Gov. Jay Inslee has asked President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster in Washington due to the coronavirus pandemic, Inslee announced Friday, noting the move could secure additional aid for the state’s residents, including expanded unemployment benefits and food assistance.
Unemployment insurance claims are spiking in Washington, where Inslee has shut down bars, restaurants and large gatherings. The claims have been overwhelming the state’s unemployment insurance system.
The governor has waived the usual one-week wait period for state unemployment benefits in order to provide quicker relief. But gig workers, others who are self-employed and some part-time employees don’t qualify for those benefits. Some of those workers could receive special unemployment insurance if a disaster is declared.
Trump declared a national emergency last Friday under the National Emergencies Act and issued an emergency determination under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Act. He said those actions would open the door for states to waive certain health care regulations under a special status and unlock as much as $50 billion in federal funding, though the funding details weren’t immediately clear.
Washington was approved Thursday for the special health care status, and now Inslee wants Trump to go a step further. In a letter Thursday, the governor asked that the president declare a disaster for Washington under the Stafford Act. Trump’s Stafford Act determination a week ago encouraged governors and tribal leaders to make disaster requests.
“Tens of thousands of individuals have found themselves unemployed and will require disaster unemployment assistance that is not otherwise available through state disaster unemployment programs, including many hourly workers who are unable to work because they are under quarantine or their business is closed,” Inslee said in a statement Friday.
“The state urgently requires additional supplemental federal emergency assistance in order to save lives, protect public health and safety, and limit further spread of the disease.”
Besides unemployment assistance, Inslee’s letter also requests disaster assistance related to legal services, case management, crisis counseling and emergency supplies.
The Washington State Labor Council and the Association of Washington Businesses sent a joint letter Tuesday asking Washington’s congressional delegation to advocate for the disaster declaration.
According to the letter, disaster unemployment insurance could temporarily cover people who, due to the disaster, no longer have a job or a place to work; cannot reach their place of work; or cannot work because of injuries caused by the disaster.
A number of other business organizations, including the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter Thursday also asking Trump for the disaster declaration.