State asks only those in dire need file for unemployment early next week

OLYMPIA, Wash. — On Thursday, State Employment Commissioner Suzi LeVine pleaded for help from unemployed workers.

She acknowledged the system is overloaded and asked only those most desperate to collect their weekly benefits file on Sunday and Monday. She says next week 900,000 people are expected to file for weekly unemployment benefits, that’s three times the record set back in 2008-2009.

“In order to process this incredible volume of claims we’re asking only those who find themselves in dire financial straits to file on Sunday and Monday. If you can afford to be paid a few days later than usual then please wait,” said LeVine.

The number of Washington state residents who applied for unemployment benefits from April 12 to the 18 remained at record levels.

The Washington Employment Security Department said during that time there were 82,435 initial and 605,514 total claims for unemployment benefits. Initial claims were down 42% from the week before.

However, the number of claims came before the state launched the expanded benefit applications under the federal CARES Act.

The updates on the site went live Saturday night.

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Officials said they received more applications in 36 hours than they did during a record-breaking week at the end of March when 181,975 new claims were made.

The large demand overwhelmed both the online and phone systems and left many people scrambling as they couldn’t get through.

KIRO 7 spoke to a number of people who spoke about the difficulties they were experiencing with the system.

A woman who works at a doctor’s office in Olympia that closed because elective surgeries and procedures were canceled said she called over 400 times in two days but couldn’t get through.

LeVine wants to reassure eligible workers, they will get paid.

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“While we know many more are struggling to apply in the crush of volume we’re receiving, we will keep working until everyone gets the money for which they are eligible,” LeVine said.

LeVine told KIRO 7 that at the end of last week the department had 500 people answering phones, but is expected to have 1,000 people doing so by Friday.

LeVine said they have shifted other people who work for the department, and even have had people come back from retirement.

LeVine 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 LeVine suggests trying early in the day or late in the evening, to avoid the rush in the middle of the day:

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