Approximately 20 percent of Washingtonians have applied for unemployment insurance since the coronavirus pandemic started, according to new figures released by the state.
The Washington Employment Security Department reported that an additional 1,455,908 workers applied for unemployment insurance between April 19 and April 25. That’s a 453.3 percent increase over the previous week and a 10,000 percent increase over the same period last year. The department paid out $988 million that week alone.
It was also the first week that self-employed people and independent contractors could apply for benefits.
As the pandemic puts more people out of work, it’s also putting a strain on state and local finances.
Costs to respond to the virus have ramped up, even as revenue streams have dried up.
Gov. Jay Inslee cut $445 million from the budget through line-item vetoes in anticipation of the heavy costs. On April 30, he put in a request to the federal government to use the Stafford Act to cover the cost of the emergency response.
“While our state enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth in the years preceding this pandemic, the ongoing response to the persistent threat of covid-19 has significantly depleted resources at all levels of government,” Inslee wrote in the letter to President Donald Trump.
“In order to protect our state’s citizens against this virus, local jurisdictions and organizations across Washington have absorbed costs they could never have planned for. We know these expenses will continue until the threat from covid-19 is mitigated.”
The state is distributing $300 million from the federal stimulus to local governments that didn’t get money directly through the CARES Act, one of the measures passed by Congress to mitigate some of the economic pain caused by the pandemic.
Cities and counties with fewer than 500,000 people were ineligible for funding under the law.
Those counties will receive at least $250,000 and the cities will get at least $25,000 from the state.
“The health of our state’s economy depends on the local economies of our 281 cities and towns,” said Peter King, CEO of the Association of Washington Cities, in a statement. “Cities have been at the forefront of keeping their communities safe and protecting public health.”
Inslee has announced plans to slowly ease restrictions on certain economic activity in the state, such as allowing some elective surgeries in hospitals.
Such surgeries are moneymakers for hospitals, whose finances have also been hard hit.
He described the work to reopen the state as a dial, not a switch. While Washington has made progress flattening the curve, reopening too soon increases the risk of a resurgence of the virus.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the May 6-12, 2020 issue.