This afternoon, Mayor Durkan announced a list of initial efforts to address the economic impacts that businesses and workers are feeling from the response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In a press release, the Mayor’s Office announced five actions:
1. The city will defer B&O tax collections for Seattle businesses with annual taxable income of $5 million or less and who currently pay B&O taxes on a quarterly basis — about 20,000 businesses according to the city’s estimate. Businesses will have to the end of the year to pay.
2. The Mayor will submit legislation to the City Council to increase the budgeted funding for the city’s Small Business Stabilization Fund. The fund is targeted to small businesses in areas of the city with high risk of displacement. The press release did not specify the proposed increase to the fund; a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office said more details would be available “in the coming days.”
3. The Office of Economic Development will provide technical assistance to small businesses wishing to apply to the federal SBA for its loan program that is part of the federal COVID-19 response.
4. All Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle City Light customers — both businesses and individuals — can set up deferred payment plans for their utility bills. Separately the Mayor’s Office sent out a release detailing other steps that the city’s public utilities will be taking to ensure that no one loses service during the coronavirus outbreak.
5. The Mayor is establishing a new Small Business Recover Task Force specifically for COVID-19. The task force, which will be co-chaired by former Governor Gary Locke and former City Council President Bruce Harrell, will provide policy recommendations to the city, county and state, and coordinate technical assistance workshops for small business owners to help them apply for assistance to the various programs offering it.
The COVID-19 response is taking a serious toll on local businesses; According to the press release, last week average hotel occupancy dropped as low as 30% (normally they would be around 70% this time of year), and many restaurants reported 40% drops in business.
The city has some constraints on what it can do to help; under the state Constitution (article VII section 7) it may not give or loan money, “except for the necessary support of the poor and infirm.” Nevertheless in yesterday’s Council meeting several Council members urged the Mayor to do more, including providing support to contract and “gig economy” workers, placing a moratorium on commercial and residential evictions, encouraging commercial landlords to work out payment plans for rent, and even rent control for commercial properties.
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