Webinar conducted on federal relief program

PORT ANGELES — Participants in a webinar on a new federal coronavirus relief package, signed Friday by President Donald Trump, reviewed efforts to help businesses weather economic hardships imposed by the highly contagious respiratory disease.

They also said questions remain on unemployment benefits that may have to wait until this week to get answered.

The Clallam County Economic Development Council’s program on the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was the nonprofit’s second webinar on the legislation last week.

Participants included Cheryl Brown, Shared Work Program lead supervisor; Rafael Colon, Shared Work and Paid Family and Medical Leave advisor; Brandino Gibson, a supervisor in Clallam and Jefferson counties for WorkSource, the partnership of nonprofits and state and local government agencies, including Employment Security; and Cyal Christmas, audit manager for the state Employment Security Department.

“Things are happening so fast it’s really hard to put a timeline on anything,” Christmas said.

“We don’t have full guidance” on implementing the federal legislation, he added.

He urged people to go to the Employment Security website at https://tinyurl.com/PDN-Employment Coronavirus, which had not been updated then, for more information on unemployment benefits.

“The proposed legislation will expand eligibility of unemployment insurance benefits to include many Washingtonians currently not eligible. It is not yet law but we will be sharing details as quickly as possible once it has been passed,” according to the website.

The legislation includes an extra $600 a week for those on unemployment for up to four months and are adding another 13 weeks to unemployment that is now 26 weeks.

Under Shared Work, workers receive benefits for up to 40-hour work weeks, getting 50 percent of their benefits if they work less than that as long as they qualify for a weekly claim.

State officials expanded Shared Work to salaried employees Friday after learning they would receive federal funds under the CARES Act, said Colleen McAleer, the executive director of Clallam County Economic Development Council.

More information for employers, including an instructional video and an application, is available at https://tinyurl.com/PDN-SharedWorkProgram.

“If you get stuck, call 800-752-2500,” Colon said.

Employees will usually make more under the Shared Work program than on regular unemployment, Brown said.

“It really does help businesses who are trying to keep their staff employed with them and [with] reducing their hours down,” she said, adding that health care benefits remain in place.

Participants noted the deluge of recent unemployment claims — they increased over 20 percent in Clallam and Jefferson counties over a two-week period — and said they are working on rules to implement the legislation.

“It’s going to take some time to make some decisions,” Colon said.

McAleer said after the webinar that she hopes to schedule another EDC webinar on the CARES Act by Friday.

“There’s a whole lot of questions they have not established the rules on yet,” she said.

“One of the things I want to know about, for independent contractors and for part-time workers with fewer than 680 accrued hours, and for sole proprietors, how will they access the pandemic emergency unemployment program dollars?” McAleer asked.

“There’s a lot of people in need, and over the next week, those people in need are just going to have to wait a week or so for the state government to overlay the new federal program with their existing programs that the governor created.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.

Peninsula Daily News Publisher Terry Ward is a member of the Economic Development Council Board of Directors.

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