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When federal money is wasted, some unemployed Washingtonians hold on for months waiting for benefits

Welcome news for most unemployed Washington residents this week.

Thanks to a new $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 bailout package signed by President Biden on Thursday, federal unemployment benefits scheduled to expire on Sunday, including a $ 300 weekly surcharge from January, are now available through September 6.

But not every unemployed Washington will see that money right away.

Although most plaintiffs should see these federal benefits paid quickly, some plaintiffs dealing with eligibility or other issues still face lengthy delays while the State Department of State Security (ESD) reviews their claims.

Wal im Wilson, 57, of Walla Walla, said ESD recently told him his unemployment claim, filed in early January, would probably not be reviewed until mid-April. “Thank God my wife has a job as a teacher, we have some savings,” wrote Wilson, who was fired as the bank’s marketing director in a letter to government officials.

Spokane County resident Eric Gilbert, 43, said an ESD spokesman told him he had been waiting three months for an identity check on the agency, which had stopped paying him in February. “I said, ‘You joked, didn’t you?'” Said Gilbert, a single father who was fired from the Census Bureau in November. “And he ‘s like’ no ‘.”

ESD spokesman Nick Demeris was unable to comment on specific plaintiffs’ complaints. But he said reports of long waits were likely to reflect the backlash that required a review by a special agency known as a verdict.

“We continue to lag behind, although it is declining, but with more difficult sentences,” Demeris said. Complaints about difficult issues, such as disputes over why an employee quit, “will probably take more than eight weeks at this point,” Demeris added in a text message.

SD ESD judges often lag behind in the epidemic as claims increase, and federal aid programs set new jurisdiction requirements that make litigation easier.

The number of claimants who have not been paid and have waited three weeks or more for ESD to resolve their claims is about 9,400, Demeris said. Another 61,000 Washington residents have been granted eligibility by the ESD and have appealed the decision, according to the ESD SD State Office of Administrative Appeals (OAH). That compares with about 314,000 Washington residents receiving benefits.

The number of deferred or appealed lawsuits is significantly smaller than in the first months of the epidemic, but much higher than usual.

Delays and delays occur mainly against the backdrop of encouraging economic news.

The reopening of the state economy continues rapidly as coronavirus cases fall and vaccinations rise.

Washington’s stable population is less likely to be unemployed. There were 11,760 new or “preliminary” claims last week, down 9.2% from the previous week, the ESD said on Thursday. This is the eighth weekly decline in the last nine weeks.

At the national level, the new demand for the unemployed fell by 5.6% to 712,000, according to the US Department of Labor.

Even as the wider economy recovers, federal aid now goes to workers who have not returned.

In addition to the $ 300 weekly payments, the American Rescue Package, known as the Epidemic Assistance Program, on September 4 distributes outbreak benefits for the unemployed, such as freelancers and overtime workers who typically do not qualify for regular state benefits.

Federal benefits for those who have exhausted state unemployment benefits are also being extended.

The delays reported by some plaintiffs are due to the fact that ESD has redoubled its efforts to expedite the processing of claims by adding staff, simplifying the application process to make fewer requests for review.

For example, ESD has doubled the number of days from five to 10 when applicants already receiving benefits have to respond to requests for additional information or identification from the agency. The agency’s staff is also in active contact with the plaintiffs, who may have missed those deadlines, ESD Acting Commissioner Kami Fick told state lawmakers last week.

In many cases, plaintiffs who do not respond promptly to the agency’s information request are automatically disqualified for benefits already paid. This has led to more and more stringent redress notices, sometimes up to $ 20,000.

As of last week, there were about 55,000 plaintiffs who might have to repay the benefits, Fix told lawmakers. Although in many cases these issues can be resolved by providing the required information.

But the agency is still struggling with a large number of claims, which are almost twice as high as the epidemic a year ago. And the December last-minute extension of federal unemployment benefits delayed many payments as some plaintiffs moved from one benefit plan to another.

Fick said that such tangles are unlikely to happen again. “We do not expect a benefit gap for most plaintiffs as long as they are eligible to continue to file weekly claims,” ​​Fick said on Wednesday.

ESD has seen some indicators improve. According to OAH, the average time required by the agency to appeal to the State Hearing Office fell from 28 days in mid-February to 23 days from February 27.

And while the agency has been accumulating deferred lawsuits since December, some of those stuck plaintiffs are stuck.

Ayn Hower, a 36-year-old Bainbridge resident, was among thousands of Washingtonians who received a notice demanding the return of the benefits, in his case nearly $ 8,500, who had no idea why they were being hunted.

But after talking to an ESD representative this week, Hower, who was on standby last March, discovered the problem. Last fall, he missed an ESD request for information. “And then it just started sending those letters automatically,” he said, adding that he now thinks his problem is “100%” solved.

Wilson, Walla Walla’s former marketing manager, received some answers, albeit in a derogatory way.

Wilson, like many desperate plaintiffs, contacted representatives of his local state who referred his claim to ESD, which sent him a letter Thursday. “It basically said, ‘We’ve received your request for help. We’ll be back in time,'” Wilson said.

“It was still quite skewed,” he added. “But at least I got an answer.”

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