State processes record number of applications for unemployment benefits

Employment Security Department had challenges with the volume

Employment Security Department had challenges with the volume

With the launch of new benefits Saturday night, the state Employment Security Department in Olympia received more applications (including expanded, extended and traditional benefits) in a single day than the biggest week on record, which was 182,000 applications in the week ending March 28.

For comparison, the 182,000 applications in a week was already seven times the peak week for the 2008/2009 recession.

“The amazing news is that hundreds of thousands of our fellow Washingtonians have already applied and have or will receive much-needed relief right away. That said, we appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding as we manage this enormous volume,” said Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine in a Monday news release.

Independent contractors, self -employed and part-time employees (who worked fewer than 680 hours in their base year) became eligible to apply for benefits under the expansion of unemployment benefits approved by Congress.

“Last week, I warned everyone this would be a clunky process and some of that has come true,” LeVine said. “We know many people have been unable to access the system and submit their applications. We know how frustrating this is and are adapting in real time to this massive influx of new claimants as best we can. Most importantly, we want to reassure everyone that those who are eligible will get their money and that they will be paid retroactive to their date of eligibility. This is a source of funding that won’t run out.”

As is expected in a major technology roll-out, several issues have been identified and the team started resolving those concerns starting Saturday night. They continue to look for opportunities to improve performance and have seen application numbers rising since mid-morning on Sunday, demonstrating that those efforts are working.

Top issues we are seeing and challenges we are facing:

* High volume in weekly claims: In addition to the incredible influx of new applications, Sunday is also the day on which many people file their weekly benefit claims. This increased the number of site users, which exacerbated the performance issues for many customers.

* While many are coming prepared and we have seen 257,144 downloads of our instruction guides and checklists, many people are still making common mistakes when filling out the application. These avoidable errors could lead to people having to resolve it with a call center agent or go through adjudication. This will slow down their ability to receive benefits. It is important to read the website and download and use the checklists and guidance documents before applying.

A few tips to help:

* It is important to remember that you can apply for these benefits at any point, and weekly claims can be submitted anytime, Sunday to Saturday, to be paid for the previous week.

* Again, the unemployment benefits programs will not run out of money and you will be paid retroactively to the date you are eligible.

* You do not need to do anything to receive the additional $600 per week enhancement.

* To reach us by phone:

Have questions (after you’ve checked the website first): 833-572-8400

Filing your weekly claim over the phone: 800-318-6022

Claims inquiries that can’t be answered online: 800-318-6022

* Visit the new help page on the website for additional tips for success: esd.wa.gov/unemployment/help.


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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
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