Inside Washington State’s Reopening

6/16/2020

Last week, the Northwest Credit Union Association convened more than 100 credit union leaders to learn more about Washington’s reopening process from four legislators and a key aide to Governor Jay Inslee. The venue also provided an opportunity for those leaders to learn more about credit unions’ essential roles in the economy.

“Washington’s credit unions are on the front lines as financial first responders, helping the state’s 4.3 million members, in the shared desire to get our economy back on track in the way that works best for all people,” said Jennifer Wagner, NWCUA’s Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer as she opened the meeting.

Washington was one of the first states to issue “Stay Home” orders that closed schools and many businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19. The state is now moving through its “Safe Start” program to reopen.

“Navigating the ongoing and future challenges of COVID-19 is going to be a major effort,” said Joe Adamack, NWCUA’s Vice President, Legislative Affairs for Washington. “We want to connect you with the people who have been addressing it and who will lead the way as our state addresses the public health and economic challenges in the coming years.”

Listening to each of the speakers crystalized that the pandemic created three crises — for public health, the economy, and for government budgets. The decisions aren’t easy.

“Honestly, it’s not going to be about choosing between good things and bad things, but likely what are the least bad things we might have to do,” said Laurie Jinkins, (D-27, Tacoma), Speaker of the House.

Jinkins will not only help to guide decisions as the state manages a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall caused by COVID-19; she is also a public health official at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. She praised credit unions for the care they’ve taken for consumers and businesses during the pandemic.

“I am quite aware you all are probably the saviors of the small businesses in our state,” Jinkins said as she encouraged credit unions to provide especially hard-hit businesses owned by women and people of color.

“This virus is as deadly now as it was in early March when we started, and it’s not be trifled with,” said Charles Knutson, Senior Advisor for Innovation and Global Affairs on Governor Jay Inslee’s staff. Knutson outlined the state’s priority to “box in the virus” through more testing and contact tracing in high-risk areas and staying the course on physical distancing and other health and safety measures.

Senator John Braun, (R-20, Centralia) brought three perspectives to the meeting – one as the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, another as president of his family owned business, which builds emergency vehicles, and another as a Captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

Sen. Braun weighed in on how quickly small businesses suffered when the pandemic hit.

“I don’t always feel like some of the folks in our government understand the challenges small businesses have with cash flow. It’s devastating. They are trying to save their lives’ work or retirement,” Braun said.

He would like to see the legislature convene a special session sooner rather than later, and guide spending of the state’s share of the CARES Act funding to help small businesses.

Rounding out the panel of presenters were Senator Mark Mullet, (D-5, Issaquah), Chair of the Senate Financial Institutions, Economic Development, and Trade Committee, and Representative Steve Kirby, (D-29, Tacoma), who chairs the House Consumer Protection and Business Committee. Those committees oversee most of the legislation important to credit unions. Like Sen. Braun, both legislators hope for a special session soon.

Rep. Kirby believes a lot of jobs lost in his district will not recover.

“People are scared to death. People are hurting,” Kirby said, adding he fears rampant poverty and homelessness on the other side of the pandemic.

Mullet put his hat on as the owner of several small businesses, including pizza and ice cream shops, sharing that ice cream sales are down 40%. He applauded credit unions for doing a “really great job” obtaining Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses across the state.  “That,” he said, “was awesome.”

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Posted in Public Awareness.