Unemployed workers demand a timeline for payments to be released as state clarifies overpayment notices

WASHINGTON — Unemployed workers across Washington state are demanding answers on when their claims will be verified and their stalled payments resumed. The mounting pressure comes as some have received notification that they have been overpaid and need to reimburse the state.

“It’s just really scary and it’s just so frustrating because we pay our taxes,” Mary Trujillo of Renton said.

Trujillo’s unemployment payments have been held up with no end in sight as the state verifies her identity in an effort to stop scammers.

“We’re just trying to take it a day at a time but it’s frustrating,” she said. “My (15-month-old) daughter comes first. I’m buying her diapers, I’m buying her wipes. I’m buying her milk. And I try to do that as conservatively as possible, using coupons, things like that.”

Trujillo, like many others, received an overpayment notification on her account, and she wants to know what’s going on.

A spokesperson with the Washington Employment Security Department said Wednesday that people may be notified that they overpaid if they didn’t upload documentation to verify their identity by the deadline. However, in some cases, the notification went to claimants who had met the deadline.

KIRO 7 found out that ESD sent letters to people’s e-services accounts on Wednesday to clarify, saying in part:

“If we haven’t yet reviewed your response, then you received a denial and overpayment notice. If this is you, we apologize deeply for the confusion and frustration this is causing you. We have a large backlog of responses that we are working through as quickly as we can. You do not need to do anything except continue to submit your weekly claims. You will not get paid until we review the information you sent, but if you submit verification of your identity, you will receive all back payments owed when we do.”

“It’s hard not to get angry,” Trujillo said.

Dori West manages a bingo hall in Yakima and owns a deli inside with her husband. She’s been helping her bingo hall employees navigate the unemployment system, but both of them have seen their payments delayed by weeks.

“We’re going on week number three with no payment,” West said. “We haven’t gotten no answers, no payment, no letters. It’s awful for us, and I can navigate the system. I can’t imagine for someone like Judy, who can’t navigate. She would be lost.”

West’s employee, Judy Withers, agreed. “Yeah, I’m in the dark when it comes to that.”

During his news conference on Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee said ESD is bringing more staff on board to handle the backlog.

“Look, the frustration that people have is real," Inslee said. " It is deep and I know it’s driving people nuts. (ESD has) hired about 500 people already in the last few weeks with another 300 coming on in the next few weeks, I believe.”

As for Trujillo, she doesn’t know when she can go back to work as a server at Southcenter Mall, and she’s still waiting for someone to review her documents so her payments can resume.

“We need a timeline,” she said. “Period. We need all of the agents to have the same answers. I’m seeing 10 different answers from 10 different people.”

According to the ESD, if you didn’t get the letter in your e-services account, it’s likely you saw the warnings about overpayment as part of the identity verification process.

Spokesperson Nick Demerice said that if a person is qualified and eligible to receive benefits, they will receive their benefits and will not be expected to reimburse the state.