Residents still struggle to get unemployment, system overwhelmed

WASHINGTON — The Washington's Employment Security Department says 182,000 people filed unemployment claims last weekend. That rivals the busiest week the state of Washington has ever seen. Another round of workers are eligible through the federal Cares Act due to the coronavirus outbreak.

As workers scrambled to apply online and over the phone, both systems became overwhelmed.

KIRO-7 talked to people who struggled to get through. Lauren Cameron of Ocean Shores has been trying to get her benefits figured out for a month. She was turned down because her Social Security number was flagged as belonging o someone who wasn't a citizen. Cameron was born in Washington and sent in copy of her birth certificate. She can't get through on the phone. Her boyfriend, Kim Montieth, told showed KIRO7 the call log on his phone. He tried to call get through hundreds of times.

“I’ve made 500 calls today alone in an attempt to get through to their hotline or get a busy signal or told to call back later.” said Montieth. “I’m angry she has gone through this and I can’t do more to help.”

Mary Kay Hesse of Spanway works at a doctor's office in Olympia. It is closed because elective surgeries and procedures are canceled. She has had trouble getting through to ask questions about her benefits.

"I have over 400 calls logged on my phone within two days, calling that number to try to get through," said Mary Kay Hesse.

Challan Kershaw of Redmond, works at an auto body shop that is temporarily closed.

"I feel if the state wants to do this and look out for our well-being. I appreciate it but please, be prepared," said Kershaw.

Suzi LeVine is the commissioner of the Employment Security Department. She recognizes the system is overwhelmed but wants to reassure eligible workers, they will get paid.

"The amazing news is that hundreds of thousands of our fellow Washingtonians have already applied and have or will receive much-needed relief right away. That said, we appreciate everyone's patience and understanding as we manage this enormous volume,” said Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine. “Last week, I warned everyone this would be a clunky process and some of that has come true. We know many people have been unable to access the system and submit their applications. We know how frustrating this is and are adapting in real time to this massive influx of new claimants as best we can. Most importantly, we want to reassure everyone that those who are eligible will get their money and that they will be paid retroactive to their date of eligibility. This is a source of funding that won’t run out.”

At the end of last week 500 people were answering phones at the Employment Security Department, by this Friday the expect to have 1,000. LeVine says they have shifted other people who work for the department, even had people come back from retirement. She says it is crucial to fill out the online forms very carefully so you don't need to talk to someone on the phone.

For the best luck on accessing the website she says to try early in the day or late in the evening, to avoid the rush in the middle of the day: https://esd.wa.gov/unemployment/help.


“We are doing the best we can, working around the clock,” said LeVine.

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