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Federal pandemic unemployment benefits end Saturday in Washington

The Washington Employment Security Department is alerting people the benefits, including an extra $300 a week, are coming to an end.

SEATTLE — Federal Pandemic Unemployment Benefits are coming to an end on Saturday. It means people will no longer receive Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or the additional $300 a week with Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.  

"I'm thankful that I got it so that I was able to stay home and stay safe for this long," said Seattle resident Grant Olson. "But with it ending so quickly and things ramping up the way they are, I'm worried about the future and my current job I'm on standby for." 

Olson said he's received Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance since June 2020.

Olson's job as a cellist for the pit orchestra at the Village Theatre has been on pause since March 2020. The theatre is planning a 2022 Welcome Back Season and said it will require proof of vaccination.

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"We were supposed to have opening night and that just got completely tabled and ever since then I haven't been back there. I mean, I'm not technically fired, but I also can't work there because it's not a safe environment," said Olson. 

He's one of the 275,558 people who've applied for unemployment in the past week, a 3.5% decrease from the previous week, according to the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD). Since the beginning of the pandemic, ESD said it's paid more than $20.9 billion in benefits to more than 1.1 million Washingtonians. 

ESD's website is alerting people the extended federal unemployment benefits expire on Sept. 4.

Olson expects zero dollars in unemployment once that happens. He and his partner, who's also on unemployment, plan to use the small amount they have saved while they navigate what's next. He considered applying for a retail or restaurant job but said it's difficult because his partner is at high risk for COVID-19.

"It's just that balancing act of when do I just say, 'OK, I need to go out and get another job and risk health and safety of family and friends around me to make an income to be able to survive,'" said Olson. "It's tough because the job that I went to school for and paid thousands of dollars to get an education for, it seems like that's the job I should be doing right now."

Federal officials have not signaled that they plan to extend the benefits again. Congress extended benefits in March 2021 when, nationally, reported cases were one-third of what they are right now. Olson said with his career on pause and a virus that is surging, he's hoping to see another extension.

"It just depends on how much longer this pandemic goes on and how much worse it'll get. I may just have to go for a new thing, especially if unemployment's not going to come through," said Olson.