Screenshot from the state Employment Security Department’s website at esd.wa.gov.

Screenshot from the state Employment Security Department’s website at esd.wa.gov.

State still sifting through thousands of unemployment claims

The recent Lost Wages Assistance program pumped an extra $625 million to Washington’s unemployed.

Payments ranging from the $300 to $1,800 landed in hundreds of thousands of bank accounts during the last week of September, as part of a temporary federal program to boost unemployment benefits.

In total, the Lost Wages Assistance program pumped $625 million to Washingtonians who are unemployed, or working reduced hours, during the month of August because of COVID-19.

It has been more than six months since the pandemic caused unemployment to reach levels far surpassing the Great Recession.

Between March and September, the Employment Security Department paid out more than $11.3 billion to a million out-of-work Washingtonians — a third of the state’s workforce.

“We blew away every record imaginable,” agency spokesperson Nick Demerice said.

But some claims were left pending for months, and some of those are still under review.

As of press time, 21,000 people are waiting for the state agency to resolve an issue with their claim. A week ago, it was 31,000.

“For the people who are still waiting, while it’s a relatively small percent of the overall pool of claimants, for them it’s a really difficult situation, and we’re doing everything we can to resolve those claims as quickly as possible,” Demerice said.

Demerice and Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine have both long said that with new claims filed each week, there will always be people waiting for resolution.

The goal is to reduce the average wait time to three weeks. Over the summer, it was as low as four. Recently, though, it has risen to 7.8 weeks.

Statewide, 8.4% of workers were unemployed during the month of August.

The number of new claims each week has leveled off in recent months. On average, about 20,000 people are filing their initial unemployment claim each week.

In August and September, the agency shifted staff duties to clear a backlog of appeals from people who were denied benefits.

Since then, 13,000 appeals have been resolved and about 2,000 remain.

“Because of that focus, that meant some of our other queues slowed down a bit,” Demerice said. “But now we can bring those resources back.”

Earlier this week, the state agency announced it will not implement a solvency tax on businesses. Under state law, the agency must issue a 0.2% tax on businesses statewide if the unemployment trust fund dips below a certain threshold.

In avoiding the extra tax, Washington businesses will save an estimated $200 million, according to the agency.

“Having one of the nation’s strongest unemployment trust funds is helping us weather this crisis better than many states,” Commissioner Levine said in a news release. “Coupled with a stronger than expected state revenue forecast last week, this means an improved outlook overall and a break for employers when they most need it.”

The fund’s strength also allows the state to avoid taking out federal loans to pay unemployment benefits.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

Freshwater variety of kokanee salmon from Lake Sammamish. File photo
Encouraging numbers for kokanee salmon spawn count

Lake Sammamish kokanee aren’t out of the woods by any stretch, but… Continue reading

Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance
Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance

Nonprofits, activists are expecting greater need as workers are laid off.

In this file photo, Tayshon Cottrell dons his graduation cap and gown, along with a face mask reading: “Wear it! Save America” at Todd Beamer High School’s virtual graduation walk recording on May 20, 2020, in Federal Way. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
Law gives Washington high school seniors leeway to graduate

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that can waive some requirements for students who were on track before the pandemic.

File photo
Study shows Washingtonians exceeded ‘heavy drinking’ threshold in 2020

The survey suggests Washingtonians drank more than 17 alcoholic beverages a week on average.

Mercer Island School District first-graders returned to in-person classes on Jan. 19, 2021. Here, Northwood Elementary School students head into the building. Photo courtesy of the Mercer Island School District
Governor: Educators are now eligible for coronavirus vaccine

“This should give educators more confidence,” Jay Inslee said. Other frontline workers could soon be next.

Malden, after a wildfire burned down 80% of the town’s buildings in Eastern Washington. Courtesy photo
DNR commissioner seeks $125 million to fight wildfires

In Washington state last September, some 600,000 acres burned within 72 hours.

Washington State Supreme Court Justices (back row, L-R) Raquel Montoya-Lewis, Sheryl Gordon McCloud, Mary I. Yu, G. Helen Whitener, (front row, L-R) Susan Owens, Charles W. Johnson, Steven C. Gonzalez, Barbara A. Madsen and Debra L. Stephens.
Justices strike down Washington state drug possession law

Police must stop arresting people for simple possession.

In Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan, which was announced Jan. 28, restaurants can reopen at a maximum 25% capacity and a limit of six people per table. Inslee recently announced all counties will be staying in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan for the next several weeks. Pictured: People enjoy outdoor dining last summer in downtown Kent. Courtesy photo
Inslee: All of Washington to stay in Phase 2 for a few weeks

The governor issued a weekslong pause on regions moving backward, but has yet to outline a Phase 3.

Entrance to the Tukwila Library branch of the King County Library System. File photo
King County libraries will reopen in some cities for in-person services

Fall City, Kent libraries among six selected for partial reopening.

Most Read