State, feds offer help for companies, workers
COVID-19 has brought the slump of the shoulder season to the Methow Valley early, possibly with larger impacts and potentially longer-lasting implications.
Businesses throughout the Methow have been temporarily shutting their doors in response to the coronavirus. Gov. Jay Inslee’s “safe at home” measures, including mandatory shutdowns of select “non-essential” businesses, extend through at least April 6, and the impacts are already being felt by both employees and employers. An earlier shutdown of businesses included bars and restaurants.
Any place where people might gather is affected by the measures announced by Inslee this week. In eerily quiet Winthrop, motorists pass the temporarily closed Barnyard Cinema on Highway 20. The cinema’s signboard has no movie show times — it simply reads, “I’ll be back.”
“I don’t want to be an alarmist but there are some businesses that can’t really survive more than a month or two of this,” said Genevieve Cole, co-owner of The Barnyard Cinema. “We’ll hang tough as long as we can, but this is a crisis.”
“I’m most worried about the single mother, with two kids, who has to stay home because schools are closed,” said Cole, who’s keeping her one full-time employee on salary, at least until the end of the month, and is working with him on getting unemployment, if and when the need arises.
Until then, Cole is taking the time to do a deep clean, noting that there’s always bits of popcorn to pick up, and after that, sit back and watch a movie in the theater and hope normalcy returns sooner than later.
Washington State has implemented a variety of emergency financial support options for both small business owners and employees.
For small business owners, Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell has worked on creating easier access loans through the U.S. Small Business Association’s (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). The EIDL is available in 32 of Washington’s 39 counties, Okanagan included.
Small businesses, private nonprofits of any size, and small agricultural cooperatives that have been financially effected by COVID-19 can apply for loans of up to $2 million, with interest rates ranging from 2.75% to 3.75%, according to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza in an announcement on March 16.
SBA’s definition of small businesses varies from industry to industry, based either on the number of employees or annual revenue; owners can check if they qualify at the SBA’s website. Applicants can also apply for the grants online, a welcome option as customer service phone lines at the SBA have been busy, with long hold times.
For employees facing job loss due to COVID-19, the state has made available two forms of unemployment options that are designed to be easier to access. SharedWork allows recipients to work part-time, and Standby allows recipients to not look for another job while receiving unemployment benefits.
Rachel Cramer, a host and server at Tappi restaurant in Twisp, applied for Standby last week after Tappi temporally closed due to the coronavirus. Unfortunately, Cramer’s request didn’t go through the first week. “I tried to call, and it said the circuits were busy. We’re running out of money, so anytime I don’t get it, it’s a problem,” said Cramer. “If they don’t pay me this week, I’ll just keep filing. [The unemployment offices] probably have less manpower and more work right now.”
Other industries in the Methow haven’t felt the same severe financial impacts of the virus. However, the possibility still looms.
“It’s too early to tell if things have slowed down,” said Darold Brandenburg, owner of Brandenburg Construction. “I don’t believe [the building industry] will see the impact of the virus for a month or two … There’s plenty of work going on [now].”
Brandenburg, who has projects underway, as well as work on the books, has been focusing more on safety precautions for his workers, having held two meetings this past week on creating best practices of keeping workers healthy.
For grocery stores, constant sanitizing of surfaces and keeping up with consumer demands have become the main priorities, since business has largely picked-up since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Bluebird Grain Farms, which grows and sells organic grains like emmer farro, has seen an unprecedented number of retail orders, according to co-owner Brooke Lucy, and while their wholesale accounts have decreased, the farm has been busy. Lucy also has been working to implement new safety precautions for the workplace. “We are most concerned about our employees’ health and well-being, ” she said.