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Washington’s unemployed being told to repay benefits

In what seems now to be a weekly occurrence, Washingtons Employment Security Department’s (ESD) inadequate systems have created a problem for unemployment claimants during the COVID-19 pandemic. A bureaucratic failure to communicate clearly, has left thousands of residents receiving incorrect unemployment benefit amounts and, in some cases, overpayment of benefits.

Now ESD wants the money back.

ESD has stated that due to the federal government Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefit ending, claimants were required to refile for unemployment and ESD issued notices instructing claimants on what needed to be done. About 26,000 notices were sent allowing 5-10 days for claimants to respond. Many claimants missed the notification thinking their benefits were safe. Now it turns out, they were not.

In many cases the claimant can refile a new unemployment claim and ESD is promising to make the appropriate adjustments. In some cases, however, too much unemployment benefit was paid out and ESD is asking for the money back. The problems ESD has suffered with overwhelmed phone and email systems has exasperated the problem as many claimants can’t contact ESD to find out what to do for their individual situation.

In a recent article, ESD was unable to tell the Seattle Times how many of the 26,000 PUA claimants had their benefits reduced and also could not confirm the number of notices sent out. This highlights another failure in ESD systems and ongoing problems with transparency at the agency.

At the Washington Policy Center, we recognized these problems with ESD after the initial fraud earlier this year and have published numerous articles describing the changes needed for ESD to provide the services they are required to do in a secure, transparent and timely manner.

Additionally, the Washington Policy Center has released a detailed Policy Brief summarizing the problems with ESD and solutions for those problems.

ESD officials need to provide the public with more transparency into its internal policies, improve fund balance reporting accuracy, data timeliness and data availability.

Additionally, ESD needs to provide improved authentication and fraud protections against scams and individual fraudulent claims and needs reform to employer taxation policy and trust fund use.

In addition to ESD completing the current audits, regular bicameral legislative oversight of ESD is required.

For all of the Washington Policy Center recommendations, read the full Policy Brief here.