Business Briefs – April 2020

IRS warns of coronavirus themed phishing calls

The Internal Revenue Service is advising taxpayers that scammers are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to trick victims into providing financial information or cash.

Taxpayers may be contacted by phone, email or other means by scammers attempting to cash in on the pandemic and economic stimulus payments. The IRS will never contact taxpayers that way.

Surrendering information can lead to tax-related fraud, identity theft and loss of funds.

“History has shown that criminals take every opportunity to perpetrate a fraud on unsuspecting victims,” said Don Fort, chief of the IRS criminal investigations unit.

Report suspicious activity to

Federal income tax filing extended to July 15

The federal income tax filing due date has been extended from April 15 to July 15.

Taxpayers also can defer federal income tax payments due on April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020, without penalties and interest, regardless of the amount owed. This deferment applies to all taxpayers, including individuals, trusts and estates, corporations and other non-corporate tax filers as well as those who pay self-employment tax.

Taxpayers do not need to file any additional forms or call the IRS to qualify for this automatic federal tax filing and payment relief.

The IRS urges taxpayers who are due a refund to file as soon as possible. Most tax refunds are still being issued within 21 days.

New law promotes peer support for prison workers

A new law promotes peer-to-peer support services for staff of the state Department of Corrections, who face many of the same critical incidents as their law enforcement peers.

Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, introduced the bill, noting correctional staff face higher rates of PTSD, depression and suicide. House Bill 2762 extended testimonial privilege to protect communications between peer counselors and DOE staff, fixing a 2019 bill that protected first responders but not prison staff.

The bill passed the Legislature with unanimous bipartisan support and has been signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Kroger raises pay, adds plexiglass barriers at stores

The Kroger Co., the Cincinnati-based parent to Fred Meyer and QFC, awarded its 13,000 Washington grocery workers $2 an hour wage increases, additional emergency paid leave to cover workers who self-isolate or quarantine because of coronavirus, new workplace safety measures and other protections.

The company also agreed to install plexiglass partitions at registers, pharmacies and other customer contact points.

The move followed talks to improve working conditions for the workers at the front lines of the coronavirus between UFCW International, which represents 1.3 million grocery and related workers, and Kroger.

The agreement includes allowing associates to wash hands and sanitize registers every 30 minutes and shortened store hours to provide time for restocking, cleaning and rest.

211 call center fielding questions about coronavirus

The state Department of Health is partnering with Washington 211 to answer the public’s coronavirus questions.

Call 800-525-0127 or text 211-211 for help between 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Washington 211 replaces the health department’s novel coronavirus call center. 

Washington 211 service includes trained professionals who help callers with questions about where to find more information about COVID-19 symptoms, how to get tested for the virus, how to prevent the spread of the virus, who to contact for medical assistance, forms to fill out if they meet exposure criteria and need to see a health professional, and more.

The 211 call center is not able to provide clinical information or test results. 

Callers who need interpretative services can press # when the operator answers and say their language.

You can also text the word “Coronavirus” to 211-211 to receive information and updates on your phone wherever you are. 

President delays REAL ID enforcement for coronavirus

The Department of Homeland Security has extended the enforcement deadline for REAL ID to Oct. 1, 2021, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While Washington state is compliant with the new federal identification rules, it has closed Department of Motor Vehicle offices to the public to help control the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

President Donald Trump ordered the delay, which also will give DHS time to work with Congress to “implement needed changes to expedite the issuance of REAL IDs once the current health crisis concludes.”

After the deadline, the Transportation Security Administration will not allow passengers who do not have qualifying identification to board commercial aircraft.

Banner Corp. parent declares dividend

Banner Corp., the Walla Walla parent to Banner Bank and Islanders Bank, will pay a quarterly dividend of 41 cents per share.

The dividend will be paid April 17 to common shareholders of record on April 8.

Banner Corp. (NASDAQ GSM: BNR) is a $12.6 billion holding company with two commercial banks serving four western states.

Benton Fire District 4  seeks levy lid lift

Benton Fire District 4, serving West Richland, will ask voters to approve a levy lid lift in the Aug. 4 primary.

If approved, it will allow the district to hire additional personnel to help keep up with call volumes that have increased more than 78 percent since 2010.

“Our need for additional personnel predates the (coronavirus) pandemic, but it’s really bringing it home to us now,” said Acting Chief Paul Carlyle.

The levy lid resolution asks voters to return the fire levy to the previously approved amount of $1.50 per $1,000 of taxable value. The collected rate has dropped to $1.35 due to rising property values. If approved, it will add $3.75 per month for the owner of a home with a taxable value of $300,000, the district said.

Go to for information.

Sunrise Rotary Club’s tourney postponed

Tri-Cities Sunrise Rotary Club’s scholarship golf tournament scheduled for April 24 has been postponed.

The annual event still will be held at Canyon Lakes golf course but at a date to be determined.

Contact Mike Miller at 509-545-1881 for information.

Franklin County clerk prevails in records dispute with judges

The Washington State Supreme Court sided with Franklin County Clerk Michael Killian in a dispute over who determines how records are maintained.

In a March 20 ruling, the state’s highest court ruled 8-0, that the elected clerk and not the Superior Court “gets to choose the format in which court documents are maintained.” The decision reversed a lower court ruling.

Killian moved to paperless records using the state’s new Odyssey system in early 2018. The Benton-Franklin Superior Court instructed him to continue maintaining paper files. When he refused, the judges sued and won.

The dispute sparked a sprawling legal case that expanded to include a fight about the judges’ legal fees and a dispute with the Franklin County prosecutor after the judges made their lawyer a special deputy prosecutor in Sant’s office.

The Franklin County Commission refused to pay the judges’ legal fees. The county is obliged to defend officials who are sued in their official capacity, but not to initiate litigation against them, they said.

The Supreme Court denied the judges’ request for attorney fees.

Delta Dental offers grants, payments to dentists

Delta Dental of Washington said it will award $10 million in grants and advanced payments to independent dentists in its network affected by the coronavirus crisis.

Gov. Jay Inslee ordered a halt to all non-emergency dental procedures to reserve protective equipment for health care workers at the front lines of the pandemic.

The program will provide up to $15,000 per eligible practice and advance payments of up to 25 percent of a practice’s average historical weekly reimbursement levels for up to eight weeks.

Benton County seeks sales tax proposals

Benton County is accepting requests for money it collects through the voter-approved Public Safety Sales Tax.

The 10-year tax expires in 2024 and adds three-tenths of a percent sales tax to local purchases to support crime-fighting activities. The county receives 60 percent of the sales tax proceeds. Cities split the remaining 40 percent.

The tax supports extra police officers and sheriff’s deputies, prosecutors, diversion courts, equipment purchases and grants to nonprofits such as religious and service organizations with a mission to combat crime.

The county anticipates concluding the fiscal year with more than $12.8 million left in the public safety sales tax account.

The deadline to apply to receive money is 5 p.m. May 15. The proposals will be presented June 2 with the winning bids receiving funding for the coming biennium.

Go to for forms and other information.

Premera commits $100M to health care providers

Premera Blue Cross is providing up to $100 million in financial support in the form of advance payments to health care providers facing financial pressure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Primary care providers, specialists, behavioral health providers and dentists in Washington state may be eligible. 

Premera will recover the money as a percentage of claims over the course of nine months beginning Jan. 1, 2021. Health care providers can contact Premera about the program at

T-Mobile completes Sprint merger

T-Mobile U.S. Inc. (NASDAQ: TMUS) completed its merger with Sprint Corp. on April 1.

The combined system is the nation’s third largest wireless company and will operate as T-Mobile, delivering a next-generation 5G network.

As part of the merger, Mike Sievert succeeded John Legere as chief executive officer. Legere will remain a member of the board of directors until the annual shareholders meeting in June 2020.

The combined company intends a rapid expansion of its system with the expectation it will deliver 5G service to virtually all of the U.S. within six years.

Under terms of the transaction, Sprint shareholders received 0.10256 shares of T-Mobile for every Sprint share they held.  The deal was first announced in 2018.

Yakima basin water outlook mostly good

There should be enough water in the Yakima basin to fully satisfy senior water rights in 2020, according to the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s April 2020 Total Water Supply Available forecast.

The forecast projects junior water rights holders will be limited to 96 percent of their full entitlements this irrigation season. 

“March precipitation, at 42 percent of normal, fell far short of expectations. Snowpack, as percent of average, has declined about 5 percent since March 1. The five reservoirs are just over 62 percent full and filled about as expected in March,” said Chuck Garner, Yakima Project River Operations supervisor.  The Yakima basin reservoir storage is currently 102 percent of average, and the snowpack is 95 percent of average.

Port of Sunnyside gets grant for industrial park study

The Port of Sunnyside received a $50,000 state grant to conduct a feasibility study for the Midvale Industrial Park.

This study will include an infrastructure analysis, conceptual site plan, economic feasibility study, marketing study and wage analysis for the 300-acre site.

The grant comes from the Community Economic Revitalization Board for economic development, public infrastructure development and economic feasibility studies targeting business growth and job creation.

CERB funds are matched by local resources.

Lieutenant governor won’t seek reelection

Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib has announced he will not seek reelection this fall.

Habib will enter the Jesuit priesthood following what is described as “two years of careful and prayerful discernment.”

Habib, 38, a Democrat, was elected to the Washington House of Representatives in 2012, to the Washington Senate in 2016 and to statewide office in 2016. He is the only Iranian-American to hold statewide office.

State manufacturers asked to answer call for help

The state of Washington is seeking to fill severe shortages of specific infection-control products and other health care supplies with help from state manufacturers.

They can repurpose manufacturing operations to produce personal protection equipment (PPE).

The state Department of Enterprise Services is working to buy or arrange bulk donations of specific PPE and infection-control products identified by the state Department of Health and in coordination of the Gov. Jay Inslee’s office. 

Impact Washington is working with companies once the equipment need is confirmed by interfacing and coordinating with the manufacturer.

Products needed include disposable gowns, coveralls, surgical procedure masks, powered air purifying respirators, hoods and filters, low ion batteries and disposable stethoscopes

Those willing to repurpose manufacturing operations to produce PPE supplies may fill out an online form at

Interactive map shows how well we’re social distancing

Washington state earned a B- in social distancing, a better grade than Benton and Franklin counties’.

Benton earned a C-. Franklin got an D.

The April 8 scores come from Unacast, a company that collects and analyzes smartphone GPS location data to compile a “Social Distancing Scoreboard.”

It scores state and county level performance to show how behaviors are changing across the country in the wake of social distancing recommendations from national and world health experts to reduce the spread of coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

Unacast says the metrics show a correlation between the number of confirmed cases and the reduction in the average distance traveled.

Unacast uses the decrease in the total distance traveled as a rough index to determine whether people are staying home.

Overall, the United States scored a B-.

The company, which has offices in New York City and Oslo, Norway, compares the data to pre-COVID-19 levels.

The Unacast scorecard is searchable and updated regularly. Go to

Unacast said it doesn’t identify any individual person, device or household. It combines tens of millions of anonymous mobile phones and their interactions with each other each day and then extrapolates the results to the population level.




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