ESD responds to unemployed workers locked out of accounts

WASHINGTON — Unemployed workers are reporting a new issue: They’re being locked out of their accounts for weeks after uploading identity-related documents.

Shawna De La Rosa, a freelance business journalist who was let go in May, said she received her first few payments. Then, June 9, she was prompted to upload documents to verify her identity. She said after she did, and then she was locked out of her account.

“I’m so stressed out about this,” she said. “It causes so much anxiety.”

De La Rosa couldn’t check any messages on her account. She called the Employment Security Department multiple times.

“They said that I was disqualified because I hadn’t uploaded my identification,” she said. “But this ESD employee said, ‘I clearly see that you’ve uploaded your identification four times.’”

De La Rosa said she’s heard from about 100 people online who are in the same boat.

“I haven’t been paid for four weeks, but other people have been locked out since the middle of May, since April,” she said.

“People are finding that they’re locked out of their accounts,” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon said to ESD Public Affairs Director Nick Demerice. “Why would they be locked out?”

Demerice said what’s likely happening is that individuals have either reported that those identities have been used for fraud or the accounts have “shown certain circumstances that also reflect the likely fraud that’s occurring.”

De La Rosa said that’s not what’s happening for her or most of the others she’s heard from online.

“I would say since there’s about 100 people, 97% of the people are not — there isn’t any fraud that they are aware of,” she said.

Demerice does admit, though, that “there are going to be individual cases where something strange … is happening.”

De La Rosa and the people she’d spoken to are not the only ones who are locked out and need ESD to act. Demerice says “a lot” of state employees were victims of fraud — though he will not release numbers — and they now need their locked accounts unlocked as well.

KIRO 7 obtained an internal memo sent Friday from an ESD official to departments statewide about workers who were impacted by fraud, will be furloughed and will need to file for benefits.

It says in part, “We are shifting resources within the agency over this weekend to focus on clearing out all of the existing claims that are associated with fraud. This process will resolve the fraud claims in the order we received them. Many, but not all, of state employees’ claims will be resolved this weekend.”

So was ESD just mobilizing on this problem now, with state workers so heavily impacted?

“The email that you’re referencing — I think that was a bit of a misstatement,” Demerice said. “We made it a big point of focus over the last several days to be able to address that backlog and try to get those accounts unlocked. And that’s for everyone, including this new group of state employees but also individuals who have contacted us and have account lockout issues.”

Demerice said the department is encouraging people who are locked out to call the ESD “even during this time when we’re focused on outbound calling.”

He said a staff member at the claims center should verify a person’s identity and send their unlock request to the queue at the ESD’s Office of Special Investigations.

But De La Rosa said ESD workers have told her and others multiple times by phone that they cannot help them. She said she wants a solution that works and that the ESD should figure out a way to protect against scammers and allow access now.

“Even if you’re not paying us, unlock the accounts so we can at least see what’s going on . That’s the first step,” she said.

Demerice says people have a right to appeal and that they’ll get another review internally before their request goes to the office that handles hearings. If people cannot get into their account, they should check the mail for the physical denial and appeal letter from the ESD or request over the phone that the ESD double-check the mailing address and send another letter.

As for the state furloughs, under the CARES Act, the U.S. government’s coronavirus relief bill, workers who are enrolled in the state’s SharedWork Program will benefit from the $600 a week of additional pay, even if they’re only furloughed for one day that week. That extra amount is funded by the federal government through July.

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