Washington State Unable to Plan For Potentially Drastic Cuts to Federal Unemployment Aid, Inslee Says

by Carolyn Bick

With the end of the federal government’s assistance plan and potentially severe cuts to federal unemployment aid looming, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee said that the state is unable to plan for the fallout, because it doesn’t have the authority to do that.

The current federal assistance plan, called the CARES Act, expires on July 31, but the United States Senate only recently unveiled a new plan called the HEALS Act, due to alleged splits in the Republican party over what the new package will entail. Notably, the plan slices $400 from the current $600 in weekly unemployment benefits eligible workers receive, and sets benefits at 70 percent of workers’ previous wages, a move that has concerned many, particularly as the July 31 deadline approaches.

Conversely, the country’s Democratically-led House’s proposed $3 trillion plan has been ready since May. It includes an extension to the current $600 payout, as well as $200 billion in rental assistance and mortgage relief. There are other notable differences between the House’s proposal and the Senate’s proposal, as laid out in this New York Times article.

In his press conference on July 30, Inslee said that in order to move forward or formulate a plan to assist Washingtonians who may be particularly hard-hit by a change in the current federal relief plan, the state needs “Congress to act expeditiously to solve this problem, and it should not be difficult.”

“It’s simply the continuation of the existing system. So, we would need Congress to create that authority or change that authority, and we have to be able to see what they do to do that. We can’t predict what they are going to do,” Inslee said. “We cannot design a system from rules we don’t know what they are going to be.”

Inslee also said that the state’s Employment Security Department (ESD) has informed him that it is on track to clear its months-long backlog of unemployment claims by tomorrow. These claims stretch from the beginning of the pandemic in March through June, Inslee said.

In response to the Emerald’s request for an update about a relief fund for undocumented workers, Inslee said that “we have made a proposal, we are talking to legislative leaders about that and hope to have that resolved when we get the response from the legislative leadership. And we hope that will be in days.”

Inslee also iterated the need for widespread use of facial coverings both at social events and in public places. He said that it appears as though Washingtonians are more diligent about wearing facial coverings when shopping for groceries but not as careful at social events. He once again implored people to take the same precautions at social events and cautioned against gatherings.

On July 28, Inslee indefinitely pushed pause on the Safe Start reopening plan, disallowing any counties to move forward, and put additional restrictions on gatherings and some businesses, such as bars and restaurants, due to a continued steady rise in cases of novel coronavirus. On July 29, he extended protections for high-risk workers.

Inslee said he will also sign a proclamation explicitly banning any personal information collected by contact tracers and testing sites to be published or released in a public records request.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here or here.

Featured image from the Emerald archives.