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Employment Security Department

Nearly $1.4B in unemployment benefits paid out to Washingtonians from the Washington’s Employment Security Department with almost $900 million this week alone

OLYMPIA – Late on Saturday, April 18, the Employment Security Department updated their unemployment system to enable several provisions of the federal CARES act: expanding eligibility for unemployment benefits to those previously ineligible such as independent contractors, self-employed workers, and those with fewer than 680 hours; increasing weekly unemployment benefits by $600; and extending benefits by 13 weeks.

Since the launch of those updates, almost $900M has been sent to Washingtonians, bringing the total paid out since the crisis began to nearly $1.4B.

Those dollars are having a tremendous impact within communities across the state, providing critical relief for people under incredible financial pressure as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

 “It is humbling to think that we have put almost $1.4 billion dollars into the pockets of Washingtonians and into the economy since this crisis began - with nearly $1B issued just this week!” shared Employment Security Department Commissioner, Suzi LeVine. “In fact, in just the first 36 hours, the number of applications submitted exceeded the highest week on record - the week ending 3/28, in which we had 182K new applications – which was 7x the peak week of the 2008/2009 recession.”

“Prior to the launch of this update, I emphasized that, to get money to Washingtonians faster, the user experience with the update would be ‘Clunky’ and this proved to be true. While we have been able to serve a record number of people, we know that there are many still struggling to get through our application process or to get through on the phone. Please know that we have been working around the clock to address issues as they arise and have been able to improve performance dramatically over the course of the week. The desperate situation many of our fellow Washingtonians find themselves in is heartbreaking, and we won’t stop until everyone gets the payments for which they are eligible. We will also continue adding customer service staff and iterating and improving the online experience.”  

Most of the issues that have occurred stem from the tremendous volume of customers attempting to use the system Saturday and Sunday.

These new claimants join an already huge number of total claimants from the prior week and the department is preparing for as many as 1,000,000 weekly claims to be filed online or via an automated phone system starting Sunday, April 26. This is a staggering number for the system to handle.

As such, the department is asking claimants for their help in moderating and leveling the load on the system to reduce issues and frustrations as much as possible. Here is some of what they are sharing with weekly claimants to mitigate the expected spike in traffic and utilization:

  • Weekly claims can be filed over multiple days and at all hours: There is a misconception that weekly claims must be filed on Sunday – this is not true. Claims can be filed Sunday through Saturday night online. Plus, both the online and the phone application systems are available 24/7.
  • You can also file over the automated phone system until Friday night.
  • The money will not run out: There is also a misconception that there is a limited pool of money from which to draw. Unemployment benefits will not run out.
  • Those who are able should wait until after Monday to file: There is an opportunity here to help a neighbor in need. Sunday and Monday are the busiest days, and the department would like to prioritize weekly claims filing on those days for those who need the benefit most. Doing so will lighten the load and speed up the process for everyone.

“While Staying Home and Staying Healthy has saved lives, it has also had a deep economic impact on Washingtonians. These benefits, and especially the newly expanded benefits, will have a positive effect on our whole state. And yet, we know there is a lot of work still to do to provide relief to everyone who is eligible for unemployment benefits and then to get the economy back up and running,” LeVine added. “But we are in this together and we’ll get through it together. As a prime example, we appreciate those who are able to call on the better angels of their nature, as has happened so frequently during this crisis, to help us mitigate the unprecedented volume by waiting a couple days to file their weekly claims.”

Contact: media@esd.wa.gov