OLYMPIA – The number of new people filing for unemployment benefits was down 11% last week as the Employment Security Department continues to resolve about 35,000 backlogged claims.
Although that number of first-time requests for benefits has dropped significantly since its peak, the steady number of initial claims is still well above the peak of the 2008 recession, ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine said in a Thursday news conference.
“The demands for unemployment have been both historically high and swift,” LeVine said.
The total number of unemployment claims for the week of June 28-July 4 was up by 5.7% to 736,151 total claims, according to the department. During the week, 28,393 initial unemployment claims were filed, down from 31,911 the week prior.
In Spokane County, initial claims filed increased from 1,991 to 1,998 – a less than 1% increase from the week prior.
Since the impact of COVID-19 pandemic took hold in mid-March, the department has paid out more than $7.2 billion in benefits. More than 1.2 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in Washington.
“Our priority is certainly helping people get back to work, but most importantly, get people back to work safely,” LeVine said.
The ESD continues to process 34,555 unresolved claims that were filed from March 8 through June 15. That number is down from the 81,000 claims originally in the backlog. The department is on track to have those claims resolved by July 31 at the latest, LeVine said.
Gov. Jay Inslee addressed the claims backlog in a news conference Tuesday, applauding the Employee Security Department’s work but saying much still needs to be done.
There is one person who has been waiting for 17 weeks and seven people who have been waiting 16 weeks for their claims to be resolved, LeVine said.
“Their frustration is real and sincere and deep, and something I share,” Inslee said Tuesday.
Most of those claims have issues involving work history or how the employer records certain information, LeVine said. Some of them, however, could have been fraudulent claims as part of the statewide fraud attack that cost the state more than a half-billion dollars.
LeVine said she did not have the exact number of claims that were found to be fraudulent, but the department has resolved identity issues for more than 200,000 claims that were part of the incident.
The department has recovered $361 million initially lost to fraudulent claims, but LeVine has said some of that money may never be recovered.
“We are also obliged to pursue and recover all of the fraudulent funds we are able to, and we are dedicated to that,” LeVine said.
Spokane County saw a 0.2% increase in initial claims last week, but initial claims numbers seem to be leveling off, ESD regional economist Doug Tweedy said.
The number of continued claims in the county has decreased for the seventh week in a row, Tweedy said, a trend he expects will be maintained if the county advances through state-mandated coronavirus phases.
The number of initial claims will stay the same until at least Phase 3, Tweedy said.
The industries with the most initial claims continue to be health care and accommodation and food services.
“Going forward, it really depends on the health situation,” Tweedy said. “If that improves, it will give more confidence to businesses and consumers.”
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