A pedestrian walks past a closed cafe with its windows covered in American flags at the Pike Place market. (AP Photo / Elaine Thompson)
The Job Security Department knew it was going to happen – a tsunami of unemployment claims coinciding with the availability of expanded and expanded unemployment benefits under federal CARES law.
The tsunami struck with an increase of over 450% in the total claims filed last week, just under 1.5 million.
“In a week in which a billion dollars were delivered to thousands of Washingtonians, this is by far the most important week of unemployment benefits in the history of our state,” said the commissioner. at ESD, Suzy LeVine.
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The number of claims filed does not represent individual people, said LeVine, as many people file multiple claims, mainly due to the extension of federal benefits.
There are a variety of additional benefits under the CARES law, including unemployment pandemic assistance, which extends benefits to those who would not normally be eligible for unemployment, such as self-employed entrepreneurs and the self-employed, and the emergency unemployment pandemic, which extends unemployment insurance for an additional 13 weeks to those who have exhausted their benefits.
The actual number of claims filed last week is 787,533.
LeVine said that since the start of the pandemic, 504,284 people who filed an initial claim have been paid. Tens of thousands of others are still waiting.
The volume of web traffic to drop online, phone filings and customer service calls have been taking the system away for weeks. However, LeVine said the ministry’s efforts to encourage registrants who could afford to wait a few days finally paid off, allowing hundreds of thousands of people to go through the system last week.
However, many are stuck on the pending phase, mainly because there are discrepancies of some sort that need to be resolved by an arbitrator – a specially trained staff member who personally reviews the problem with the claimant and the employer, the if necessary, to resolve discrepancies. .
“Unfortunately, solving these problems takes time and people,” said LeVine. “Under normal circumstances, cases are heard within 21 days. This means that additional information is requested and reviewed by a qualified arbitrator and that a decision is made in about three weeks. However, at the moment, this is anything but normal. We have received more requests in the past 7 weeks than in the previous 3.5 years combined. “
LeVine said getting benefits to everyone who qualifies is the top priority, and the ministry is working on four things to achieve this.
“Our agency’s number one priority is to provide benefits to people who are eligible for unemployment assistance and who are still waiting,” she said.
Here are the four things ESD is currently doing to fix the problem:
- Get eligible people to be paid to act. Tens of thousands of people have not filed their weekly claim or are unaware that they should be applying for extended unemployment benefits under the Federal CARES Act. Targeted emails will remind them to take these important steps.
- Reach out to those who are in arbitration for various reasons and update them on the work done to resolve their situation.
- Grouped resolution of certain issues where possible. For example, people who have noted that they are students and employees generally have to show that they have enough hours in their week outside of school to work. With most of the schools having been canceled, this is a problem that the agency has been able to resolve as a whole for many applicants, thereby speeding up the process of paying these people.
- Engage more customer service staff to help people across the state process their claims and communicate with the phones, and free up arbitrators to do the specialized work of resolving claims issues. ESD has more than tripled claims staff and continues to hire. Find current publications here.
LeVine said they know people desperately need this money, apologized for the delay and promised to continue working hard to clear the backlog.
You can find more information on the arbitration issue in a LeVine video message here. She also encouraged those who have been denied benefits or who are preparing to file for the first time to read the ESD checklist and FAQs.
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