State urges unemployed workers to use online eligibility checker as many complain of delays

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Newly released numbers show more than 170,000 people filed for unemployment benefits in Washington last week.

It comes the week before the state updates its system for the federal stimulus benefits, when Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzan LeVine anticipates a “tsunami” of new claims.

LeVine also announced Thursday that the ESD has launched a two-page online eligibility checker to allow people to see if they can get benefits now, should wait until April 18, for the federal stimulus, or do not qualify at all.

>> Stimulus payments could come as soon as Thursday for some, most likely next week for majority

But some people have already applied and have been waiting weeks for answers.

“[It’s] extremely frustrating and stressful,” Kayleigh Smith said. “I have bills to pay and kids to feed.”

The dentist office where Smith works had to close due to the governor’s orders on COVID-19.

She applied for unemployment benefits but received notice that she was denied.

“It's saying that I’m ineligible or disqualified because I’m receiving retirement pay when I’m not,” she said. “I keep trying to call, I can't get a hold of anybody. I emailed them, no response.”

LeVine acknowledged the issues on Thursday.

“There are many who have not been able to get through on the phones or who have been deemed ineligible for regular unemployment insurance, and we know how frustrating that must be,” she said. “We’re so sorry that so many are having that experience.”

>> Record 16.8 million have sought US jobless aid since virus

LeVine said there is more help coming.

“At the end of next week, we will have nearly 500 people providing some kind of customer service, whether that's through our phone lines or virtual chat,” she said, “and by the week after we're planning to double that number.”

For people who are about to file, LeVine is urging them to get prepared.

“Use our website,” she said. “Sign up for our action alerts. Watch the sign-up video no matter how mundane it is. Use our checklist. Use the eligibility checker... when people look through our frequently asked questions they oftentimes have a much smoother process.”

Smith said she worries about getting benefits at all.

“I’m just afraid it's not going to be enough people,” she said of the additional staff coming on, “[and that] people are going to slip through the cracks and people aren't going to receive what they should be receiving.”

KIRO 7 has heard from multiple people who have been denied due to retirement benefits they’re not actually receiving.

An ESD spokesperson said Thursday that it can happen if someone checks the wrong on the application.

While it’s unclear what happened in Kayleigh Smith’s case, the ESD did encourage applicants to check their emails, including the spam or junk folders, for any follow-up correspondence. Smith said she checked and has not received anything.