Unemployment Numbers Spike from 800 to 18,500 in Two Days | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Unemployment Numbers Spike from 800 to 18,500 in Two Days

As small businesses seek relief, Chamber, state and federal legislators work on bolstering an economy in freefall

Numbers released Wednesday from the Oregon Employment Department show an economy in freefall due to COVID-19. OED had 800 new unemployment claims on Sunday. By Tuesday, that number was 18,500.

The sharp uptick came after Gov. Kate Brown's announcement that all bars and food service establishments would need to go to take-out or delivery only as of Tuesday. The McMenamins chain, which operates bars, hotels and restaurants around the Northwest, closed its doors and laid off all 3,000 of its employees Tuesday. Sunriver Resort followed with a total closure Tuesday night. Mt. Bachelor closed as of Sunday.

click to enlarge Unemployment Numbers Spike from 800 to 18,500 in Two Days
Nicole Vulcan
McMenamins—which includes the Old St. Francis School in Bend— announced Tuesday it was closing the doors of all of its locations, putting 3,000 out of work.

Meanwhile, like many employees in the white-collar professional services sector, some workers at the Bend Chamber of Commerce are ironing out the kinks of telecommuting.

“While we’ve canceled all in-person events through the end of April, we’re finding inventive ways to keep the community engaged and be of service to our members,” said Katy Brooks, Bend Chamber CEO. “We’re using technology, ingenuity and fun to continue to do the work we need to do.”

Brooks said the Bend Chamber has been working around the clock to assemble resources for new website it's launching next week, centraloregonsos.com. The regional resource will attempt aggregate information for businesses, employers and employees about ways they can apply for relief from state and federal agencies.

The Chamber is currently lobbying the State Legislature to reconsider collecting the Commercial Activities Tax, which was passed last year to help fund the Student Success Act and provide vital resources to local schools. But with schools closed through April 28, small business advocates believe funds should be redeployed to unemployment for laid-off workers and support to keep small businesses afloat. Brooks said the Bend Chamber is advocating for unemployment funds to include sole proprietors and small businesses with just a few employees.
Unemployment Numbers Spike from 800 to 18,500 in Two Days
Bend Chamber
The coronavirus has affected businesses across all sectors in the past two weeks, and Oregon health experts say social distancing could last through at least the end of April.

“We want to make sure that these small operations, like event planners, that they’re not left out,” Brooks said. “I’ve talked to people who plan events and they have literally nothing to do for the next three or four months.”

Brooks noted that the State’s unemployment website crashed several times over the past few days, and that people making new claims often wait for hours on hold before reaching someone who can help.

“Whatever the financial assistance the State passes, we want to make sure it’s not too cumbersome to access. It needs to be quick, simple and easy to do,” Brooks said, noting that some government programs often require piles of paperwork and lots of time to navigate through complex requirements.

The Bend Chamber is asking all businesses to share their experiences about how the coronavirus is affecting their operations through this online survey.

Federal Assistance

On Wednesday, the Senate passed HR 6201, “phase two” of a multiphase stimulus package called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It includes a $100 billion emergency aid package mandating employers to pay two weeks of sick leave for their employees who are absent due to the coronavirus. It also allows for paid family leave up to three months at 67% of expected pay. (Businesses under 50 and over 500 are exempt.) The bill bolsters unemployment insurance, offers free coronavirus testing, boosts food assistance (SNAP) and increases federal funding for Medicaid. Businesses will be reimbursed to offset the cost of these benefits through tax credits.

"I do not believe we should let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers," said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) on the Senate floor. "We're going to pass the House bill, but its imperfections will just make our more comprehensive package more urgent. So we aren't leaving—everybody understand that—we aren't leaving, until we deliver…. The Senate is not going to leave small business behind."

A third stimulus package is in the works to address the needs of small businesses through the creation of a $300 billion small business interruption loan program. It may also provide cash assistance to Americans, and even Republicans are advocating for larger and more frequent payments to every American in the coming months. The third bills may include even more paid leave, more help for the healthcare industry and bailouts for the airline ($50 billion) and cruise industries ($150 billion). Congress has pledged to stay in Washington, D.C. until the third bill goes through, projected to be later this week.

Back in Oregon

Anthony Smith of the National Federation of Independent Business testified today at the first meeting of the Oregon Joint Special Committee On Coronavirus Response. He said the federal bill passed today will hurt Oregon businesses because they are experiencing extreme cash flow shortages in the near term. While the new federal plan allows for reimbursement through tax deductions in the future, these businesses will be strapped to pay their overhead expenses right now because revenues have taken such a nosedive over the past week.

Brooks acknowledged that some businesses restaurants may have difficulty paying rent next month. She said this is why it's vital that businesses have access to direct assistance and loans as soon as possible.

The Joint Committee meeting in Salem (and online) ended today with Chair Rep. Paul Holvey (D-Eugene) asking members to come back to the next meeting with their top two proposals. Nothing was passed today and instead it was an overview of presentations from business advocates, the restaurant industry, Oregon unions and housing advocates. Sen. Tim Knopp is representing Central Oregon and he told the Source he will be focused on advocating for small businesses through the coronavirus crisis.

"If we do not take immediate action, the surge in demand in our hospitals for masks, gowns and gloves will quickly outstrip the limited supplies they have available. We cannot let that happen." -Gov. Kate Brown

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Health Care Supplies Still Short

Patrick Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority, reiterated that the coronavirus will last for several months and that the State's public health sector is completely focused on the medical response and saving lives right now. Oregon is in dire need of personal protective gear and has only received some supplies from federal stockpiles. China prohibited the export of these materials for months. The OHA has been thinking outside the box about how to create hospital-like settings in other places like college dorms. The State is considering ways to manufacture needed PPE items in Oregon as well.

Wednesday evening, Gov. Kate Brown ordered veterinarians, dentists and other health care workers at all Oregon hospitals and outpatient clinics and providers to cease non-emergency procedures in order to preserve more PPE, including surgical masks, gowns and gloves, for those treating COVID-19. Those not treating COVID-19 are being asked to donate their supplies.

"If we do not take immediate action, the surge in demand in our hospitals for masks, gowns and gloves will quickly outstrip the limited supplies they have available," Brown said. "We cannot let that happen." 
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