How to get Washington back to work after COVID-19

As we flatten the curve, we can show the nation how to responsibly reopen the economy.

empty shop gallery

To deter vandalism or potential theft, Space Needle staff removed all gift shop items and inventory before shutting down the popular attraction. (Shaminder Dulai/Crosscut)

The latest COVID-19 surveillance figures show remarkable progress in flattening the infection curve. We commend our Washington state leaders for taking aggressive action and showing consistent leadership in their handling of the pandemic. They have managed a rigorous, science-based response that has served as a model for much of the nation, and while that work is not over, it is time to start considering the next phase of response to this virus.

Flattening the curve was only the first battle. We know that the virus has had sweeping impacts on millions of lives beyond those directly infected. Let’s dedicate the same focused energy we channeled into the public health response into restoring our economic and social fabric, first by stemming the devastating loss of jobs and commerce statewide.


Read about other ideas to soften the blow of the economic consequences caused by coronavirus.


The economic recovery phase of this response will not be singular. We urge a multifaceted, stepwise path to our collective new normal, one focused on relief, reopening, recovering and reevaluating as the science and data suggest.

Together, we can implement cohesive actions to help businesses of all sizes get workers back on their feet and begin focusing on an inclusive recovery.

Specifically, we offer the following policy ideas for consideration:

Reopening

As our state starts to look ahead to reopening, we need to stay coordinated at every level of government so that people and businesses have the resources they need to stay afloat and, as we meet key public health metrics, to get back to work.

At the federal level, we’re fighting for further investment in the safety net to protect workers through unemployment insurance and businesses through grants and loans. We ask that our congressional delegation continue to focus on getting money to Main Street through PPP, the Paycheck Protection Program, and to expand unemployment insurance. We should ensure that businesses and workers who were ineligible for previous assistance can access programs. Unbanked businesses struggled with “know your lender” provisions used by some PPP lenders, and many nonprofits were ineligible for relief under the program. Additionally, undocumented immigrants have been unable to access unemployment insurance, even if they were taxpayers who lost their jobs.

Leaders can offer relief from taxes and fees at each level of government. We encourage leaders to defer property taxes, act to lower rates and repeal late-payment penalties to keep people in their homes and businesses. To boost the small business community, let’s suspend business and occupation taxes, repeal the new state tax on services and waive or reduce business licensing fees. Seattle should also provide utility rate relief by freezing rates and establishing payment plans for delinquent accounts.     

As we turn the corner in the fight against COVID-19, state leaders can provide state-funded technical assistance and guidance for employers bringing employees back — to safely and efficiently restore jobs. Finally, at a time when public health precautions, including ongoing physical distancing, makes connectivity more important than ever, the state should ensure that broadband internet services are not cut off.

Recovering

In addition to restoring jobs where we can, we have an opportunity to generate new jobs and work while addressing the gaps that the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare. First, elected officials should invest in public works and permitting processes to improve infrastructure and accelerate housing starts. Second, they should invest in child care programs that support families and businesses — an area where even before the pandemic our state faced an enormous availability and affordability gap. And third, we should support a diverse and vibrant economic ecosystem by empowering neighborhood small business districts, like Business Improvement Areas. These local districts know their communities best and are critical to generating and preserving economic opportunity within specific neighborhoods, as well as our community as a whole.

Reevaluating

We’ve relied on data and science for our public health response. As we head into the new normal, our state leaders should continue to share data, research and modeling on the impact of COVID-19 on all aspects of our state. From physical and mental health to education, employment, shelter and food security, this data would help us understand decision points and facilitate response from the public, private and nonprofit sectors to the industries and areas with the greatest need. Additionally, as the demand for testing and treatment grows, the state must help maintain a strong private sector in health care services, supplies and medical research to produce the supplies and innovation needed to move forward.

Rebuilding our economic strength in the post-COVID economy will require every bit of the ingenuity, critical thinking, determination and, most importantly, partnership that we’ve displayed over the past two months. Let’s show the nation that we can be the leader in that arena, too.

About the Authors & Contributors

Diana Birkett Rakow

Diana Birkett Rakow

Diana Birkett Rakow, VP of External Relations at Alaska Airlines, serves as chair of the board of trustees for the Seattle Metropolitan chamber of Commerce

Markham McIntyre

Markham McIntyre

Markham McIntyre is the executive vice president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.