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Unemployment bill passes House, headed to governor’s desk

Washington state capitol in Olympia. (AP file photo)

The bill to reduce the immediate unemployment tax hike for businesses is headed to the governor’s desk.

After passing the Washington State Senate this past Wednesday, it was rushed through the House and passed in a landslide.

Unemployment taxes were set to skyrocket for many businesses by 500% or 600% to refill the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund after a year of record unemployment, as well as theft by fraudsters. The Unemployment Trust Fund is filled exclusively by employers.

Senate Bill 5061 lowers this year’s unemployment tax hit on businesses by spreading those tax increases out over the next five years.

Criticism and strategizing for Employment Security before Legislature

The bill also increases the minimum weekly benefit for workers, and it allows workers who are high-risk for COVID-19 or live with a high-risk family member to quit their job and collect unemployment if they cannot work from home.

Despite the bipartisan vote, the bill did receive criticism from some Republicans who said that it didn’t go far enough to help protect businesses from the looming tax burden down the road. They suggested refilling the Unemployment Trust Fund with state dollars instead, such as the Rainy Day Fund.

“I am going to walk out and talk to my community members at some point and say, ‘We helped make your pain less.’ … What I regret is that we did not get rid of their pain,” said Rep. Brandon Vick (R-Vancouver).

Republicans introduced amendments to further lower the taxes on businesses, but those amendments failed.

Democrats said the important thing was getting at least one bit of progress passed quickly to help suffering small businesses and unemployed workers, especially with tax forms set to go out to business owners soon.

“We could stay stuck saying, ‘This isn’t enough,’ but we must move forward,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D-Mukilteo). “And we must continue to keep addressing this issue for our small businesses, and for every single person in our community.”

Lawmaker has strong words for ESD as unemployment bill passes committee

Workers’ rights group Working Washington spoke out against the newly-passed bill for focusing on businesses instead of workers; the group noted that the bill does not require the Employment Security Department to pay workers faster or respond to their calls, despite the ESD dashboard showing a backlog of nearly 40,000 workers waiting on claims when it was last viewable.

“The Legislature’s failure to address the needs of unemployed workers — or even hear from workers in the House — will have devastating consequences. ESD’s ongoing failure to pay benefits on time will continue to force people back to work before it is safe,” Working Washington stated. “Thousands more will struggle to afford food and other basics as they are compelled to pay money to the state for “overpayment” collections. The system failure will continue to disproportionately impact people of color and immigrants, driving inequities in our communities even deeper.”

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