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‘Clunky’ state website struggles with record applications for jobless benefits

This photo from April 16 in Seattle shows a pedestrian walking past artwork painted on plywood covering a business closed during the pandemic. On Sunday, some 182,000 workers in Washington filed for unemployment benefits. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

Washington’s revised website for workers to file for unemployment benefits got a week’s worth of visitors in a single day on Sunday.

Some of those workers, however, were likely frustrated because of problems with the system that delayed or kept them from accessing the system or submitting their claims.

Employment Security Commissioner Suzi Levine asked for “patience and understanding” Monday as the department continued to work through the problems brought on by new technology and the expansion of federal unemployment benefits to help with job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new federal benefits cover certain classifications of workers who weren’t previously eligible under state rules, including contract workers, people who are self-employed and people who didn’t meet the previous minimum of 680 hours of work in the last year. A new application form was added to the website that directs workers now eligible under the federal program to an additional form to complete

“Last week I warned everyone this would be a clunky process and some of that has come true,” LeVine said in a news release. “We know many people have been unable to access the system and submit their applications.”

Department staff have been identifying and resolving issues since late Saturday and believe those efforts are working based on rising application numbers.

The website received more than 182,000 new applications for benefits on Sunday. In the last full week of March, as the stay-home order and restrictions on non-essential workers began to take hold, the department received about 182,000 new applications in an entire week.

Along with the newly eligible workers seeking benefits, the system also was receiving applications from workers already receiving benefits because Sunday is the day when many file their claim for the previous week.

Although Sunday was the first day people covered by the new federal guidelines could file for benefits if they were out of work last week, they have until Saturday to file a claim for that period.

“The unemployment benefits program will not run out of money and you will be paid retroactively to the date you are eligible,” LeVine said.

Workers receiving benefits don’t need to do anything extra to receive the additional $600 per week enhancement that is also part of the new federal law.

The department said last week it is hiring and training hundreds of new workers to answer phones and help with processing claims.