Expanded unemployment filing begins this weekend
April 16, 2020
OLYMPIA -- Beginning this Sunday, Washingtonians currently ineligible to receive unemployment benefits may get a chance to receive financial help.
In a press conference this afternoon with Gov. Jay Inslee, Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said the state will begin to implement provisions of the federal C.A.R.E.S Act expanding unemployment benefits to independent contractors and others who typically don't qualify for benefits – including those who don't have the usually required 680 hours. Other actions being implemented include increasing the weekly benefit by $600 and extending the time the benefit can be collected by 13 weeks.
"So it will go from 26 to 39 weeks if people need it," LeVine said.
LeVine said those visiting the website this weekend should be prepared to sign up for Action Alerts regarding benefits, use the Eligibility Checker to determine levels, follow the application checklist closely and sign up for a Secure Access Washington account.
LeVine said it will be a two-step process. The first step involves filling out the application form, at the end of which the applicant will likely be told they are not eligible for unemployment. That denial, however, opens up another link the applicant is to follow to finish the process and get unemployment assistance.
Inslee said the state paid out almost $125 million in unemployment benefits to 256,000 people last week, over $250 billion since March 16. However, LeVine said the state saw 586,000 people file claims last week, with most of the difference between those filing and those receiving payments likely people not eligible for benefits.
"They will be eligible in most cases after this weekend's update," she said.
Asked about the solvency of the state's unemployment trust fund, LeVine said it's "the strongest" in the country at $4.7 billion. She added the extra $600 in weekly payments and 13-week extension are provisions of the C.A.R.E.S Act and thus federally provided.
"That said, we are drawing heavily on our trust fund," she said.
Inslee said the state is showing some progress in fighting the COVID-19 disease, but still has a long way to go before stay-at-home, business, schools, parks and other closure orders are rescinded. He said news today the federal government will allow states to make decisions on when to re-open and rescind orders was "good news."
"We will continue to make decisions for Washington, by Washington as long as we are fighting coronavirus," he added. "We need to make a decision that's good for our state, in our state."
One of the biggest impediments to that right now, Inslee said, is the lack of testing capabilities. While the capacity to analyze tests is more than adequate, basic supplies such as swabs to conduct tests and transfer mediums to get tests to labs remain in "woefully" short supply.
To move from measures such as social distancing and closures to one of testing and tracing contacts, what officials list as one of the "gates" needed before reopening the state, Washington needs to be able to conduct many more tests than the current 4,500 a day. Inslee said at the beginning of the outbreak, doing about 15,000 tests a day was discussed.
John McCallum can be reached at [email protected]