Small and medium-sized businesses have faced enormous challenges over the past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic shutdown. As we celebrate the recent announcement that Snohomish County was moved forward to Phase 2 of the Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery plan, it is important to remember that many businesses will continue to struggle in the weeks and months to come.
While indoor seating is now allowed for restaurants, it is restricted to 25% capacity. I have heard from several local restaurants in our area that 25% capacity will still leave them in a position of struggling to pay their bills. Our restaurants and other small and medium-sized businesses will need our continued support in order to stay afloat and keep their staff members employed.
According to Q13 News, the Washington State Department of Revenue has reported that over 2,900 restaurants permanently closed their doors in just the first 6 months of the economic shutdown. Undoubtedly, thousands of other businesses have also had to close down over the past year. Every one of these business closures means more of our friends and neighbors out of work, less dollars flowing through our local economy, and increased demands on an already burdened unemployment insurance system.
I have spoken personally with several local business owners who have worked very hard over the course of the economic shutdown in order to ensure they do not have to lay off their employees. These business owners were shocked when they received massive tax hikes for unemployment insurance from the state. One business owner told me that his bill increased by over 500% and he was being required to pay over $72,000. He was devastated that in order to pay this increase, he would likely need to lay off some of his employees who he had worked so hard to keep employed during the shutdown.
This move from the state to place the burden of unemployment insurance costs directly on the shoulders of businesses who have been crushed during the economic shutdown was inappropriate, to say the least. Thankfully, legislators from both parties have been working together in Olympia to find a resolution to this issue. I was pleased to see that a bipartisan bill was passed which reversed the automatic increases employers were handed down from the state. However, this legislation only temporarily addresses the issue. The state’s unemployment insurance trust fund has significant deficiencies and I am hopeful that the legislature will work to continue to address these challenges during this session without placing the burden on the backs of our local businesses.
Support for our businesses from the legislature as well as various grant and loan opportunities are critical. That said, it is my belief that the best relief program for our local businesses is to allow them to continue to open safely and responsibly as we move toward economic recovery. There is light at the end of the tunnel as case counts continue to drop and businesses begin to reopen. Let’s continue to actively support our businesses and workers through this difficult time.
Nate Nehring is a member of the Snohomish County Council and represents District 1 which includes Arlington, Darrington, Granite Falls, Marysville, Stanwood, and unincorporated north county. He can be reached by email at Nate.Nehring@snoco.org or by phone at 425-388-3494.