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Coronavirus In Seattle
caption: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks before signing a measure that puts the state on track to create the first 'public option' health insurance in the US, Monday, May 13, 2019, in Olympia, Wash.
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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks before signing a measure that puts the state on track to create the first 'public option' health insurance in the US, Monday, May 13, 2019, in Olympia, Wash.
Credit: AP Photo/Rachel La Corte

No evictions, expedited unemployment benefits for Washingtonians impacted by COVID-19 outbreak

Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday announced a series of relief measures to help Washingtonians financially struggling amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The actions include a 30-day moratorium on evictions, suspended penalties for unpaid utilities, and quicker access to unemployment benefits.

Since Monday, all restaurants, bars, gyms, and various other businesses in Washington have been forced to suspend some or all of their operations.

READ: Restaurants, bars, fitness studios to close in WA, and events capped at 50 due to COVID-19

The unprecedented state order aimed at mitigating the spread of the coronavirus has left dozens of workers laid off, as businesses struggle to stay afloat and plan for an uncertain future.

"This has caused some real economic hardship for our families and our small businesses and large businesses," Inslee said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. "So we want to do what we can do to help them."

In light of these circumstances, state officials have expanded access to emergency and unemployment benefits. Eligibility for Washington's emergency family assistance program has been amended to include families without children.

For those applying for unemployment insurance, Washington state will waive the one-week waiting period for accessing those benefits. The measure in question retroactively covers claims filed up to March 8.

Additionally, residential landlords in Washington state cannot evict tenants solely for the nonpayment of rent for the next 30 days. However, evictions could still be made if the action is deemed necessary to preserve the health or safety of others.

On the federal level, the Housing Finance Agency has directed mortgage loan companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to defer foreclosures and evictions for at least 60 days.

"We just can't have a big spike in homelessness, together with this epidemic raging, and that had to be our first priority right now," Inslee said.

He also mentioned that assistance could come for landlords who might struggle financially under the order, "depending on their size in the business."

For businesses, the state plans to distribute up to $5 million in small grants to help those at risk of shuttering amid mandatory closures. State officials also anticipate the arrival of federal help in the form of Small Business Administration disaster loans.

Furthermore, the Washington State Department of Revenue now has the authority to waive or suspend interest and penalties on some late tax payments for at least 30 days. This includes late filing fees for business license renewals and property tax exemption renewals.

Inslee has also directed public utility companies across the state to halt penalties for unpaid accounts at this time. Several utilities including Seattle City Light and Puget Sound Energy have already taken those steps.

The governor on Wednesday also responded to questions surrounding whether Washingtonians could become subject a shelter-in-place order, similar to one currently in effect in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"Today we're making decisions to help people and their economic conditions, and we can't just try to speculate what may happen 30, 40, 60 days from now," Inslee said. "It's just a futile exercise of chasing our tail."