Nearly 100,000 people in Washington are still reeling after federal Pandemic Unemployment Benefits officially expired, then was signed into law the next day.
It triggered some updates on the Employment Security Department (ESD) that caused major confusion.
“It’s terrible because it monopolizes your mind, night and day,” said Vanessa Randle, who used to work in the food industry in Tacoma. She said she’s been checking the ESD website nearly non-stop since Dec. 26, when President Trump delayed signing the COVID relief bill. “Every penny you spend you worry are you going to need that next week,” Randle said.
Now the commissioner of the Washington Employment Security Department says most people who are getting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will not only get paid on time – but will likely also see extra benefits.
“When it got signed (Sunday), we were told and we knew it would be a week from that enactment, so unfortunately we thought there would be a gap,” said Suzi LeVine, Washington Employment Security Commissioner, in a Zoom call with KIRO 7.
Also on Sunday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced all PUA recipients would be getting $550 from Washington’s CARES act funds to cover the gap in payment everyone was expecting.
Then LeVine said on Monday, ESD was informed by the Department of Labor that the DOL re-interpreted the law to indicate there will be no gap in PUA payments.
“That’s really great news there is not going to be a gap. But our systems basically need to be re-programmed to make sure we accommodate that,” LeVine said.
“Is there any chance they’ll be asked to return that money? Or does this just mean extra money for folks?” KIRO 7′s Deedee Sun asked LeVine.
“Nope, we’re following through on the commitment,” LeVine said.
PUA payments are around $200/ per week for most people. No delay in that payment plus the extra money from the state would mean an extra one-time payment of $550 for those currently receiving PUA.
The ESD will start allocating the one-time $550 payments as early as Dec. 30.
The state is still figuring out how and when to start distributing an additional $300/week for everyone who is receiving unemployment benefits.
“We hope to roll that out soon but we want to get that guidance from the DOL before we roll that out, and make sure we’re complying with the law,” LeVine said.
People have been seeing all sorts of confusing alerts in their accounts on the ESD website the past few days, but LeVine says the most prevalent issues will be cleared up in the next couple of days.
“The team is working really hard - around the clock, even though the holidays. I definitely hear and see the confusion that’s happening out there and we’re doing all we can to allay those concerns,” she said.
Two of the most common frustrations -- people being told their claims “expired” and others being told to fill a new claim.
Here are the answers from the ESD:
Q: Why is there a new alert telling me to “apply for a COVID-19 PUA claim” in my eServices account?
A: You do not need to click the link, but it is not a problem if you did click the link and fill out a new application. Because the new federal stimulus was signed into law after the PUA & PEUC programs expired, it created some confusion in the computer system. Your benefits will not be affected as long as you continue to submit your weekly claim this week as usual. This link will go away soon when we update the system.
Q: How do I submit a PUA weekly claim if my claim looks grayed out in eServices and says it’s expired?
A: This is temporary as we work through the new CARES Act legislation. You should continue submitting your weekly PUA claims by clicking on the alert in eServices that says “You have a weekly PUA claim to file.” Your PUA claim account status will change back to active as soon as we are able to update the system.
“Life is going to be real boring when COVID is over and we don’t have to worry about oh, are we going to eat next week?” Randle said. “I pray for those days,” she said.