Seattle officials are considering how the city could help vulnerable small business, workers and residents weather the worsening economic storm caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak. The possibilities include deferring tax bills for businesses.
Deputy Mayor Mike Fong told City Council members Monday that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration is working on “a package of actions” to provide support. Fong said he hoped to have details in a matter of days.
The discussion at a council meeting came a day after many labor and advocacy organizations urged Gov. Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Durkan to help workers who stand to lose income and health benefits during the outbreak.
The organizations also asked officials to halt residential evictions and utility shutoffs during the crisis. No such actions have yet been taken.
Seattle may seek to defer city business and occupation tax payments and utility bills for “distressed small businesses under the conditions resulting from COVID-19,” Fong said. The city also may try to expedite federally funded small-business loans, the deputy mayor said.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who took part in talks over the weekend about options, said some small-business owners in his district, which includes downtown, South Lake Union, Queen Anne and Magnolia, are hurting because residents have been advised to avoid crowds.
The city also should consider trying to ensure that commercial landlords adjust rents or rent-payment schedules for struggling small businesses, Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold said.
Business people, including Molly Moon Neitzel of Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream and Eduardo Jordan of the restaurant Junebaby, re-sent a memo to state and local officials last week asking for pressure on landlords to ease rent collections.
“The mayor agrees on the need to act quickly,” Fong said, telling the council that the Durkan administration is reviewing its legal authority. “Rent relief is certainly top of mind … This is a space we want to get creative in.”
Lewis said several business owners have told him they intend to send workers home this week, based on a sharp decline in customers, he said. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said the city should seek to help gig-economy workers in addition to regular employees.
Seattle’s tools to help workers “are somewhat limited,” Fong said. State and federal officials may act soon to provide people who lose work during the outbreak with emergency unemployment benefits, the deputy mayor said.
In an open letter Sunday, Working Washington, the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, Washington Community Action Network, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and other organizations issued a call for Inslee, Constantine and Durkan to create an emergency income assistance program to help people with reduced work hours and lost jobs.
The organizations also said employers that normally require their employees to work a minimum number of hours to qualify for health benefits should be required to suspend those rules.
“We are writing to ask you to use your emergency powers to ease the looming economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis,” Sunday’s letter read. “We are beginning to see dramatic reductions in demand at restaurants, coffee shops and other businesses in the Seattle area … This has already led to large-scale cuts to hours for service industry workers.”