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New claims for jobless benefits drop for week but totals remain high

UPDATED: Thu., July 23, 2020

OLYMPIA – The number of Washington workers seeking unemployment checks dropped significantly last week after climbing sharply the week before, showing signs of volatility in an economy struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic.

New requests for jobless benefits were down 27% for the week ending Saturday – to 29,438 claims – compared with the week before when 40,466 claims were filed, a jump of 42%.

But the total number of claims being paid was more than 430,000, nearly 10 times the number of claims being paid the first week in March before the shutdowns from the pandemic started.

“We still find ourselves in uncharted waters,” said Suzi LeVine, Employment Security Department commissioner.

The state still has about 20,500 people who have had claims pending since before June 18, as it tries to clear up questions about identity or other aspects of eligibility.

The state has hired hundreds of additional staff to process and adjudicate claims. LeVine said the department is on track to resolve issues for those workers by the end of next week, but will still have pending claims from the weeks after June 18.

This spring, the federal government expanded eligibility for some workers because of the job losses from COVID-19 and provided many with a $600 per week Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payment. But LeVine warned those receiving payments are due to see them end after this week unless Congress passes new legislation to renew them.

Because of the pandemic, a requirement that people collecting unemployment benefits must look for work each week was also suspended. But that’s scheduled to resume Aug. 1, LeVine said.

“Unemployment insurance is a complicated program,” she said. “This will get more complicated if Congress makes changes to the CARES Act.”

The biggest drop in new claims came in the accommodation and food service industry, which had 34% fewer claims than the week before. New claims were down 23% in retail trade and 19% in construction.

New claims were down 24% in Spokane County, compared with a drop of 28% in King County, 25% in Pierce County and 34% in Clark County.

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