As the world grapples with COVID-19, local officials and businesses here in the Puget Sound are taking necessary and unprecedented steps to protect public health, ease anxiety and prevent the spread of the virus. Conferences and events have been postponed or canceled, large meetings limited, and employers are asking their employees to work from home. While these moves to stem COVID-19 are critical, we realize they come with an economic and societal price. A price that is especially high for those closest to the crisis and members of our community already facing health and economic disparities.
Last week, we announced in the Puget Sound region that we’ve asked our employees who can work from home to do so. While reducing the number of people on our campuses has also reduced the need for onsite support from hourly workers supporting our operations, we will continue to pay them their regular wages, whether their services are needed or not. It’s encouraging to see Amazon, Expedia, Facebook, Google, and Salesforce announce that they’ll do the same. As large corporations we can take this step and should. But not all businesses will be able to do so.
As our community focuses on public health needs during the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important that we also rally together to address the unmet economic needs developing around us. That’s why we’re partnering today with the two largest broad-based regional foundations to strengthen the community’s safety net through this crisis. The Seattle Foundation, United Way of King County, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks, in coordination with King County and the City of Seattle, will launch a regional COVID-19 Response Fund (CRF) to address the emerging community needs of COVID-19. . Microsoft is making an initial $1 million anchor donation to help launch this effort immediately.
Given that the outbreak will impact many communities that are already facing health and economic disparities, the fund will provide financial support to nonprofits and community-based organizations on the frontlines of the response. This support will include rental assistance to keep people housed; help ensure children, seniors and families have access to food; and support healthcare workers on the front line.
In addition to contributing to the COVID-19 Response Fund, our employees want to and can play a vital role. We will encourage and facilitate employee donations to support these efforts, which will be matched by the company on a dollar-per-dollar basis.
Criteria for the initial emergency response stage are being developed to ensure the dollars are allocated in a targeted, agile and responsive manner where the dollars are needed most. Initial grants will support organizations doing work with priority populations, such as: people without sick leave or health insurance; medically fragile populations; hourly and gig economy workers; healthcare workers and people with limited English-language proficiency. The group will raise funds throughout the epidemic and recovery phases, to allocate resources as needs emerge and evolve.
Microsoft’s products and services can also play a vital role in supporting people and organizations through this crisis, especially for public health officials working tirelessly to reduce the impact of COVID-19 and businesses and universities that are moving to remote meetings and classes. Across the global economy, we’re working to enable people to work remotely without sacrificing collaboration, productivity and security.
While local philanthropy has an important role to play, the COVID-19 crisis requires more funding than the corporate and philanthropic sector can contribute. There is clearly a need for additional state and government assistance. We look forward to working with state, county and local leaders who have been playing such an important and vital role in recent days.
In times of trouble, the greater Seattle community has a strong track record of pulling together. This is a time that calls for the community to come together once again.