This week marked the passage of several important bills to provide COVID-19 relief and assistance to businesses. On Monday, February 8, Governor Inslee signed ESSB 5061, which provides employers Unemployment Insurance (UI) relief, into law. The legislation reduces the UI taxes due from employers in 2021 by $920 million while raising the minimum weekly UI benefit for recipients from $201 to $270. The bill had an emergency clause, so it took effect immediately on Monday when Gov. Inslee signed it. We are grateful the Legislature took quick action to help reduce severe spikes in UI taxes that are triggered by the depletion of the UI trust fund, due the pandemic. However, we know that some businesses may still see their UI rates double, taking up a significant share of their total payroll, so there is more work to be done.
On Wednesday, February 10, the Legislature passed ESHB 1368, allocating $2.2 billion in federal funds to provide COVID-19 relief. The legislation includes $240 million for business assistance grants, which will be distributed by the Washington Department of Commerce as part of the working Washington Grant Program. The legislation also includes important funding that will help allow employees to return to work: $438 million for COVID testing and contract tracing and $50 million for child care.
Also on Wednesday, February 10, the Legislature passed another important bill that the Chamber supported, Rep. Amy Walen’s SHB 1095, providing tax exemptions for COVID-19 relief grants. Just as relief payments for individuals to cover medical and property expenses resulting from a disaster are not taxable, the financial assistance provided to businesses facing new costs and shrinking revenues due to COVID-19 and the resulting economic disaster should not be taxed. This legislation would make that change.
We urge Governor Inslee to sign the bills allocating federal dollars for COVID-19 relief and exempting COVID relief grants from taxes as soon as they reach his desk. There is still a lot of work to do to help businesses struggling to survive COVID-19 and the resulting economic disaster, but this past week had a number of important victories for businesses.