Business & workers update: May 6, 2020

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May 6, 2020 

The Business and Workers update is a weekly newsletter providing news and information to help businesses and workers navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. The information is compiled by the state Economic Resiliency Team (ERT), part of the Joint Information Center at Camp Murray.

Gov. Inslee announces Safe Start plans and guidance for reopening

Governor Jay Inslee on Monday announced the state’s Safe Start plan, a four-phase approach to re-opening Washington’s economy.

The state is currently in Phase 1, which includes drive-in spiritual services with one household per vehicle, auto/RV/boat/ORV sales, retail open for curb-side pick-up orders, car washes, landscaping, and pet walking.

Businesses may only re-open when they are able to fully comply with the industry-specific requirements that will be issued no later than May 15, 2020. The Business and Worker page on will be updated with guidance as it is released.

Under the governor’s plan, smaller counties can apply for a variance, which would allow them to open more businesses than allowed statewide. Safe Start allows for modifications of business closures and physical distancing measures while minimizing the health impacts of COVID-19.

While Stay Home, Stay Healthy is being extended to the end of May, the “Safe Start” plan allows more businesses and activities to re-open in phases with adequate social distancing measures and health standards in place. Each phase will be at least three weeks — data and metrics will determine when the state can move from one phase to another. Phase 2 will not begin before June 1. Read the full Safe Start policy plan here.

Safe Start advisory groups

The governor also announced members of Safe Start advisory groups that will focus on health systems, public health, social supports and economic readiness. The three community leader advisory groups will be led by state cabinet officials:

  • Public Health and Health Care System led by Department of Health Secretary John Wiesman.
  • Safe Work and Economic Recovery led by Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown.
  • Social Supports led by Department of Social and Health Services Sec. Cheryl Strange.

The creation of the advisory groups are part of the governor’s recovery plan that he first announced last month. The groups will work in tandem with ongoing conversations with local and other state governments, stakeholders and community partners to make sure Washington can re-open safely for everyone.

ERT resources and outreach

Many companies, foundations and business organizations are offering small business funding opportunities related to COVID-19. Commerce is working to provide a list of all these resources in each county in the state.

New webinar: The Joint Information Center’s Economic Resiliency Team holds a weekly webinar with the Association of Washington Business. The audience includes hundreds of Washington businesses and industry associations. In the most recent webinar, Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine, Department of Commerce Assistant Director Chris Green and Department of Labor and Industries Director Joel Sacks discuss the state's latest efforts to help employers and workers. All the episodes are archived online.

New “The Impact: Road to Recovery” episodes on TVW

TVW has posted two new episodes in its series, “The Impact: Road to Recovery,” which discusses how businesses and workers can navigate their way through the COVID-19 pandemic. All the shows are archived on TVW. Recent episodes include:

TVW’s next guests will be former Gov. Chris Gregoire, and Jan Gee from the Washington Food Industry Association.

Business Response Center Update: The ERT’s Business Response Center has answered nearly 2,000 general business inquiries regarding reopening, health and safety concerns and available grants, loans and other business assistance since coming online April 8.

The center’s team, composed of people from the Department of Commerce, the Joint Information Center and volunteers from throughout state government, are reviewing incoming questions and responding as quickly as possible. They are currently able to answer questions as quickly as they are received. If you’re a business owner or operator with a question, you can fill out a form that goes to the center for response.

Employment Security Department

Unemployed workers throughout Washington will get jobs to help the state address and recover from the COVID-19 disaster, receive training for in-demand careers and get targeted help with their job search through a $12 million disaster recovery grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The grant also will help the state’s workforce system adapt to providing services virtually during and after the pandemic. 

Unemployment benefits adjudication update

The state Employment Security Department (ESD) recently sent out the following information out to all unemployment benefits claimants in its adjudication process.

ESD is working night and day to resolve this: This includes clearing out issues for things that aren’t relevant during the COVID-19 crisis. ESD is also adding more staff. Hear more from ESD’s commissioner, Suzi Levine.

While you wait: Check your spam folder—regularly. Adjudicators may be trying to reach you with questions so they can resolve the issues that are blocking your benefits. Did you apply online through eServices? You’ll get messages from asking you to sign in. Sign in and respond to those requests within five days—the sooner the better. You may also get follow-up emails from ESD. Make sure you reply to those emails directly.

Answer your phone if you get a call from 800-318-6022. If you miss a call from ESD, the only way to call back is through the main line for the claims center—and it won’t be easy to get through. Do everything you can to answer your phone and avoid calling back through the claims center. ESD’s claims centers are overloaded. The department has seen a 1000% increase in calls to its claims center, and last week was getting 100 calls per second.  

What is adjudication? It’s required when ESD needs more information to determine your eligibility for benefits. There are a lot of different reasons for this. Often, the department needs more details about why you’re not working. ESD also needs to verify that you meet requirements, such as being able to work if a job is available. 

Why does it hold up payment? All benefits are determined on a case-by-case basis. Your specific circumstances affect what you’re eligible for. ESD needs to confirm things like work history, any job separations, and the hours you’ve worked before the department can determine what you’re eligible for. And, if incorrect information was accidentally submitted, ESD has to verify the correct information before it can approve a claim. 

Adjudication requires factfinding and specialized expertise. Adjudicators go through extensive training to develop deep expertise. They’re different than ESD’s intake staff, who are prepared to answer more general questions. If, for example, employers give ESD information that doesn’t match, adjudicators:  

  • Do more fact finding to identify the correct information.  

  • Apply state and federal laws.  

  • Determine if workers are eligible and the kind of benefits they can get.  

Under normal circumstances, it takes around 21 days to adjudicate issues on a claim: These aren’t normal circumstances. ESD has had more applications in the last seven weeks than the previous three and a half years combined. And with so many businesses closed, it’s harder to reach employers if ESD needs to verify information with them.  

It’s about due process for everyone: ESD does not want to deny your benefits because of a discrepancy, and needs to ensure claims filed under your name are really you. It is important to protect you, and all taxpayers, from fraud. Unfortunately, this does take time. ESD is sorry you have to wait and is working hard to resolve all cases in adjudication as quickly as it can. 

Stay tuned for more: ESD will be posting updates on its progress to resolve adjudication cases on its website at starting next week.