State sets timeline for payments stuck in ID verification, acknowledges new problem

WASHINGTON — The Washington Employment Security Department issued a goal date of Friday, June 19, for resolving thousands of claims that have been held up in identity verification during last month’s fraud crackdown.

Commissioner Suzi LeVine said the department is now down to 78,000 claims and that more than half should be cleared by June 19.

“Of that 78,000, there are 42,000 who were already receiving payments, and so we are focusing between now and next Friday on getting those folks restarted in their payments,” she said.

The others, she said, have additional issues on their claims and still need attention.

LeVine also announced that the National Guard will join the identity verification effort once members are trained and may move to other tasks as needed.

But a new problem has arisen: People are being asked by the ESD system to prove their identity multiple times.

"I was so excited on Friday when my account finally said 'paid,'" Mary Suydam said. "I was like, 'Yay, everything's done!'"

Suydam had been battling for weeks to get her unemployment payments after uploading identity documentation, as requested, in mid-May.

She received payments for the previous three weeks, but then she saw an alert on her account.

“Monday night is when I got another email asking me to log in to my account because I had an alert. And again, they asked me for my identity documents,” she said.

It was the third time Suydam had uploaded the same documents, and now she’s back in adjudication.

When KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked LeVine about this issue Thursday, LeVine called it a system problem.

"We are working towards resolving this quickly with our vendor to make sure that that problem does not persist," she said.

"Should those people ignore the prompts?" Sheldon asked. "Because obviously, they're concerned it might hold up getting their money."

"Yes, they should ignore it for right now," LeVine said. "We'll have more information and instructions for them, hopefully, by later today."

KIRO 7 also wanted to know what the ESD is doing to clear out people who have been waiting the longest.

“So we are working very hard to clear those people who are the longest,” LeVine said. “In some cases, it’s that those individuals have not responded when we’ve called. In some cases, it’s that there are additional areas that need to be worked. But most of those folks who have been waiting the longest have been contacted, and those issues are being worked.”

After the news conference, a spokesperson with the ESD emphasized, however, that not everyone has been contacted.

That includes Mireille Fontana.

"It's been three months that I've been unemployed," she said. "I've received zero benefits. I've luckily gotten forbearances in my mortgage and my car payment which, those are coming to an end."

Fontana is an aesthetician and leases a space in a Fremont salon. But it had to close down mid-March, and she hasn’t received unemployment from the state. She said she’d been told the payments have been held up for a number of reasons.

"Apparently, there was a problem with my identification," she said.

Fontana uploaded her identification.

"Still, nothing happened," she said. "Then I got a letter that I was ineligible because I was receiving retirement income."

She was not receiving retirement income.

Fontana kept calling the ESD so that it could fix that error. But while on the phone with an agent, every time she did that, it just wouldn’t go through. It’s almost like it was a computer glitch or something.”

Fontana said she was finally told she should get paid Thursday or give them another call. As of Thursday midday, she had received nothing.

“So that’s on my to-do list today,” she said. “Call him back.”

Fontana can now go back to the salon at 25% capacity. She’s grateful her husband still has his job and can help support their family.

But now she has to cover the costs for new, required safety measures.

“I have to buy all this PPE. I have to change all my protocols at work,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of debt, and I really don’t want to go there.”