Business Briefs – May 2020

Most business insurance won’t cover pandemic

Most Washington businesses will get little or no relief from their business insurance coverage.

Most policies in Washington exclude pandemic and virus coverage, according to a poll conducted by Mike Kreidler, the state insurance commissioner. Only two listed pandemics in basic coverage, while 15 offered limited coverage through endorsements.

Business interruption coverage is offered alongside a commercial property insurance policy and is triggered when the property incurs physical damage. Most specifically exclude a virus or pandemic.

Kreidler’s office reviewed 226 sample notices to policy holders from 84 individual companies doing business in Washington. The two insurers from FM Global Insurance Group that provide pandemic coverage through their base policies are focused on large companies with complex supply chains.

Virtual happy hour offers look at Tri-City future

The Washington Policy Center will hold a virtual happy hour to discuss the economic outlook and future of the Tri-Cities and Hanford.

The online event is from 7-8 p.m. May 20.

The program includes Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department, David Reeploeg, vice president of federal programs for Tri-Cities Development Council and Jason Mercier, director for government reform at the Washington Policy Center.

Register at washingtonpolicy.org/events/detail/tri-cities-virtual-happy-hour.

Chamber wins contract to lead L&I sessions

The Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce will offer 21 workshops to help small businesses and nonprofits in the Mid-Columbia learn about workplace rules and regulations enforced by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

The courses will be open to employers with 50 or fewer employees operating in Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Columbia, Grant, Yakima and Klickitat counties. Workshops are free and topics will be tailored to individual counties.

They will be held in-person or via Zoom.

For more details, go to tricityregionalchamber.com or call 509-736-0510.

Washington: 272,900 lost health coverage in first weeks of pandemic

Stay-home orders to curtail the spread of coronavirus sent Washington’s uninsured rate soaring in the five-week period between March 15 and April 18, according to the Office of Financial Management.

More than 700,000 workers filed unemployment insurance claims after “non-essential” businesses were ordered to close temporarily or have employees work from home

The uninsured rate rose to 10.2 percent, from 6.7 percent at the start of the year, according to OFM. That represents 272,900 newly uncovered residents, it said.

Uninsured rates range from a low of 3.9 percent in Wahkiakum County to 16.3 percent in Yakima County.

Benton County’s uninsured rate rose to 8.1 percent from 5.3 percent. Franklin County’s uninsured rate rose to 17 percent from 15.8 percent.

Go to bit.ly/2020WashingtonUninsuredRate for more information.

Hanford cleanup agreement updated

The Tri-Party Agreement governing the Hanford cleanup has been updated.

Following an extensive round of negotiations and public comment, the U.S. Department of Ecology, Washington State Department of Ecology and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency negotiated revisions to the Hanford Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order, known as the Tri-Party Agreement.

The updates change four sections of the TPA related to coordinated closure and aligned milestones to reduce redundancy.

 The final changes and comments are posted at pdw.hanford.gov/document/AR-03683.

New fund supports CBC students affected by pandemic

STCU will match the first $25,000 donated before June 1 to a new fund created to support Columbia Basin College students facing financial hardship because of the pandemic

Columbia Basin College and STCU created the CBC Cares Emergency Fund after hearing from students who have lost jobs, are struggling with child care and are uncertain how to pay rent.

Applications to the Student Emergency Fund have dramatically increased since the coronavirus pandemic inspired Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.

“In this time of unprecedented need, we’re confident the Tri-Cities community will provide additional help to these students and their families,” said Ezra Eckhardt, STCU president and chief executive officer. “A CBC education opens doors for graduates. Ultimately, that benefits the entire community.”

Donate at bit.ly/CBCCaresFund.

Boys and Girls Clubs go virtual with free activities

Virtual Club is a new offering from Boys and Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties to help families stay active and engaged during the coronavirus pandemic.

Virtual Club is free for all families and offers classes, educational tutorials, projects, meaningful challenges and other activities curated by Boys and Girls Club instructors. The site offers information, reviews and recommendations for other resources of use to families.

Weekly challenges include a recent challenge to make chalk sidewalk drawings to spread positive messages in the Tri-Cities. Go to greatclubs.org/virtualclub.

Social Security report shows depletion dates

The Social Security Board of Trustees released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Funds in late April.

The report does not reflect potential impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

The report indicates the combined trust funds are projected to become depleted in 2035, with 79 percent of benefits payable after that time. The projected depletion date is unchanged from the 2019 report.

The DI Trust Fund is estimated to become depleted in 2065, with 92 percent of benefits still payable.

Total income to the combined fund was $1.06 trillion in 2019, including $944.5 billion from net payroll tax contributions and $81 billion in interest.

Social Security paid $1.04 trillion to 64 million beneficiaries in 2019.

The board is led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

For more information, go to sa.gov/news/press/releases.

Costco raises quarterly dividend by a nickel

Issaquah-based Costco Wholesale Corporation (Nasdaq: COST) will pay a quarterly dividend of 60 cents per share on May 14 to shareholders of record on May 1.

The board voted to increase the dividend from 65 cents to an annualized $2.80 per share.

Costco operates 787 warehouse locations, including 547 in the United States and Puerto Rico.

Relief fund supports Tri-City artists

The Arts Center Task Force has established a relief fund to support artists and organizations which have seen their income devastated by efforts to control the spread of coronavirus.

The ACTF COVID-19 Artist Relief Fund will provide unrestricted grants to offer short-term relief.

Donate or apply at bit.ly/ArtsCenterReliefFund.

Sunset Garden to celebrate Memorial Day

Sunset Gardens will conduct its annual Memorial Day event as a drive-thru.

The Richland cemetery at 915 Bypass Highway will place more than 1,000 U.S. flags on the grounds. The 11 a.m. event on May 25 includes an address by former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, which will be broadcast on KORD 102.7 FM. 

Go to SunsetGardensTriCities.com for up to date information.

McCurley loves Second Harvest, Communities in Schools

McCurley Integrity Subaru in Pasco supported Second Harvest food bank and Communities in Schools through the Subaru Love Promise campaign.

Subaru retailers are part of the national effort to provide 50 million meals through Feeding America. McCurley donated 82,763 meals to the food bank in the Tri-Cities.

It is also helping lead Communities in Schools’ Spring into Action fundraiser. Originally planned as a breakfast, Spring into Action is now a monthlong online fundraiser to help the nonprofit provide food, social and emotional support and other resources to students and families.

Give at bit.ly/CISSpringIntoAction.

Annual Labor Day Picnic is canceled

The Tri-Cities Labor Day Picnic set for Sept. 7 in Kennewick’s Columbia Park has been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The picnic is organized by labor unions of Southeastern Washington.

Foundation’s emergency fund applications are available

Three Rivers Community Foundation has posted an application for local nonprofits to apply for grants from its COVID-19 Response Fund.

The fund is chiefly focused on organizations working to provide food, housing, health, child care and mental health services to families affected by the pandemic, and to organizations who need support to carry out their missions.

Go to 3rcf.org for grant and donation details.

Grant to match United Way donations

Donations to the United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties COVID-19 relief fund will be matched through a grant from a national foundation. 

The one-to-one match will double local gifts. 

United Way established the COVID-19 Community Response Fund to support nonprofits straining to serve the community with an emphasis on providing food and child care as well as those providing mental and behavioral health services. 

Contribute at give.uwbfco.org/givenow

Auto insurance may not cover your delivery gig

The Northwest Insurance Council is alerting Washington drivers working as home delivery drivers that standard auto insurance policies may not extend to work-related driving.

Insurers are stepping forward to bridge the gap but coverage may not be automatic. The insurance council cautions drivers to contact their insurer to confirm they have the correct coverage if they are delivering food or other goods for money.

While some may automatically extend coverage, it could be limited to the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

Franklin PUD offering free hot spots in four areas

Franklin PUD Broadband is offering free Wi-Fi hot spots so teachers and students can have access to high speed internet.

“The goal is to reach kids and families who may not have internet access or who don’t have fast enough internet speeds needed to complete homework during the COVID-19 distance learning. “We hope to continue expanding hot spots across the county. The signal can travel up to an 800-foot radius. It’s a very strong signal so you can stream video and perform most tasks you would at home,” said Ben Hooper, Franklin PUD’s broadband manager.

The hot spots are located in Pasco, Connell, Kahlotus and Mesa. They are available every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Users can log on from their mobile device or laptop computer. A password is not required. The hot spots will stay in place.

Here are the locations:
Pasco: Memorial Park, 350 N. 14th Ave.; Wireless Network Name: FBB_Public_WiFi

Connell: Connell Community Center, 211 E. Elm St., Wireless Network Name: PUD_Connell_Public_WiFi

Kahlotus: Intersection of Durham Avenue and West Martin Street, near the community pool. Wireless Network Name: PUD_Public_WiFi

Mesa: Bailie Land and Cattle Co., 205 First Ave. Wireless Network Name: PUD_Mesa_Public_WiFi.

Regulators expand aid for Cascade Natural Gas customers

 The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission approved temporary changes to Cascade Natural Gas’s Washington Energy Assistance Fund (WEAF) to provide aid to customers who have lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Residential natural gas customers having trouble paying their bills will be able to apply for hardship grants of up to $400 from current WEAF funds, and the existing cap of $500 per program year per household has been lifted.

Additionally, the low-income verification requirement to qualify for Cascade’s WEAF program has been relaxed so that customers experiencing a sudden loss of income can receive aid quickly.

WEAF funds are administered by local community action agencies. Customers who need to apply for the hardship grant should reach out to the agency in their area. Customers also can call Cascade at 888-522-1130 to discuss bill payment options.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cascade had already voluntarily suspended disconnections for nonpayment.
Kennewick-based Cascade Natural Gas Corporation serves almost 220,000 residential and business customers in 68 communities throughout the state.

Washington offers relief for student loans

Several private student loan servicers are offering extended relief to borrowers struggling to make payments because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions and a coalition of eight other states and Washington, D.C. secured reliefs that expand on protections included in the federal CARES Act program, which suspended monthly payments, interest and involuntary collection activity until Sept. 30.

The CARES Act relief excluded student borrowers with federal loans not owned by the government as well as loans made by private lenders.

Under the new initiative, Washington residents with commercially owned Federal Family Education Protection Loans or privately held student loans may be eligible for relief. Borrowers should contact their loan servicer to learn about their options.

Loan servicers providing relief include: Aspire Resources Inc., College Ave Student Loan Servicing, Earnest Operations, Edfinancial, Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corp., Lendkey Technologies Inc., MOHELA, Navient, Nelnet, SoFil Lending Corp., Tuition Options, United Guaranty Services Inc., Upstart Network Inc., Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority and Vermont Student Assistance Corp.

Trios Southridge renews trauma designation

Trios Southridge Hospital has been awarded Level III trauma designation for adult and pediatric services from the Washington State Department of Health.

The designation continues Trios’ current Level III designation, which is renewed every three years. Trios is also the only Tri-Cities area hospital with a pediatric trauma designation. The state offers a limited number of pediatric trauma designations per region.

The designation entitles Trios to use the trauma service designation level title, receive trauma patients from the prehospital agencies and referring facilities in the state, and receive annual Trauma Fund grants.

Feds overrule Washington crude oil transport rule

The U.S. Department of Transportation has determined that Federal Hazardous Material Transportation Law pre-empts the state of Washington’s vapor pressure requirement for the transportation of crude oil by rail. 

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the rule, which banned the loading and unloading of crude oil unless vapor requirement were met, into law in 2019.

The states of North Dakota and Montana asked the federal government to overrule. They were later joined by the attorneys general for Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. 

Reclamation updates Yakima water outlook

The Yakima basin water supply will be sufficient to fully satisfy senior water rights, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s May forecast.

Junior water rights will be limited to an estimated 91 percent of their full entitlements this irrigation season.  

“March and April were very dry throughout the basin, with only 45 percent of average system precipitation, the fourth lowest in the 109 years of record,” said Chuck Garner, Yakima Project River Operations supervisor.

The Yakima basin reservoir storage is 72 percent full, which is 98 percent of average. The snowpack is 76 percent of average.

For more information, go to usbr.gov/pn/hydromet/yakima

UW web series to offer business advice sessions

The University of Washington Foster School of Business will hold a series of web sessions featuring advice on how to adapt businesses as the state reopens from the coronavirus stay-home orders.

Sessions meet from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays through June 24.

  • May 20: Emer Dooley, lecturer on entrepreneurship, and Reggie Brown, owner of Nutress Hair, discuss how to serve customers in new ways.
  • May 27: Associate Professor Thomas Gilbert, finance, addresses cash and debt after the precipitous drop in demand.
  • June 3: Associate Professor Elizabeth Umphress, management, discusses negotiating with employees, vendors and other business partners.
  • June 10: Assistant Professor Shi Chen, operations management, discusses inventory and supply change management in volatile times.
  • June 17: Christina Fong, principal lecturer of management, discusses decision-making under circumstances no one anticipated.
  • June 24: Shaosong Ou, senior lecturer in information systems, discusses how to use technology while keeping social distancing.

Register by 11 a.m. each Wednesday for a link to the Zoom sessions at bit.ly/UWPivotSeries.

Auction of Washington Wines goes online

The 2020 Auction of Washington Wines and related activities will be conducted online because of the coronavirus.

The Winemaker Picnic and Barrel Auction, Private Barrel Auction, the Gala Live Auctions and other events benefit the state’s wine industry and Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Now in its 33rd year, the program will be Aug. 15, with details to be released closer to the date. The program includes bidding online as well as a digital raise the paddle.

Go to auctionofwawines.org for more information.

Health officials report statewide drop in immunization rates

Immunization rates among children appear to be dropping during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving children and communities at risk, according to state health officials.

Providers in Washington’s Childhood Vaccine Program reported they administered 30 percent fewer vaccines to 0-18-year-olds in March compared with the same month in previous years. In April, they reported seeing a 42-percent decrease, but that number may change as April data continues to be reported.

The amount of vaccine ordered by providers in March also fell both in Washington state and nationwide.

Incyte open new lab, plans to offer COVID-19 testing

Incyte Diagnostics, which has a laboratory in Richland, has launched a new clinical testing lab in Spokane Valley to serve hospitals and clinics throughout the northwestern U.S., the Spokane Journal of Business reported.

The clinical lab tests for everything from allergies and bloodwork to cancer and expects to have antibody testing available for COVID-19 in mid-May. The lab expects to be able to run 600 antibody tests an hour, the Spokane Journal of Business reported.

The $3.2 million remodel took about 10 months to complete, the Spokane Journal of Business reported.

The new 13,000-square-foot lab will serve five states: Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Alaska.

Kadlec expansion earns national construction award

The tallest building in the Tri-Cities also has earned prestigious national recognition in the construction industry.

The four-floor Kadlec River Pavilion expansion project in Richland was named winner of a 2020 Vista Award from the American Society for Health Care Engineering.

The River Pavilion project at Kadlec Regional Medical Center was recognized in the renovation category, which is presented to “an organization that has altered existing conditions or added new space to existing structures. The original building envelope must remain essentially intact.”

The original River Pavilion opened in 2008 as a six-story patient care tower. The four-floor expansion completed in 2016 provides more than 90 private patient rooms.

Hermiston road project paves way for future homes

East Theater Lane soon will reopen as a fully paved road, the latest project that will unlock housing development potential in northeast Hermiston.

The paving project creates an incentive for potential private-sector developers by reducing the cost to connect to the road and sidewalks. Theater Lane also borders Hermiston School District property where a new elementary school will be built, and the extension will lower the cost of developing that property as well, according to the city.

The project, combined with water system upgrades in the area, already has attracted private development in the Cimmaron Terrace subdivision. As a result of that private development, city staff worked to coordinate a public-private partnership between the city, developer and school district to ensure sewer services were extended at the same time as the paving.

Even with a delay caused by the coronavirus construction shutdown, the paving project was completed earlier than originally planned after the Hermiston City Council approved combining the scope of work with the nearby water tower.

Paving of the center lanes between Eighth and 10th streets was funded through franchise fees and the state gas tax. The wider asphalt and sidewalk on the south side of the road were paid for by the in-progress housing development.

White Shield in Pasco wins Hanford contract

CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Company (CHPRC) awarded a $3.9 million contract to stabilize waste tanks to White Shield, a small, disadvantaged company based in Pasco.

White Shield will design, engineer and install a system to stabilize three underground structures at the Hanford site’s Central Plateau on behalf of CHPRC, a U.S. Department of Energy contractor.

The structures will be filled with engineered grout.

The three underground structures are the 216-Z-2 Crib, 216-Z-9 Crib and 241-Z-361 Settling Tank. They are near the former Plutonium Finishing Plant.

The structures received liquid waste during Hanford’s plutonium production operations and contain residual radioactive and chemical contamination. A 2019 report indicates the structures are at risk of age-related failure.

The 216-Z-2 Crib will be filled with about 75 cubic yards of grout; the 241-Z-361 Settling Tank will receive 125 cubic yards; and 4,000 cubic yards will be delivered to the 216-Z-9 Crib.

The grout will stabilize the structures, while not precluding future remedial actions or final closure decisions.

Chipotle open for pickup, delivery in Richland

Chipotle Mexican Grill has opened its second Tri-City location. The newest Chipotle is open for pickup and delivery only.

Call in pickup orders to 509-396-0314. Delivery orders must be placed online at chipotle.com or through the chain’s mobile app.

The fast-Mexican chain is at 2673 Queensgate Drive in Vintner Plaza, the Target-anchored shopping center in Richland. Chipotle took over the former Qdoba Mexican Eats following a $561,000 remodel by Alegis Construction Inc.

Browman Development Co. of Walnut Creek, California, is the property owner and manager.

G2 wins contract for Richland High Auditorium remodel

Kennewick-based G2 Commercial Construction will renovate the Richland High School Auditorium after submitting a low bid of $7.7 million. It was one of seven bidders for the work.

The project aimed at updating the facility and improving accessibility. The city of Richland approved a permit for the work April 27.

The renovation is funded by a 2017 bond approved by voters. The yearlong project begins this summer at Richland High, 920 Long Ave.

The update will reconfigure aisles and install new seating, add restrooms and new vestibule areas and modernize electrical and mechanical systems. The auditorium will get a new roof, exterior guardrails and electronic readers boards as well.

G2 renovated the district’s Early Learning Center, which is in the former Jefferson Elementary building.

The auditorium will close for performances for the 2020-21 academic year.

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