Washington Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said Thursday that just fewer than 35,000 people are waiting for resolution of their claims for unemployment benefits, and that questions around their claims should be resolved by the end of the month.
LeVine said that as the agency continues to work through a backlog of cases — down from 81,000 last month — the agency has also resolved identity issues on more 200,000 claims.
Tens of thousands of unemployment benefit payments had been suspended in May as the state did additional verification following the revelation that the state had paid out between $550 million and $650 million through tens of thousands of fraudulent claims made during the coronavirus pandemic.
To date, the state has recovered $360 million. A West African fraud ring using identities stolen in prior data breaches, such as the massive 2017 Equifax breach, is believed to be behind the fraud, which has targeted several other states during the coronavirus pandemic.
LeVine said that not all of the claims caught up in the backlog have to do with identity issues, noting that other discrepancies on the application can also hold up processing as staff seek additional information.
“We know that you’re waiting and we are working incredibly hard to get you what you need,” LeVine said.
More than 1.2 million people have filed claims for unemployment since early March when the pandemic job losses began, and more than 883,000 people who filed initial claims have been paid. To date, the state has paid more than $7.2 billion in benefits, two-thirds of which is federal money that is providing the unemployed with an additional $600 a week on top of the state’s weekly maximum benefit of up to $790 per week. The federal program that provides the additional weekly assistance is set to expire at the end of the month.
There were 28,393 new claims for unemployment benefits in Washington during the week of June 28-July 4 — a decrease of 11 percent from the previous week.
In Idaho last week, there were 4,924 new initial claims, which is a drop of 9 percent from the previous week.
Continued claims — the number of people who requested a benefit payment — dropped by 6 percent from the previous week to 29,090, the ninth consecutive week of declines.
Since the start of COVID-19 shutdowns in Idaho, laid-off workers have filed 167,484 initial jobless claims. A total of $602.4 million in benefits have been paid out.