National Guard to assist ESD as tens of thousands still await unemployment payments
by Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff
The National Guard has officially joined the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD), until further notice, to help the department work through an accumulation of unemployment claims. The ESD is backlog tens of thousands of claims following a massive $650 million financial scam in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a press conference June 18, ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine announced that 50 National Guard Members started training that morning to assist the department to resolve new and existing claims. They will be joining more than 400 ESD staff members to assist with ID verification. An additional 50 more guards are expected to arrive in the following weeks.
“We know this is a never-ending race and we must keep trying to run more quickly than the criminals, and helping the victims,” said LeVine.
On May 15, nearly 200,000 unemployment claims were flagged for review, an attempt by the ESD to detect further fraudulent activity by requiring additional modes of identification verification.
LeVine said that 42,000 people, who had previously been receiving unemployment payments but had their payments paused for additional ID vetting sometime around May 15, will have their cases resolved by Friday, June 19.
“We do expect to address the backlog and to be able to ensure that those who had payments paused resume, and those who have been waiting for some time get resolved for identity,” she said.
An additional 81,508 individuals, who filed for an initial claim between March 8 and June 15, continue to wait for their claims to be resolved due to ID verification and other account issues. The target date for these cases is expected to be released at the end of June, said LeVine.
“We’re still doing that analysis and will provide a target date for that by next week.”
LeVine said that staffers are prioritizing the oldest applications first and that 33,000 individuals, a subset of the 81,000, who filed between March 8 and May 1 can expect to have their claims resolved by July 13.
On May 14, the ESD publicly announced that Washington was targeted by a massive fraudulent organization. The imposters, by means of identity theft, received what has been now estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment disbursements. As of June 18, the state has recovered $350 million in fraudulent claims.
There was a 2.3% decrease in claims being filed last week, June 7 through June 13. ESD attributes this decrease to their current fraud prevention efforts as well as an increase of people returning to work as some Washington counties and industries reopen.
Since March 7, over 1.2 million Washingtonians have filed for unemployment. Since then, the ESD has paid $5.4 billion in unemployment benefits, with over 800,000 people who filed an initial claim having been paid. Last week, $454.7 million was distributed to 399,879 individual claims.