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Updates on Coronavirus and Support for Small Businesses and Workers

Friends and Neighbors,

As Seattle continues to endure the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to provide a list of resources so you can more easily follow the regional response. This newsletter includes updates from the Governor, King County public health officials, and the Mayor as well as some relief regarding utility bills, small businesses, and workers. I continue to update my online blog regularly as news breaks, so you can always go there for the latest updates. 

Tips from King County Public Health

As you may know, COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus, and the main symptoms include cough, fever, and shortness of breath.  As of March 12, 2020, there are 234 confirmed cases in King County and 26 deaths, according to Seattle-King County Public Health. Seattle-King County Public Health is a reliable resource to track the situation in King County. If you think you might have COVID-19, please call the King County Coronavirus Hotline: (206) 477-3977.

Local Government Operations

While your city government is still operating to serve you, we are limiting large public meetings at City Hall to match guidelines from public health officials during the COVID-19 outbreak. We are still holding Monday afternoon Council meetings, but they are being held via phone. You can still listen to these meetings on the Seattle Channel’s website. If you have comments, e-mail them to council@seattle.gov which reaches all nine Councilmembers. We expect committee meetings to start again next month. For now, I will continue to hold office hours in our District, and will let you know via our office Facebook page if we need to temporarily close office hours. To sign up for office hours, CLICK HERE.

Governor Inslee addressing the press on March 11, 2020.
Photo credit: Seattle Times

Recent Announcements and Resources

During this public health crisis, Governor Jay Inslee is currently prohibiting gatherings with greater than 250 people in King County. In addition, Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Seattle-King County Public Health, prohibits events of fewer than 250 in King County “unless measures are taken to minimize risk.” For all updates from Governor Inslee, click here.

Here’s an excerpt from the Governor:

“Starting today, events that takes place in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties with more than 250 people are prohibited by the state. This order applies to gatherings for social, spiritual and recreational activities. These include but are not limited to: community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers and similar activities.”

Also from Governor Inslee:

“FINANCIAL HELP FOR WORKERS: Here are key excerpts from Governor Inslee’s March 10 announcement to help workers throughout our State, including in Seattle:  “The Governor and Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD), rolled out new rules to help alleviate the economic impact felt by businesses and workers…

“As a result of Inslee’s emergency proclamation, ESD developed rules to go into effect today. These rules enhance the flexibility of the unemployment insurance program. The rules will help relieve the burden of temporary layoffs, isolation and quarantine by ensuring unemployment benefits are available to individuals whose employment has been impacted directly by COVID-19.

  • Workers will be able to receive unemployment benefits and employers will get relief of benefit charges if an employer needs to curtail or shut down operations temporarily because a worker becomes sick and other workers need to be isolated or quarantined as a result of COVID-19.
  • A worker that follows guidance issued by a medical or public health official to isolate or quarantine themselves as a result of exposure to COVID-19 and is not receiving paid sick leave from their employer, may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
  • If a worker falls seriously ill and is forced to quit, they may qualify for Paid Family Medical Leave while ill under the existing program. Once recovered and available for work, they may apply for unemployment benefits.
  • It removes the full-time requirement and expands standby ability to part time/less than full-time workers who are isolated.

Levine said:

“The first and best option for workers who need to miss work due to illness or quarantine is to use their employer-provided paid time off. When that is not an option, an ESD program may be able to help. Accessing unemployment benefits, which provide a partial wage replacement, to address these situations is not the first choice but it is a last resort that is available for many. The last thing people need to worry about when dealing with a health crisis is how they’re going to put food on the table. These new rules build on our state’s already strong foundation of support services.”

School Closures

Effective March 12, 2020, all Seattle Public Schools will be closed.

Briefing by Public Health Director Patty Hayes

During the full Council meeting this week, Director Hayes confirmed telecommuting and social distancing can reduce the peak number of cases of COVID-19 and lessen the stress on our already burdened healthcare system. Here are two excerpts from her briefing:

Utility Bill Relief

As the chair of the City Council Committee that oversees both Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities, I’m pleased to support Mayor Durkan efforts to reduce the burden of utility bills during this public health crisis. Here’s an excerpt from the Mayor’s Executive Order from March 11:

“In order to provide economic relief for those impacted by COVID-19, Seattle City Light (SCL) and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) are directed to implement the following measures for commercial and residential customers:

Flexible Payment Plans

SPU and SCL shall take administrative action to allow for extended payment arrangements for residential and commercial customers who cannot pay their bills on time. Both utilities shall also allow for more flexible payment terms at the time of setting up the payment arrangement.

Late Fee Waiver

Legislation shall be developed and transmitted to the City Council by March 13 that waives the current 1% late fee to past due balances on SCL and SPU utility bills.  I plan to be the official sponsor to get the City Council to approve this legislation.

Shutoffs

SCL and SPU accounts facing a shut-off due to non-payment shall be kept on for customers who seek to establish payment plans with the utilities, until further notice.

Utility Discount Program Self-Certification

SCL and SPU shall take administrative action to expedite enrollment of all qualifying low-income households into the City’s Utility Discount Program (UDP).”

Small Business Relief

This week, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced relief efforts for small businesses that are suffering due to COVID-19. I sat down with District 4 restaurants recently to hear about the struggles they regularly face, including high taxes and the high cost of rent. Since the COVID-19 outbreak started in late February, small businesses are reporting lower foot traffic and decreased business.  “It’s going to take a toll,” one small businesswoman in Wallingford told me this week. To help your neighborhood businesses, please consider ordering take out, home delivery, or buying on their local websites.

Relief efforts are needed to keep our beloved local businesses afloat while we weather this public health crisis together. Here are key details from the Mayor:

All 20 neighborhoods of District 4 from Eastlake to Wallingford to Wedgwood have small businesses and many are struggling in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. We will post more details about the relief programs as they become available, including the new SBA loans that could be used to assist with commercial rent.

  • Seattle Times:  The Times is tracking all COVID-19 related news on their website here. They have lifted the electronic paywall and all COVID-19 articles are free with or without a subscription.

Seattle is a resilient city because its people are thoughtful, compassionate, and proactive. To stay up to date, continue to consult reliable sources like those provided here. We will get through this crisis together.

With gratitude,

Councilmember Alex Pedersen
Seattle City Council, District 4 / Northeast Seattle
Email: Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov
Phone: (206) 684-8804

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