Washington state hopes to clear its backlog of 265,000 initial unemployment claims by mid-June.
Employment Security Department (ESD) Commissioner Suzi LeVine said on a conference call Thursday that the department hopes to get “really substantial momentum” through the backlog within the next two weeks.
“Our goal with Operation 100% is to make sure unemployment benefits are delivered to all Washingtonians who were impacted by COVID-19, are eligible for and want to receive those benefits,” LeVine said.
Of those backlogged claims, about 187,000 need to either sign up for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which is a federal provision under the CARES Act, or file a weekly claim. Those claims will receive emails and e-notices about next steps.
Another 57,000 backlogged claims are stuck in adjudication, which is when there’s a discrepancy with the application that needs to be cleared up by a trained adjudicator. Normally adjudication takes 21 days, but the high number of applications has extended that wait by several weeks.
Chris White says he was working as a social media director for a local video game company when he was laid off two days after the governor issued the stay-at-home order.
He says he filed for unemployment first thing, but never got a check or a response. White says he's been stuck in the adjudication process, without any resolution.
"I was just on a hold trying to get through to people, thousands of phone calls with ESD just being disconnected getting through to people who weren't able or willing to help. It honestly felt more like the latter," said White on Thursday.
He says he's aware that the state has had to hire hundreds of new people to handle the claims and get up to speed. He says he finally got a hold of a helpful person on Thursday, who was able to locate the status of his case.
"There was an adjudication process and it should have been adjudicated on April 6. That's exactly what I was told word for word today. But nobody had looked at my claim. No one had picked it up. No one was assigned to it," said White, who also says he's at the end of his rope. "I've exhausted every single last cent of my savings. I have nothing left. And now I have to wait an extra two to four days. And that's if everything goes well for the payment process."
ESD plans to continue bulk clearing adjudicated claims and hopes increased adjudicator capacity will help plow through those applications. Last week ESD said it bulk cleared 14,000 claims and tripled its claims staff to work on those complex cases.
If you have applied for unemployment but haven’t gotten paid, LeVine shared these tips:
File a weekly claim for each week you are unemployed. In Washington, 58,620 people are eligible for benefits but haven’t filed a weekly claim, according to LeVine.
Answer the phone if you get a call from an 800 number. ESD staff are reaching out to applicants by phone to resolve claim issues.
Check your email’s spam filter for ESD messages. Also check your e-services account for notices from ESD asking for more information.
Be prepared when making a claim. Use ESD’s eligibility checkers and follow their online guides. Double check all information you submit to ensure it matches the documentation. For example, make sure the name you apply under matches the name on your social security card.
Do you have a question or concern about money during the coronavirus pandemic? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.