Facebook Live chat with our Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Shannon Smith, the head of the Consumer Protection Division in the AG’s office, to discuss how people can protect themselves. To learn more about how to avoid scams and price gouging, please visit this link, where we answer your questions and speak about best practices to stay vigilant against these scams.

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OK – that’s it for now folks. In the coming days and weeks, I know there will be plenty of challenges that we face as we work to contain the spread of the coronavirus and move towards recovery. Together, we can overcome these challenges. If there’s anything I can do to lend a hand, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my team or to me. Take care of yourselves!

As always, I’m honored to represent you.

Sincerely,

Derek