Unemployed workers grapple with new overpayment notices and confusion

Unemployed workers say they’re being hit with new overpayment notices from the state, while others are still in limbo after exhausting their Extended Benefits and not knowing if the new federal relief package applies to them.

Jamie Silva had to leave her job at the end of 2019 and was interviewing for new jobs when the pandemic began in early 2020.

“[I] just keep applying,” she said. “I have gone on interviews, but I just don’t get hired, I haven’t gotten hired.”

Silva, a disabled veteran, said she is lucky to have some support from the military and her family. Still, she said, her savings have dwindled as her efforts to find a job have come up empty.

“I exhausted my PEUC, I exhausted my Extended Benefits,” she said.

With no more benefits and no job, she’s been trying to find out from the state if she qualifies for extended Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation from the latest federal COVID-19 relief package.

But trying to get answers has been difficult.

“Very, very stressed,” Silva said.

“Your hope was those additional benefits in that new bill would apply to you?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.

“Yes,” she said.

There are other problems facing unemployed workers right now, too.

An Employment Security Department spokesperson told KIRO 7 on Monday that on Sunday night, the department sent a notice about a week’s worth of overpayment to about 15,000 people.

The ESD says due to the state’s unemployment rate going down, the number of PUA weeks available also went down, from 46 weeks to 39 weeks. That means people’s benefits may have been exhausted even though they were able to claim a week.

Autumn Fox was one of the people alerted about the overpayment.

“I was confused at first and was going to call on Monday, so today, but then I got another email,” she said.

That notice advises people to continue to file weekly claims and states, “We have put this overpayment on hold while we determine next steps and options.”

Some have reported that their PUA benefits for the week of Dec. 26 are still processing. This, the ESD says, could be linked to benefits running out. If they have been filing for assistance since early February, for example, they may have already exhausted all their benefits, including payments for the week of Dec. 26. But they could still be eligible for payments from the new relief bill.

Commissioner Suzi LeVine issued a statement late Monday, which read in part, “All eligible PUA and PEUC claimants can file their benefits on a go forward basis from the week ending January 2nd, and, at the same time, those among them whose 39 weeks of PUA benefits exhausted in November and December have more complexities related to their claim weeks in December. We are working hard to explain and/or address their situations.”

As for Silva’s situation, the ESD says she should be eligible for the extra benefits in the new COVID-19 relief package. The state is waiting on federal guidance and says people like Silva should keep on filing.

“I’m trying to stay hopeful that this bill will go into effect for the people that have exhausted their extended benefits,” she said, “and I will get the 11 weeks. But hopefully, I won’t need the 11 weeks. Hopefully, things will happen for me this [year], 2021, and I will end up working real soon.”

The ESD says it also expects to deliver the additional $300 in federal funding each week for all benefit recipients by Jan. 15 and that it will pay retroactively to the week ending Jan. 2.