During his budget rollout today, Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced his plan to address two of the most crippling elements of the Covid-19 crisis in our state – continued pressure on the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, and guidelines for in-person learning in publicly funded common schools.
Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund
An explosive increase in new UI filings as well as fraudulent claims beginning in March 2020 has resulted in a rapid decline of the UI trust fund balance. While the State projects that the fund will remain solvent throughout 2020 and 2021, it also acknowledges the fund could drop below what is needed to pay three months of benefits sometime in early 2021.
If no action is taken, this strain on the fund will also trigger massive rate increases for Washington employers.
Today, Governor Inslee proposed significant changes to minimize rate hikes. The proposal estimates saving employers approximately $720 million in 2021.
On the benefit side:
- Increase minimum weekly benefit from 15% of Average Weekly Wage to 20% ($201 - $270).
On the revenue side:
- Increase the period of time used for calculating an employer's experience rating from the previous 4 to previous 5 years.
- Exclude layoffs occurring between March 22 and May 2, 2020 in all future calculations of an employer’s experience rating.
- If nothing is done the social tax rate on businesses will increase from .25 to 1.22. Therefore, implement gradual social tax rate smoothing from 2021-2025.
- Suspend collection of the fund's "solvency tax" until 2025.
Take out a federal interest-free loan for $420 million.
In-Person Learning in Common Schools
Parents of school-aged children across the state are concerned about when classrooms will be able to open again. On August 5, 2020, Governor Inslee announced his recommendations for in-person instruction for K-12 classrooms. Similar to his county-by-county phased approach to reopening, the recommendations allowed local health departments and school districts to decide if and how they will allow students back in the classroom.
Counties with more than 350 documented Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period: only offer in-person instruction for elementary and high-need students in small groups of 15 students or fewer.
Counties with 50–350 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period: in-person learning should be phased in, starting with elementary students not already attending in person and middle school students, followed by high school students.
Counties with less than 50 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period: provide in-person learning for all students.
Microsoft Commits over $110M in Additional Support
As part of Microsoft's continued commitment to the community, they have announced an additional pledge of more than $110 million to the region's recovery. This includes:
- Continuing support of hourly workers impacted by Covid-19
- Continuing to provide expanded support for nonprofits in Washington state
- Providing technology and in-kind support to help safely reopen the local schools in 2021
Microsoft pledges direct support to schools and districts to facilitate reopening by:
- Providing a technology solution that will enable Washington state schools to better track and report Covid-19 related testing data within their district boundaries
- Donating PPE and cleaning supplies to schools that need additional resources to reopen safely
- Supporting the Washington Department of Health’s updated Covid-19 guidelines for in-person learning announced by Governor Inslee
- Supporting prioritizing vaccines for teachers