The Times 

Inslee signs bipartisan bill to support business and workers

 

February 11, 2021



OLYMPIA—Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation this week providing relief for businesses and workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. SB 5061 will increase minimum unemployment benefits for workers and provide significant tax relief for businesses over the next five years, to support recovery from the economic impacts of COVID shutdowns. The legislation, which the governor requested, is a critical piece of the state’s COVID-19 recovery plan. It passed with strong bipartisan support in both chambers.

COVID-19 has caused deep economic hardship for many workers and businesses. This bill is another step in helping to mitigate these challenges.

SB 5061 relieves employers of individual benefit charges for claims that occurred between March 22 and May 30, 2020, the period of the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, and caps specific tax rates through 2025. Together, these actions prevent a $1.7 billion spike in unemployment taxes over the next five years, including just over $920 million in rate increases this year. With revenue down and employers facing increased business costs, this bill offers much-needed relief.


The legislation also addresses the hardship being faced by workers, putting more money into the pockets of those experiencing unemployment by increasing the minimum benefit starting July 1. This builds on investments the governor made last November. Through budget authorization, he added over $9.5 million to resolve top unemployment claims adjudication issues, hire an additional 60 adjudicators and 32 dual language agents, and increase technology support and materials translation.


Additionally, SB 5061 makes policy updates to ensure that Washington’s unemployment insurance system is more agile and responsive during public health emergencies. This includes eligibility for individuals at high risk for severe illness and their family members. It also ensures that federal money will not be left on the table when federal support is available for specific benefit programs. The bill also has improvements to the state’s Voluntary Contributions Program, which allows employers to buy-down rate increases even further.

Businesses and individuals won’t have to go through any additional processes to receive the deductions or increased benefits.

The bill was crafted with support from the Employment Security Department and their Unemployment Insurance Advisory Committee, composed of representatives from statewide business and labor organizations.

 

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