Some 55,000 Washington residents may have to pay back thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits.
That incredible prospect was shared on Thursday by Kami Fick, the new acting commissioner of the State Employment Safety Board (ESD), on Washington’s often-challenged response to job losses due to the epidemic while updating state lawmakers.
Fick told the Senate panel that ESD would work with 55,000 plaintiffs who received redemption notices after failing to respond to agency information requests and being deemed ineligible for benefits already received.
“We are going to actively contact them to help them get the right information about the correction [their eligibility]”Fick told the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee during the working session.
In some cases, plaintiffs may be required to repay the benefits.
Lawmakers seemed stunned by the large number of plaintiffs facing the prospect of repayment, a problem that often grew as the state dealt with high unemployment claims, new federal benefits, and changes in jurisdiction rules.
Committee chair Karen Kaiser, D-Des Moines, said overpayment notices often hit employees who were still unemployed. “And they were suddenly told they had to give back $ 12,000, they were just in a state of panic.”
The number of overpayment notices also reflects the scale of the task applied to Fick and his staff as they work through the ESD issues as they prepare for the next round of federal epidemic benefits.
“It’s a mass enterprise,” Kaiser said.
Still, Kaiser այլ and other lawmakers in the House of Representatives said they were impressed by Feek’s performance as acting commissioner after Susie Levine stepped down in late January.
Fick spoke encouragingly about the agency’s improvements in unemployment benefits, but said it was far from the state.
Although the ESD has paid hundreds of thousands of workers more than $ 15 billion since the epidemic began, “we know many have been left out,” Fick said. “They are disappointed, they are upset, we apologize to those workers. We do our best to get their benefits as soon as possible, but they know it is not enough. ”
Fick noted that some 9,000 plaintiffs have never received any benefits and are still waiting for the ESD to resolve a jurisdiction or other issue with their claims. Although that count has dropped significantly since last spring, when there were more than 50,000 unpaid plaintiffs awaiting the agency’s decision, Fick said. “We are looking for ways to speed up” this declining trend.
He said the agency’s strategy will focus on three areas: improving the agency’s “self-service” features, improving technology and staffing.
To make the litigation process user-friendly, the agency makes plaintiff’s questions clearer and more understandable. Such improvements can reduce the number of mistakes made by plaintiffs և reduce the number of calls to the agency’s help desk, which can drop by more than 100 calls per second at peak times.
“The goal is to reduce the number of people at the forefront who get stuck in the process from the beginning,” Fick said. [when they first apply for unemployment] or by filing their weekly claim. ”
The agency doubles the time from five days to 10 when plaintiffs must respond to certain agency information requests.
According to Fick, one reason is that plaintiffs often did not see requests until the five-day deadline, as they logged in once a week to file their weekly claim.
In some cases, a missed deadline may result in the system automatically classifying the claimant as a claimant for already paid benefits, և, as Fick puts it, “the plaintiff will receive a really intimidating overpayment letter saying we owe money.” :
The average dollar amount for plaintiffs receiving overpayment notice is about $ 2,000, said ESD spokesman Nick Demeris, but he noted that some plaintiffs have been asked to repay up to $ 20,000.
Fix was careful not to give preference. After Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, noted that the agency had often missed deadlines over the past year to clear up insufficient requirements, Fick said the ESD was taking a performance-based approach.
Fick said the agency is working on measures to assess its improvement. One of the examples is the workload. The agency will look at the total number of “questions” on the lawsuits and how quickly the agency can resolve those issues.
Fick noted that in January, the agency identified 1,835,272 individual issues that needed to be resolved, a 16-fold increase from January 2020, and was able to resolve even more than that number.
“There is no magic answer,” Fix told lawmakers. “It will make a difference on many fronts.”
Lawmakers seemed to value the amount of data exchanged, as well as the discussion of Fick and sincerity.
“I think there is less panic,” he said, referring to earlier reports from some of the epidemic agencies. “It was presented in a more thoughtful way.”
This was responded to by Senator Newgen, D-White Center, Microsoft Program Manager, who offered to help Feek and his staff review technology issues. Feek accepted the offer.
“They were more cooperative, less defensive, less trying to deviate … more like, ‘Okay, let’s just fix it.’
New unemployment claims in Washington fell by 7.7% last week, even as they rose by 1.2%. The state’s unemployment rate rose to 6% in January from 7.1% in December.