More than 90,000 unemployed workers stuck in ID verification, wait time extended for many

OLYMPIA, Wash. — By next week, the state says 90,000 claims will be held up in the Employment Security Department’s identity verification process, aimed at weeding out fraudsters.

“When we learned of this attack for identity theft, there were about 215,000 people who were impacted by that,” LeVine said. Due to the work of the ESD in verifying identities and fake claimants, the number of claims was down to 190,000 by Wednesday afternoon.

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"For more than 51,000 people, their issues were cleared [Wednesday] night," LeVine said. "Some of those individuals have other issues to be cleared, but 32,000 people were fully cleared last night."

That, she said, allows them to release millions in payments.

LeVine expects the ESD to move through another 50,000 claims in the coming days. About half of those, she estimates, are not legitimate claims.

But there is no timeline for when money will be released to the 90,000 still in the queue next week.

“We do not yet have a date that we can provide to them,” she said, “But are working very hard on getting that, being able to set their expectations.”

LeVine said the fraud crackdown has resulted in the recovery of $333 million — though the commissioner estimates that the money stolen could total anywhere from $550 million to $650 million.

It is an effort that LeVine said, Thursday, has affected the department's goal to get payments to people who still have not received them, pushing back the timeline by two more weeks to the end of June.

Meanwhile, many unemployed workers continue to wait.

"It's been almost three months at this point of not having any stable income," Anna Nolan said.

She and her boyfriend, Josh Johnson, don't know where to turn for answers. Nolan was supposed to start a new job in mid-March, which couldn't happen due to the coronavirus.

“I just think when anyone has a complicated situation — it takes so much longer,” she said of the review of her claim.

Johnson was laid off from his part-time job at a bookstore.

“We both had jobs before the pandemic. We both do not have jobs because of the pandemic,” Nolan said. “And we’ve just been in this waiting period for months at this point.”

"It's been 12 weeks, pretty much," Johnson said.

They were both paid once in April, but since then — nothing.

Now Johnson is stuck in the identity verification process.

Some lawmakers say they've had trouble getting responses to their own emails they sent to the ESD.

“When we can’t get through, when the legislature can’t get through, that’s telling you something,” Republican Sen. Lynda Wilson said. She said her office has been inundated with calls and emails from people who are growing desperate.

Wilson said she’ll continue trying to get information from the ESD and LeVine.

"I may send a certified letter and call her office and talk directly and say, 'What are we doing here?'" she said.

Wilson wants a special session so that lawmakers can review the situation with the ESD and better understand how its system was beaten by these scammers.

She said some of her fellow senators will be meeting with LeVine on Thursday or Friday.

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