On Wednesday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed an emergency order that may help some area restaurants during the COVID-19 outbreak.
As long as it’s approved by the city council, the new mandate would prohibit evictions of small businesses and nonprofits for nonpayment of rent for 60 days, or until the city’s coronavirus-related emergency is over. It would also prohibit late fees and interest charges over that same time period, and it requests that landlords work with their tenants to agree on a deferred payment plan, discount, or other type of rent relief. It also applies to evictions related to lease expirations. This order defines a small business as an entity of “fewer than 50 employees,” so not all restaurants in Seattle would qualify (for instance, famed chef Tom Douglas’s company has 13 restaurants and employed more than 800 workers before it had to temporarily close 12 of its operations due to a major coronavirus-related downturn).
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also recently detailed new statewide efforts to help those economically affected by the coronavirus precautions. Among the initiatives announced Wednesday include a 30-day moratorium on residential rent evictions, the waiving of the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance, opening up an additional $5 million in reserve funds for small business grants, and suspending ate fees on taxes, as well as interest charges and forced tax collections for at least 30 days. Inslee also said he ordered an expansion of the Family Emergency Assistance Program to families without children, and called on utility companies to suspend service shut-offs and waive late fees for customers who are out of work.
Tax deferrals, eviction protections, and other similar measures are needed at a minimum to help restaurants and their workers, especially since all dining rooms are closed down in Washington to everything but takeout and delivery through at least March 31. But a larger bailout from the government could be essential in saving the industry as a whole. In that respect, both Durkan and Inslee called on the White House and Congress to offer more help for everyone economically affected by the crisis beyond the federal relief package passed today. That effort, Inslee said, could include declaring the coronavirus a natural disaster, which would allow those who have not yet accumulated enough hours to qualify for unemployment to get it. In Wednesday’s press conference, Durkan said that something even larger “than the New Deal” would be required to get people back on their feet.