State sets mid-June goal of addressing unemployment claims

OLYMPIA, Wash. — New numbers show more than 810,0000 people in Washington have filed for unemployment benefits since the beginning of March.

On Thursday, Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said they are aiming for mid-June when it comes to addressing all the claims they had as of May 1st. That’s just the date they’re using for goal setting, even though they’ll keep addressing claims after that.

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“It's been a nightmare, let's just say that, as far as unemployment goes,” Brian Hames said. He said he has weeks of pending claims on the state’s unemployment benefits system and still owes rent for May.

“I’ve gotten the stimulus check and one unemployment check, so between those two checks, I’ve just stretched everything out,” he said.

Hames is a type-one diabetic. His doctor told him to take medical leave from his job at a vegetable processing plant because he's at risk of COVID-19. He's low on money and insulin.

“I have one bottle left, which usually lasts me about a week and a half,” he said.

Mariah Mitchell, a mother of three, has been waiting weeks for any unemployment benefits.

“Not one dollar, nothing-- I have received zero unemployment since the last week of March,” Mitchell said. “It’s very difficult right now.”

LeVine said as of May 1st, they had 265-thousand people who hadn't received any payments. Many of them, she said, haven't filed weekly claims or signed up for pandemic unemployment insurance, while thousands of other cases are in adjudication.

“Our goal is to get to 100-percent by mid-June, but hopefully a lot more before then,” she said. “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.”

She expects the number of new claims to keep growing until phases two and three of the governor's reopening plan, when more businesses can hire people back.

LeVine also pointed out that people who are on regular unemployment insurance will be able to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance if their employer reopens but they can't go back to work due to childcare needs.

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“You then become ineligible for unemployment insurance, but you then become eligible for the pandemic unemployment assistance program,” she said. “And so while you may need to answer that question of, ‘Have you been offered work?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Did you refuse work?’ ‘Yeah.’ But you then get to explain why and that would then shift you into that PUA if you've already applied.”

Commissioner LeVine also said that team members are calling people to resolve their cases but some are not answering. She said if people are waiting for unemployment benefits and they see an 800 number calling your phone, they should answer the call.

KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked her about cases like Brian Hames’s.

“In terms of a hardship escalation process, we're looking into that,” LeVine said. “But the challenge then is it creates another queue. So we're going to be talking with some advocates later today and with others about how we might stand something like that up in order to be able to meet people's needs.”

In the meantime, Hames is turning to credit cards to try to stay afloat.

“I pay interest on those and trying to get out of debt from some stuff in my past -- it’s just been really hard,” she said.

LeVine said the ESD will be posting more information on its website in the coming days.