E-News

E-News: Aid for businesses and workers

November 23rd, 2020|

Dear neighbors,

As we approach the holidays, I hope you are staying healthy and safe. I know we all want to see our family and friends. But with COVID numbers increasing dramatically in Washington, we are seeing more cases now than we did at the peak this spring. Now is a critical time for us to stop the spread.

Each of us can make a difference. To keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, and to keep our hospital system from being overwhelmed, we need to hold fewer, shorter, smaller social gatherings. Shrinking your social circle and skipping indoor gatherings can help. Staying home is still safest. If you do go out, keep it quick, keep your distance and wear a mask. Do your recreation and business locally to avoid spreading the virus across county lines. Limit the number of people outside your household that you gather with—we can all get through this season by caring for each other.

Below, you can find information about the assistance that the Employment Security Department is providing for those who are facing job loss in the wake of the new pandemic restrictions on businesses, as well as information about the state’s aid for small businesses.

Unemployment Insurance Updates

Whether you have to restart your unemployment insurance claim or file a new one, the Employment Security Department (ESD) is ready to help.

You may recall that in the first months of the pandemic, the ESD was overwhelmed with claims, which resulted in some delays in benefits that really hurt thousands of workers and their families. Since then, ESD has hired and trained over 1,200 new team members, and improved anti-fraud and cybersecurity measures. They have also expanded phone service hours and added support for people with limited English proficiency.

I’m hoping that these changes will enable the Department to respond more smoothly to increased unemployment insurance claims. If your job will be affected by the new restrictions, you can find information about starting a new unemployment insurance claim, or about re-starting a previous claim, on the ESD website.  And as always, if you have a problem with a state agency like ESD, don’t hesitate to contact me and let me know what has happened so I can try to help.

Aid for Businesses

If you own or work for a small business that’s struggling, more aid is on the way. The state is allocating $135 million of federal CARES Act funding for an immediate relief package. This includes $50 million in direct grants to small businesses, $30 million in business loans, and $20 million in rental assistance, among other elements. Applications for this program are not yet open, but they will be soon. You can find more information on the Washington Department of Commerce’s website.

Help for Immigrants

If you’re an immigrant experiencing hard times because of COVID-19, and you aren’t eligible for federal financial relief or unemployment insurance, the Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund can help. It can provide a $1,000 one-time direct payment (up to $3,000 per household).

Learn more and apply online here or by calling 1-844-724-3737. Apply BEFORE Dec. 6, 2020.

The Immigrant Relief Fund website is available in English, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Swahili, Garifuna,  Tagalog, Somali, and Hindi.

Additional resources for Spanish-speakers can be found at the website of the Senate Members of Color Caucus here.

Stay in Touch

If you’d like to follow what I’m working on, you can like my official legislative Facebook page here.

Please don’t hesitate to stay in touch. Stay safe and take care. And despite this awful pandemic, I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Always,

Senator Karen Keiser
Chair, Senate Labor & Commerce Committee
Senate President Pro Tempore

  • Open Enrollment 2021
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    E-News: The nation’s first public option is open for enrollment

E-News: The nation’s first public option is open for enrollment

November 5th, 2020|

Dear Neighbors,

If you’re looking for health insurance, now is the time to act. Open enrollment in the Washington State health care exchange opened on November 1. For coverage starting January 1, the deadline to enroll is December 15; and for coverage starting February 1, the deadline is January 15. See below for information about subsidies for people on low incomes or who have lost their jobs.

In 2019, the Legislature passed a bill creating Cascade Care, the nation’s first public option for health insurance. This year, it will be up and running, and the numbers are looking good.

Already, in the first week of open enrollment, more than 182,000 Washingtonians have signed up for 2021 coverage on our state’s health care exchange. Among the 2,400 customers who have signed up for coverage for the first time this year, 30% have selected new Cascade Care plans.

One major goal of our bill was to set up plans that provide patients more and better care for their money. The plans Cascade Care is offering for 2021 cover more services before needing to meet the deductible, including primary care visits, mental health services, and generic drugs. People can get the care they need without worrying about whether they can afford it up front. That keeps our whole state healthier.

And Cascade Care is also hitting another of our major goals: finally bringing costs for health insurance down across the board. By competing with other plans, Cascade Care pushes other providers to offer better plans, lower deductibles, and lower rates. Cascade Care plans offer deductibles that are on average $1,000 less than other plans. And the average rate across all plans on the exchange in 2021 will be 2.4% less than in 2020.

And at the same time, our health care marketplace has remained vibrant. In King County, you can choose between nearly 70 plans offered by 8 different insurance carriers. That allows you to shop for the best plan for the health care you need—which may or may not be one of the new Cascade Care plans.

If you are on a tight budget, don’t let the sticker price keep you from signing up. People who are on low incomes or who have lost their employer-provided coverage may qualify for subsidies to lower their premiums. If your income has decreased because you’ve lost your job or you have come to the end of unemployment benefits, you may qualify for federal subsides under the Affordable Care Act. You will be able to see the amount of the subsidy once you start the process of signing up for health care.

And if your income is below 138% of the federal poverty level (about $3,000 per month for a family of four), or you meet other criteria, you may qualify for free or low-cost coverage through Washington’s Apple Care program. You can find out more about eligibility for Apple Care here.

For more information to help you find health insurance, or to learn about Cascade Care, get in contact with Washington Healthplanfinder. Their options include in-person enrollment centers, virtual video or phone assistance (1-855-923-4633; TTY: 855-627-9604), the WAPlanfinder Mobile App, and www.wahealthplanfinder.org.

Open Enrollment 2021

Stay in Touch

If you’d like to follow what I’m working on, you can like my official legislative Facebook page here.

Please don’t hesitate to stay in touch. Stay safe and take care.

Always,

Senator Karen Keiser
Chair, Senate Labor & Commerce Committee
Senate President Pro Tempore

 

Update on small business assistance

September 28th, 2020|

Dear Neighbors,

As I wrote you last week, our federal, state and local governments are stepping up assistance for people and businesses affected by the pandemic. In addition to the rental, mortgage, and child care assistance that I listed in my previous e-newsletter, they are also offering generous help for small businesses. You can find details described below.

Loans and debt relief

The state Department of Financial Institutions has a website dedicated to the state and federal resources available to small businesses, including emergency loans.

  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance
    This loan advance will provide up to $10,000 of economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing temporary difficulties that does not have to be repaid. This complements the traditional SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program which has been in place for the entire nation, all territories and Washington, D.C. since mid-March. Approval notification is estimated at approximately three days. The program is currently accepting applications.
  • Paycheck Protection Program
    Primarily for payroll expenses, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), provided loans for small businesses. The program is not accepting new applications, but is now accepting applications from loan recipients for forgiveness.
  • SBA Debt Relief
    The Small Business Administration (SBA) is providing a financial reprieve to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. This covers all principal, interest and fees on current and new SBA 7(a) loans made through Sep. 27, 2020, for up to six months.
  • Express Bridge Loan
    The SBA’s Express Bridge Loan allows small businesses that have an existing business relationship with a participating lender to access up to $25,000 quickly.

Grants

Puget Sound Energy Foundation is providing grants to help businesses impacted by COVID-19 serve and reopen operations. Grant sizes range between $1,000 – $20,000. Next deadlineOctober 1 with awards in December.

Technical assistance coaching

King County offers small businesses technical assistance coaching from a U.S. Treasury Certified Community Development Financial Institution. You can use an online request form through this site, or call 206-331-3275 (Relay 711) and leave your contact information. A coach will call back within two business days for a coaching call, with a language interpreter on the line if requested.

Webinars with up-to-date info, and live Q & A

The state puts on a monthly webinar series presents information specific to Washington small businesses. The series features brief presentations from state and federal agencies and open-mic Q & A time. Topics include unemployment insurance, returning employees to work, PPP and EIDL loans, workplace safety, face covering requirements, and other subjects important to employers.

Stay in Touch

If you’d like to follow what I’m working on, you can like my official legislative Facebook page here.

Please don’t hesitate to stay in touch. Stay safe and take care.

Always,

Senator Karen Keiser
Chair, Senate Labor & Commerce Committee
Senate President Pro Tempore

Rental, mortgage, and child care assistance

September 18th, 2020|

Dear Neighbors,

As we enter the fall still feeling the effects of the pandemic, state and local governments are stepping up assistance for people in need. If you need emergency help with food, housing, or other services, contact King County Crisis Connections (call 2-1-1 or text your zip code to 877-211-9274). If you are in need of rental or mortgage assistance or child care, or you know someone who is, you can find information below about programs to help. In my next newsletter, I will provide information about assistance for small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Child Care

For families facing new child care needs during the pandemic, Child Care Aware of Washington operates a free statewide referral line to connect families with vacant child care slots. Call 1-800-446-1114 or contact them here. The Working Connection Child Care program helps lower-income families and working parents pay for child care. When a family qualifies for benefits and selects an eligible child care provider, the state pays a portion of the cost. The City of Seattle also operates a local child care subsidy program for city residents.

Additionally, many of our local school districts are partnering with community organizations to provide low-cost child care while students are doing distance learning:

  • Federal Way Public Schools is partnering with Right At School to offer families who qualify for Free & Reduced Meals a 25% discount for high-quality, flexible 2020-21 school year child care.
  • Highline Public Schools is partnering with community organizations to provide fee-based child care at several sites. Fees will be charged on a sliding scale.
  • Kent School District is partnering with the YMCA and Champions to offer child care at select schools on weekdays, open to all KSD families for a weekly cost.
  • Renton School District is partnering with Right At School to provide fee-based child care for elementary school students at three sites across the district: Hazelwood, Maplewood Heights, and Sartori.
  • Seattle Public Schools is partnering with the City of Seattle and community organizations to provide full-day child care in nearly 50 elementary and K8 schools while buildings are closed for COVID-19.
  • Auburn School District and Tukwila School District provide information for local families, as well.

Rental Assistance

For people having trouble paying rent or facing eviction due to the financial hardships brought on by the pandemic, there are several sources of assistance. King County provides a wealth of information here, but several particular programs are worth highlighting.

The United Way of King County has expanded its rental assistance program to meet the increased need during the pandemic. One month of rental assistance is being offered to people in King County struggling to pay rent due to the coronavirus.

Another source of rental assistance for residents of Auburn, Burien, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent, Renton, SeaTac, or Tukwila is the Multi-Service Center’s Covid program. They accept a limited number of applications each week from households affected by the pandemic. Applications open on Sundays for the following week.

Finally, for people facing eviction, King County is participating in our state’s Eviction Rent Assistance program, which is funded by federal CARES Act dollars. If you are in need of assistance to forestall eviction, you can fill in a form online to be entered in the lottery pool. Drawings are held weekly, starting this week, to select tenants who may apply.

Mortgage Assistance

Homeowners who cannot pay their mortgage may have the right to temporary forbearance. The federal CARES Act provides protections for homeowners with federally or Government Sponsored Enterprise (GSE) backed mortgages (FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac). If you don’t have a federally or GSE-backed mortgage, you still may have relief options through your mortgage loan servicer.

You can get assistance by contacting your mortgage servicer, or by calling the state Department of Financial Institutions at their toll-free number 1-877-RING-DFI (746-4334) to learn how best to contact your mortgage servicer, and to learn more about your options.

In addition, if you would like to talk to a housing counselor, you can call the Washington Homeownership Hotline at 1.877.894.HOME.

Stay in Touch

If you’d like to follow what I’m working on, you can like my official legislative Facebook page here.

Please don’t hesitate to stay in touch. Stay safe and take care.

Always,

Senator Karen Keiser
Chair, Senate Labor & Commerce Committee
Senate President Pro Tempore

E-News: Unemployment benefits and returning to work

July 9th, 2020|

Dear Neighbors,

As our economy reopens, many people who have been furloughed or temporarily let go will be asked to return to work. For anyone who has been collecting unemployment benefits, that can present challenges. The Employment Security Department (ESD) has just published information to help people navigate the return to work. Please share this with anyone you know who might be able to make use of it.

Under normal circumstances, anyone collecting unemployment benefits is required to look for work. This requirement has been suspended at least through August 1 by the governor and legislative leaders due to the coronavirus pandemic. ESD is revising the job search requirements so that when they are eventually reinstated, they will take into account our new normal of social distancing.

If you are collecting unemployment benefits and are offered work, under most circumstances, you cannot refuse that offer and continue to collect benefits. However, there are some exceptions if you have a “good cause” reason. These are determined by ESD on a case-by-case basis.

For example, some employers are offering workers their old jobs back but with reduced wages or hours. That kind of situation would be reviewed, and the wages being offered would be compared for prevailing wage rates in the area to determine if benefits could be continued.

If the job you are offered does not lend itself to telework, some examples of good cause reasons not to accept the offer of work include:

Even if you are denied regular unemployment benefits because you refused an offer of work, you may be eligible for federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance so long as the reason is that you are directly impacted by coronavirus. For example:

  • You must care for a child in your household who is unable to attend a school or daycare that has been closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and are awaiting a medical diagnosis.
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • You can’t get to work because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public-health emergency.

You can find more information on the ESD website:

  • The Refusal of Work page provides information about when someone can or cannot refuse an offer of work and retain unemployment benefits.
  • The Return to Work page provides information and links to resources for both employers and workers.

I also want you to know that the Employment Security Department is making significant progress on resolving claims for people who have been waiting several weeks for the benefits and in recovering the majority of the funds stolen by a criminal network of fraudsters.

I hope you and your family are managing during these difficult pandemic days. I think about how my mom managed during World War II when my father was in the Army for more than four years in every theater of war in North Africa, Italy and France.

The motto then still stands now: “We Can Do This!” Please stay safe, keep your distance, wear your mask and wash your hands.

If you’d like to follow what I’m working on, you can like my official legislative Facebook page here.

Please don’t hesitate to stay in touch. Stay safe and take care.

Always,

Senator Karen Keiser

Chair, Senate Labor & Commerce Committee

Senate President Pro Tempore

E-News: Mask Up for Phase 2

June 25th, 2020|

Dear Neighbors,

We have much to be proud of. Working together, we have slowed the spread of coronavirus. As we reopen our state’s economy, it’s important to exercise caution so that we can safely resume many of the activities of our daily lives. Now that King County has entered Phase 2, it’s all the more important to follow public health guidelines about hand washing, social distancing, and especially wearing face masks. You can read more below.

King County moves to Phase 2

In Phase 2, social gatherings may be held with five or fewer people outside your household. Restaurants can reopen at less than 50% capacity, and retailers at less than 30% capacity. Businesses must follow state guidelines to ensure the health and safety of employees and customers. These include social distancing, regular hand washing and wearing cloth masks. You can read more about Phase 2 here, and you can find the guidelines for businesses and employees here.

Mask Up, Washington

Despite the progress we have made, we are seeing a worrisome uptick in coronavirus cases across Washington. Recent research suggests that one of the best ways to reduce transmission is by wearing cloth face masks. The masks protect other people from getting the virus from us when we talk, cough or sneeze.

Even if you don’t have symptoms, you could still be a danger to others. Between 20% and 40% of people with COVID-19 don’t show any symptoms but can still spread the virus. Wearing masks in public places helps protect everyone you meet and is a crucial way to allow for safe reopening of economic activity.

That’s why the governor has issued a statewide mandate for mask-wearing in public. There are exemptions for people with health conditions, and there are times when you can remove your mask, like when eating at a restaurant. You also do not need to wear a mask when you are alone or only with the members of your household, or when you are outdoors and six feet from other people.

Until a vaccine or cure is developed, masks will be our best defense.

This mask rule is like the speed limits on our roads—it’s about preventing reckless behavior that can hurt others. We can all do our part to protect others!

Stay in Touch

If you’d like to follow what I’m working on, you can like my official legislative Facebook page here.

Please don’t hesitate to stay in touch. Stay safe and take care.

Always,

Senator Karen Keiser

Chair, Senate Labor & Commerce Committee
Senate President Pro Tempore

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    E-News: Food Assistance for School Children, School Reopening Guidelines

E-News: Food Assistance for School Children, School Reopening Guidelines

June 11th, 2020|

Dear Neighbors,

Our schools perform many crucial functions in the community, from their core mission of education to providing nutritious meals for students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them. In this time of crisis, our schools are stepping up to make sure that school closures don’t mean that kids have to go hungry.

Pandemic Food Benefits

Because of the impact of the COVID pandemic, this summer, our state will help families with school children buy groceries. The benefit, Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) is available to families with children who are eligible for schools’ free or reduced-price meal programs. P-EBT benefits do not replace any child nutrition programs already offered, and families are encouraged to continue participating in grab-n-go meals or emergency food programs at their local schools and community locations.

Most families who already receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as SNAP or Basic Food, and whose children already receive free or reduced-price meals do not need to apply. The P-EBT benefits – a one-time amount up to $399 per eligible child in each household – will be automatically deposited onto existing EBT cards in early July.

Other families, including those whose children attend a school where meals are free for all students, will need to apply for free or reduced-price meals with their school district before June 30. Once approved by their school district, these families can apply for P-EBT online at Washingtonconnection.org before August 31 or the start of the 2020-2021 school year—whichever is later. Families who need to apply or who have other questions about P-EBT benefits can call the DSHS Customer Service Contact Center at 877-501-2233 on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Guidelines for Reopening Schools

The Superintendent of Public Schools has released a set of guidelines for safely reopening schools in the fall, including measures such as instituting health screenings, requiring cloth face masks for staff and students, increasing hygiene and social distancing precautions in school buildings, and cancelling classes and activities that aren’t conducive to distancing. You can read more about the guidelines here.

Beware of Email Fraud Scam

Recently, Washington State employees were the target of a phishing campaign. Similar tricks may be used to target others.

The fraudsters are sending fake Secure Access Washington (SAW) emails in an attempt to trick individuals into providing their account credentials.

In the example above, users are being told they have 24 hours to correct inaccurate information or their SAW account will be restricted. SAW administrators will never send users an email asking for validation of account details. Do not click on the links in the email or reply to it.

Stay in Touch

If you’d like to follow what I’m working on, you can like my official legislative Facebook page here.

Please don’t hesitate to stay in touch. Stay safe and take care.

Always,

Senator Karen Keiser

Chair, Senate Labor & Commerce Committee
Senate President Pro Tempore

E-news: An open letter to the people of Washington

June 5th, 2020|

Dear Neighbors,

I am profoundly moved by the events of the past ten days, and am staying in touch with all our communities in the 33rd legislative district to hear concerns about police agencies and constituent complaints. I have been reassured with what I have heard so far. I am continuing to connect with our local communities to learn what steps we can take to improve police accountability and security for all our neighbors.

The Senate Democratic Caucus leadership has sent this open letter to the people of Washington state on behalf of the entire caucus:

The Senate Democratic Caucus – fully recognizing that our own state Senate lacks the voice of even a single Black legislator, a voice that needs to ground us today and always – stands with our Black neighbors throughout Washington as we grieve together the violent and unjust killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, David McAtee, Charleena Lyles, Manuel Ellis and too many others, at the hands of law enforcement.

A history of systemic and institutionalized racism and violence leveled against our Black neighbors has manifested in days of protests around our grieving country, including here at home. As the Senate Democratic Caucus, we unequivocally stand with those who are raising their voices in pain, anger and hope to make demands for substantive change.

We are moved by the love and grief displayed over the life and death of George Floyd that has mobilized so many of every background, some for the first time. Though our state and country face a moment of deep pain and renewed trauma, we are also witness to a pivotal moment of potential historic change in public policy; one with an opportunity to craft equitable and compassionate laws that serve all of us.

We recognize that the power to make substantive change lies with us, the policymakers. We recognize this power to make substantive change should have been wielded long ago. We recognize that Black, Indigenous and brown lives have been disproportionately subjected to police brutality in addition to the merciless cycle of incarceration. We are committed to changing these broken institutions.

Our agenda will be shaped by the community. We are committed to listening and working alongside Black leaders and organizers. Their ideas and their solutions to these issues will be elevated so that we may respond to their call for action. Successful efforts toward change have always had their origins at the local level. We are listening.

Know that we grieve with you, stand united in your call for justice and promise to work with you in these next crucial steps toward real change.

On behalf of the Senate Democratic Caucus,

Sen. Andy Billig
Majority Leader
Sen. Manka Dhingra
Deputy Majority Leader
Sen. Rebecca Saldaña
Deputy Majority Leader

Always,

Senator Karen Keiser

Chair, Senate Labor & Commerce Committee
Senate President Pro Tempore

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    E-news: SharedWork can avert layoffs, keep businesses afloat

E-news: SharedWork can avert layoffs, keep businesses afloat

June 2nd, 2020|

Dear Neighbors,

Anyone who owns or works for a Washington business that’s hit by the economic effects of the pandemic should consider using our state’s SharedWork program. It’s a way for small-to-medium-sized businesses to retain employees while decreasing costs. And it’s a way for employees to receive unemployment benefits that can largely offset their decreased pay. This is a true win-win program for businesses and employees.

SharedWork is a solution for businesses that need to open more slowly with reduced capacity and who want to provide their employees with an incentive to return. The program allows businesses to reduce the hours of their staff by 10% to 50%. Their employees will receive unemployment benefits for a partial wage replacement against those reduced hours.

Each employee on SharedWork will receive the wages for the hours they work, their calculated weekly benefit amount, and an additional $600 per week through the end of July.

The program is not just for private businesses. More than 200 employees of the City of Renton have been using SharedWork to save the city money and save jobs. It’s a partnership that helps keep workers connected to their employers and helps employers retain their employees.

You can find more information at https://esd.wa.gov/SharedWork.

If you’d like to follow what I’m working on, you can like my official legislative Facebook page here.

Please don’t hesitate to stay in touch. Stay safe and take care.

Always,

Senator Karen Keiser

Chair, Senate Labor & Commerce Committee
Senate President Pro Tempore

 

E-news: Be on alert for fraudulent unemployment claims

May 20th, 2020|

Dear Neighbors,

During the pandemic, it’s important to be on alert—this crisis has led to a rash of fraudulent unemployment claims filed with the Washington Employment Security Department.

Fraudsters file these claims in innocent people’s names using data they have stolen from corporate data breaches, not from the Employment Security Department. ESD paused payments for two days last week to combat this fraud.

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself:

  • Be aware of false websites. If you apply for unemployment benefits, use only ESD’s official website: esd.wa.gov.
  • Applying for unemployment benefits is free. ESD will never ask for a payment to process your claim.
  • Be wary of solicitors asking for your personal information online or by phone. ESD will only ask you for information through official correspondence and through your ESD eServices account. If they call you, you can ask the agents to identify themselves.

If you get a letter from ESD referencing an unemployment claim number, but you did not file a claim:

  • Report the fraud here.
  • You can also try calling 800-246-9763.
  • Contact the human resources department at your employer.

If you suspect you have been a victim of identity theft:

If you’d like to follow what I’m working on, you can like my official legislative Facebook page here.

Please don’t hesitate to stay in touch. Stay safe and take care.

Always,

Senator Karen Keiser

Chair, Senate Labor & Commerce Committee
Senate President Pro Tempore