OLYMPIA – As the layoffs notices fly, more people are falling back on the state’s unemployment system than at any time in recent years. Some questions and answers about the state’s unemployment system:
Q. How bad is the unemployment problem in the state of Washington?
A. Washington’s unemployment rate jumped to 7.1 percent in December, the largest one-month increase in more than three decades. Nearly 252,000 people in the state are unemployed. The state jobless rate has nearly caught up to the national rate of 7.6 percent. Last year at this time, Washington’s unemployment rate was 4.6 percent. It’s expected to get even higher in the coming months. The state will release new numbers on Feb. 24.
“In barely a year, we’ve gone from historically low unemployment to record numbers of people applying for unemployment benefits,” Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee said recently.
Q. How many people are collecting unemployment?
A. Nearly 142,000, up 93 percent from last year and the most since 2002. A record 90,331 new unemployment applications were filed in December.
Q. What’s being done to help those who are out of work?
A. The Legislature is working on temporary changes to the unemployment system, meant to help both jobseekers and employers. Working from a proposal by Gov. Chris Gregoire, the House and Senate want to tap the unemployment trust fund’s $4 billion reserve to cut taxes and boost jobless benefits.
Under the plan passed by both the House and the Senate, weekly jobless benefits would jump by $45 starting with claims filed in May. That temporary increase only applies to claims filed on or before Jan. 3, 2010. The minimum weekly benefit increases from $129 to $200, including the $45 boost. The maximum weekly amount would be $586.
The tax-cut portion of the plan is still being worked out in the Senate.
Q. Who is eligible for unemployment benefits?
A. A person must have worked 680 hours within the previous year and lost their job through no fault of their own to qualify for a claim.
Their employer also has to have been paying into unemployment insurance for them to be covered.
While the Employment Security Department notes that workers are likely eligible if they are laid off for lack of work, the agency still needs to make a decision on eligibility based on whether a worker voluntarily quit, was fired, was suspended, or is on a leave of absence.
Q. How long do benefits last?
A. Workers receive up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits from the state. After that, the federal government offers up to 33 weeks, at the same rate set by the state. However, Lee announced Wednesday that workers could qualify for up to 13 weeks of additional jobless benefits starting Feb. 15. The U.S. Department of Labor notified the state that it qualified for extended benefits because of the state’s rising unemployment rate.
Q. Where can I get help?
A. Washington workers can apply for jobless benefits over the phone at (800) 318-6022, or on the Web at www.esd.wa.gov .
The Web site has tons of information about the program, from eligibility to how long benefits might last.
The state has already extended call center hours to Saturday because of the crush of people seeking benefits.
Employment offices around the state are one-stop shops for training, job searches and other services. Find one at www.go2worksource.com.
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