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Swamped Financially During Pandemic? Support Available

Washingtonians out of work from COVID-19 are eligible for unemployment, but should wait until at least April 18 to apply. (fabioderby/Adobe Stock)
Washingtonians out of work from COVID-19 are eligible for unemployment, but should wait until at least April 18 to apply. (fabioderby/Adobe Stock)
April 6, 2020

SEATTLE -- The coronavirus pandemic is taking a financial toll on Washington state families, but there are options to help them get through this crisis.

Already, Washington is seeing record numbers of unemployment claims -- more than 300,000 first-time claims over the past two weeks.

Marilyn Watkins, policy director for the Economic Opportunity Institute, says Congress' stimulus package will add an extra $600 per week to unemployment checks through the end of July.

"Really, anyone who's out of work or can't find work due to this virus and this pandemic outbreak will be able to get unemployment insurance and that will be available to them retroactive to the end of March," she points out.

But Watkins notes that people who newly qualify should wait to file until at least April 18, which is the state's goal for setting up its unemployment system for these applications.

For essential workers still on the job, the federal stimulus package created more sick leave options. Workers can take two weeks off at full pay to care for themselves and at two-thirds pay to care for a loved one, in addition to any other sick leave they might have.

Parents can also get two-thirds pay for 10 weeks to care for children out of school or child care. The federal government will reimburse employers for this sick leave.

Watkins says small businesses have options, including loans and grants from state and federal governments.

"There's support for businesses who are able to maintain their workers, and there's going to cash assistance and cash grants to small businesses to help them maintain people on payroll and maintain people with health insurance so that they can just immediately kick back into gear," she explains.

Washington state has a moratorium on evictions in place and utility companies have pledged not to shut off people's power or water.

And a stimulus check of up to $1,200 could be coming as soon as this week to people who make less than $100,00.

Watkins adds that this is just a start on the road to recovery and Congress already is talking about another aid package. She says this crisis could create an opportunity to rebuild a better system.

"We already had a lot of people barely making it and barely squeaking by, paycheck to paycheck," she notes. "So, I think going forward we really want to look at how can we come out of this even better and stronger and more resilient."

Disclosure: Economic Opportunity Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Livable Wages/Working Families, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA