The Employment Security Department continues to struggle to make unemployment claim payments on time

By MARK HARMSWORTH  | 
Mar 23, 2021
BLOG

Despite congress passing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, Washington residents are still waiting for their unemployment claims to be processed and for the checks to show up.

The federal relief package will extend an extra $300 per week per person claiming benefits to September this year, but because the money is distributed by the Employment Security Department (ESD), some unemployed claimants may not see the checks for several weeks, or even months.

The Seattle Times reports several claimants are seeing a multi-month delay from when the claim was initially filed to the checks arriving in mailboxes. ESD blames the adjudication process which contradicts previous statements by the agency that had indicated the majority of the delays were now solved.

ESD has previously hired a significant number of new adjudicators and relaxed the adjudication process to allow more claims to be automatically approved. This is in despite of the additional fraud risk that a less rigorous process would create.

While the backlog of claims is still large, it is still a smaller number than it was last year at the beginning of the pandemic.

It is still disappointing that ESD has not fixed the issues discovered early in the pandemic to reduce the backlog of unemployment claims.

For these workers that registered for benefits last year, the registration and authorization process should not be as lengthy as the process has been completed already. ESD should be able to process the claims more efficiently and avoid large backlogs.

The Washington Policy Center has previously recommended, pre-registration and authorization of employees into ESD systems will reduce the impact of large unemployment events. The lockdown last year, has effectively pre-registered many workers for unemployment.

Hopefully, ESD has updated its systems to take advantage from the registrations made during the lockdown, otherwise workers will have to start the registration process again.

Events like the COVID-19 economic lockdown mandate, unfortunately, are becoming more common. Employment Security Department officials and state leaders should be better prepared to deal with the next long-term unemployment crisis and must start working now to improve systems and procedures to handle the crisis.

In the meantime, ESD should strive to issue the checks to legitimate claimants as soon as possible.