Moving Beyond Phase 2: WVCC Letter to Governor Inslee & Legislative Leadership
The Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce (WVCC) represents over 670 businesses and non-profits in the greater Wenatchee Valley, including public and private employers throughout both Chelan and Douglas Counties. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the WVCC has become a regional resource for all businesses and non-profits, not just for paying membership.
Chelan and Douglas Counties are two of the five counties that remained in a Modified Phase 1, until October 13, 2020 when we collectively moved into Phase 2. Businesses and non-profits in these five counties were only allowed to operate under full Phase 2 guidance for 5 weeks before again being mandated to close, or to operate at extraordinary low capacity on November 14th. Many of the region’s businesses continue to be unprofitable and cannot generate enough commerce to sustain operations despite reaching Phase 2 on February 12th.
Accordingly, we remain deeply concerned that the current re-opening plan does not provide any predictability for employers to plan beyond the two-week reporting periods, nor does it illustrate how or what the next phase of operations will be. We are at a critical tipping point and our region cannot continue in this manner.
To emphasize our concern, please consider that over the last decade, Chelan and Douglas counties added 6,709 jobs. In 2020 however, we lost 3,000 jobs in 10 months. Stated another way, our region lost half of the jobs it took our community 10 years to create, and we risk those jobs being lost permanently if employers cannot plan and operate at a sustainably profitable level.
As the Legislature passes its first major cut-offs, the WVCC urges focus on the following:
- Renew efforts to collaboratively develop a re-opening plan that brings stability and predictability for all employers. Employers have proven they can protect employees, customers, and vendors against the spread of COVID-19. We must build on those learnings to preserve the jobs that can be restored as quickly as possible. We urge the Governor and Legislature to work together to fashion a plan to safely reopen all businesses at 50% operating capacity, or greater. Now is the time to undertake this effort. Locally, vaccinations are accelerating – thanks in part to the enormously successful mass vaccination clinic and supportive community partners, infections are declining, and we are entering favorable weather conditions. We are confident that a plan developed in collaboration with the legislature that builds on the learnings from the past year, reflects growing vaccination rates and incorporates the measures that employers have successfully deployed can set us on the road to recovery. However, without such a plan, we risk permanently losing thousands of jobs that took more than a decade to create in our region.
- Collaboratively develop a statewide school re-opening plan that gets all schools across the state open for full-time in person learning. It is imperative our kids return safely to schools for their mental health, emotional wellbeing and to ensure a generation of learners are not left behind. Our children have been adaptable and compliant with public health mitigation efforts. We cannot begin the work of recovery without our students being back in school. Parent’s need to know their children’s emotional, physical, and educational needs are being fully met in order to fully re-engage in the workplace. The WVCC supports returning all students to the classroom full time before the end of the 2020-2021 school year to begin the work of assessing learning gaps and student mental health needs. This work is critical to setting our kids up for success during the 2021-2022 school year and it cannot be done effectively in a hybrid education model.
- Build on the early momentum in the session to assist our communities and employers. The WVCC applauds the swift action to bring critical relief from rising unemployment insurance taxes, the appropriation of $2.2 billion of federal funds for COVID-19 response, school re-opening and grants to small businesses; and, to relieve businesses from B&O tax obligations for grants or support received during the pandemic. For our region to recover further, we urge additional action to:
- Inject funds into Washington’s unemployment insurance trust fund to maintain benefits flow to needy recipients and ensure that employers are not saddled with years of rising unemployment insurance taxes to replenish the trust fund.
- Provide relief or deferrals of property taxes to businesses impacted by mandated closures or operating restrictions during the pandemic while keeping local government budgets whole.
- Provide authority to local public health officials to customize reopening strategies to meet the specific needs and circumstances of their region.
- Refrain from imposing barriers to restoring and maintaining jobs. The WVCC urges the Legislature to refrain from enacting legislation that adds legal or cost burdens on employers to hire or retain employees. We are alarmed at the large number of bills still in process that would add costs to Washington’s unemployment insurance system, workers compensation programs and paid family and medical leave program. Additionally, legislation is pending that adds almost unlimited opportunities for frivolous lawsuits against employers. We urge the Legislature to examine these proposals against the goal of restoring jobs lost during the pandemic. Now is not the time to impose new barriers to hiring and retaining employees.
Thank you for considering our community’s needs as the session progresses. We appreciate your service to Washington State.